When making food at home, you can often save money compared to the prepared products you get from the supermarket. Also, you can greatly improve the quality and tailor it to your own preferences. This recipe is for a simple and quick marinara sauce that is great with many Italian dishes, including spaghetti and pizza. In the next food post, I will use this recipe to make chicken parmesan.

The base ingredients are pictured below. Combined, this will make an amount roughly equivalent to one standard-sized jar. This recipe has a total cost of about $2.00 but can be as low as $1.50 with generic items and water instead of wine. Wine greatly improves the depth of flavor but isn’t critical.

Additionally, the cost per serving can be reduced by scaling up the recipe with larger units of tomato sauce and tomato paste.

You can buy a cheap sauce for about the same price, but more expensive sauces can be easily double this price or more. Feel free to substitute herbs from your garden or swap out one for basil or any other spice you prefer. For simplicity’s sake, I made this marinara sauce with garlic powder. A fresh couple of cloves of garlic instead may improve the end result.

Spices, tomato sauce and wine
Oregano, parsley, red pepper flakes, garlic, tomato sauces, tomato paste, olive oil, and wine (or water) are the base of this sauce. Photo by Doug Deal

In addition to the ingredients picture above, you will also need half of a small onion or a quarter of a large one and around a tablespoon of sugar.

A whole onion and sugar
The last two ingredients are onion and sugar. Sugar ios used to balance the acidity of the tomato and wine since we are using regular canned tomatoes. Photo by Doug Deal

I used a large onion and quartered it. I cut off the stem end and sliced it with the root intact. First I cut lengthwise slits just short of the root end and then cut perpendicularly to make small chucks. When I got close to the root, I rotated it root sized up, and cut around it as shown.

Quarter of a large onion
Use a half of a small onion or a quarter of a large onion. Photo by Doug Deal
Chopping onions
Chop the onions into small pieces. Photo by Doug Deal

Then, I sauteed the onions in olive oil over medium heat until they soften and turned translucent. This took about four minutes. The longer you cook them, the sweeter they will become as the starches turn to sugar. Some of the sugar will also caramelize and add flavor to the marinara sauce.

Sautéing onions
Sautee the onions for a few minutes until they are translucent and soft. Photo by Doug Deal

When the onions were ready, I added the tomato paste and mixed it into the onions. This is an important step, as it allows the paste to toast a little that added flavor to the sauce. It also removes the starchy flavor.

Tomato paste toasting with onions
Add the tomato paste to the pan. Stir this well as it toasts over medium heat for a couple of minutes. Photo by Doug Deal

After toasting the paste, I added a quarter cup of red wine. This deglazes the pan a little and thins out the paste. It is important to let this boil a little to reduce the alcohol content. If it is diluted with additional liquid it won’t effectively boil off. If you use water instead, just mix it well, scraping the stuck bits off the pan.

Adding wine to the mixture
Add the wine (or water) to the mixture. Let the alcohol cook off before adding the tomato sauce. Photo by Doug Deal

After the wine or water has been incorporated, add the can of tomato sauce. Mix thoroughly and bring the marinara sauce back up to a simmer.

Tomato sauce added to the mix
Add the tomato sauce to the mix and stir thoroughly. Photo by Doug Deal

Once the sauce was back to a simmer, I added the spices and sugar. Since I used dried spices (about a teaspoon each), I crushed them between the tips of my fingers before adding them to the sauce. This helps to activate them, relating their flavors. You do not need to do this for the garlic powder or the sugar.

Adding herbs and spices to sauce
Add the herbs and spices as well as the sugar to the sauce. Stir and taste it. We used dried herbs, so they need some time simmering to reconstitute. Do not simmer fresh herbs too long if you use them. Photo by Doug Deal

Stir the ingredients together and let them simmer for a bit, at least enough time to rehydrate the dried herbs. If you are using fresh herbs, do not simmer for too long as that will reduce their flavor and sometimes make them turn bitter. At this point, be sure to taste the sauce and check for the balance. If it is too acidic, add more sugar a pinch at a time. Some people like a sweet sauce, so adding more is a matter of taste. If the sauce is too thin, let it simmer longer, and if it is too thick, as water or wine a tablespoon at a time. Finally, check the saltiness.

Sauce simmering
Simmer and taste the sauce. If it seems too thin, cook it down, if it is too thick, add a tablespoon of water at a time and stir it in until it is right. Also, taste for saltiness and sweetness and adjust as needed. Photo by Doug Deal

This recipe can be used on anything that needs marinara sauce. I typically use it for spaghetti, pizza, dipping sauce, or as a base for things like lasagna. You can easily add things like shredded carrots, finely chopped bell peppers, Italian sausage or ground beef to make a more complicated sauce.

If you stewed your own tomatoes for hours you can possibly make a better sauce. But, for a quick sauce, this is hard to beat.

Basic Recipe (Feel Free to Make it Your Own)

  • One can (15oz) tomato sauce
  • One can (6oz) tomato paste
  • 1/4 cup dry red wine (or water)
  • 1 tbsp sugar (to taste)
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 tsp dried Italian parsley
  • 1/2 small chopped onion (1/4 of a large)
  • Olive oil

Sautee the onions in olive oil for about 4 minutes over medium heat.
Add tomato paste, mixing it with the onions to toast it for a couple of minutes. stirring occasionally.
Incorporate the wine and deglaze. Let the alcohol boil off a little before adding additional ingredients.
Mix in the tomato sauce and let it return to a gradual simmer.
Add in the dried herbs, sugar, and garlic powder. Simmer a couple of minutes and then taste. The sugar is there to balance the acidity, not to make a sweet sauce, unless that is your preference. You may need more or less than what is specified.
If the marinara sauce needs more of anything, fix it. When it is too thin, simmer off some of the liquid. If the sauce is too thick, add water or wine a tablespoon at a time until it is right.
Serve with your main dish or use as a dipping sauce.



Published by Doug Deal

Founder Doug Deal is a former chemical engineer from Georgia Tech who switched careers into software development at the turning of the millennium. He has lived in Macon for nearly 12 years and started Macon Community News in 2013 with his wife Lauren. His goal in starting the newspaper was to publicize positive news because he grew tired of so much negativity driving most local coverage. He has 2 children, Sam and Isobel.

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