Feb 18

Italian Marinara Sauce – Santelli Family Style

There are few things that can rile me. Crocs are one of those things and spaghetti sauce from a jar or can is one of the others. Yes, I understand that some people have never been taught, cannot be bothered or just do not think that making a homemade spaghetti sauce is simple to accomplish. The truth is that to make a simple base marinara sauce is one of the easiest tasks to accomplish. In addition to being deceptively simple, the sauce is the basis for many additional pasta sauces whether you add meat, vegetables or seafood.

For as many Italian-American surnames in the United States, there are just as many secret family recipes that have been passed down, changed and evolved over time. There is no one way of making a marinara sauce that is better then another…some just taste better, like my great grandmother’s.

Whether you call it Marinara sauce, tomato sauce, Italian sauce, gravy, pasta sauce or spaghetti sauce it is all basically the same.

The basis for the sauce are the tomatoes. This is where personal preference becomes a deciding factor. Do you use strained, crushed, whole peeled (then crushed or blended), paste or puree it is truly the choice of the cook. For me, I prefer to use strained tomatoes for the seeds have been removed which I believe add a bitterness to the sauce. When at all possible I purchase Pomi Strained Tomatoes.


  • 2 x 24 Oz. – 28 Oz. Container of Tomatoes (your choice of the type of tomatoes)
  • 4 – 12 Peeled Garlic Cloves (depending upon size)
  • 1 Cup of Red Wine
  • 1 x TSP Sambal Oelek (Southeast Asian Chili Paste) – Optional, but does provide a subtle kick
  • 1/2 Cup of Grated Italian Cheese (Parmesan or Romano)
  • Olive Oil
  • Salt (I prefer Sea Salt)
  • Black Pepper
  • Italian Seasoning (if I do not have Oregano and Basil growing fresh in the garden)


  1. In a large pot drizzle some Olive Oil and turn the stove on to Medium High.
  2. Add the Garlic and pinch or two Salt when the Olive Oil is hot. With a wooden spoon keep the Garlic from burning. The intent is for the whole Garlic Cloves to have a nice golden brown exterior.
  3. Add the Sambal Oelek, coating the browned Garlic. If you have fresh chili peppers then you can use them in lieu of the Sambal Oelek. Crushed Red Pepper flakes work well in a pinch.
  4. Add the wine, allowing for the alcohol to boil off.
  5. Add the two containers of tomatoes (If using whole peeled tomatoes, you will want to either hand crush, dice or run run them through the blender before adding).
  6. Make sure all of the ingredients are well mixed.
  7. If using Italian Seasoning, liberally coat the surface of the sauce. If using fresh herbs, do not add them until much later in the simmering of the sauce.
  8. Add the Grated Italian Cheese, mixing all of the ingredients completely.
  9. Once the sauce has come to a boil, reduce the temperature to Low, stir and allow the sauce to simmer.
  10. At a minimum, the sauce will need to simmer for an hour or two to ensure that enough water evaporates, the flavors are will combined and you achieve the thickness you desire for your sauce. At some point you will want to add Black Pepper to taste.
  11. If you are using fresh herbs in lieu of dried herbs, add the fresh herbs 15 – 20 minutes before you intend to use the sauce.

Uses for the Marinara Sauce:

  • Serve as is with pasta
  • Add vegetables, meatballs, sausage or seafood
  • Chicken Parmesan
  • Eggplant Parmesan
  • Create a blush sauce by adding Cream or Half & Half

A few additional thoughts:

  • The purpose of keeping the garlic cloves whole in the sauce versus mincing, chopping or slicing is that when simmered whole there is a sweetness that is imparted by the garlic and if the sauce is simmered long enough the garlic will simply dissolve into the sauce.
  • If the sauce becomes to thick, add either water or chicken stock (preferred) to reduce the thickness.
  • Personally, making the sauce the day before and then reheating it the next day for use always seems to make for a better tasting sauce.
  • A sauce in the refrigerator will keep for about a week before needing to be frozen or discarded.
  • Leftover sauce can be frozen and kept for 6 months in the freezer.

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