5 Tips and Tricks for a Perfect Marinara Spaghetti Sauce

Of all the amazing spaghetti sauce recipes out there, marinara must be one of my favorites. Just imagine – a huge bowl of spaghetti covered in this tomato-based spaghetti sauce and topped with grated Parmesan. What a great way to end a busy day!

The best thing about marinara is that it is very easy to make. So, instead of rushing to the store and buying a canned version full of preservatives and sugars, read my tips and tricks to make this simple sauce at home in no time.

Let’s see the ingredients before we begin:

  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • 2 smashed cloves garlic
  • 1 can tomatoes (or 28 oz. ripe tomatoes)
  • 1 tsp oregano
  • 1 tsp thyme
  • 1 tsp basil (preferably fresh)
  • salt and fresh pepper to taste
  • pinch of sugar (optional)

#1 Choose the Right Tomatoes for Your Spaghetti Sauce

Rule number one: avoid fresh tomatoes. Firstly, because they are very difficult to peel. My advice is to choose either slightly overripe tomatoes or canned ones for your spaghetti sauce.

If you decide on canned tomatoes, you’ll find that there is a number of varieties: whole, diced, crushed, pureed… I’ve tried all options and found the whole peeled tomatoes to be the best for my marinara spaghetti sauce recipes. They contain the lowest amounts of preservatives and will decompose easily during cooking, so there is no need to dice them. I also recommend that you choose an unflavored version of these tomatoes. Adding herbs and spice yourself will make the sauce much better.

#2 Complement Your Spaghetti Sauce with Vegetables

When I say add vegetables I don’t mean overloading the spaghetti sauce and turn it into a stew. Remember, marinara is supposed to be simple. So, avoid adding carrots or celery; the former will alter the color, whereas the latter will add a slightly bitter note. All a marinara spaghetti sauce needs is some garlic and onion, sautéed in olive oil until soft and aromatic.

Note: If you are not in a horrible rush, consider sweating the garlic and onion first. Add the veggies to the pan, stir so that they are coated with oil. Put the lid on and leave them for about 15 minutes over medium-high heat, stirring from time to time. The point is not to leave the onions crunchy, they should be translucent and soft but not browning.

Note: If you’re making big amounts of marinara sauce, use a large pot instead of a frying pan or skillet.

#3 Time to Season Your Spaghetti Sauce

The best time to start seasoning your marinara spaghetti sauce is while the onions are sweating.

  • Adding just a dash of sugar will emphasize the tomatoes’ natural sweetness;
  • Be generous with salt and pepper; add them when the onions are sweating and once again at the end of the cooking process;
  • If you’re using dried herbs, like oregano, basil, or thyme, add them with the onions as well. The medium heat will make them release more natural oil and they’ll be more fragrant.
  • On the other hand, if you are using fresh herbs, add them at the end to avoid them becoming brown and soggy.

Note: Avoid using rosemary in marinara sauce recipes since its taste is too overwhelming for such a light dish.

#4 Adding the Tomatoes to Your Spaghetti Sauce

If you have chosen ripe tomatoes, cut them in half and grate or dice them. If you go for a canned version, you can either dice the tomatoes, crush them with a potato masher or with your hands. As mentioned before, if you don’t mind tomato chunks in your marinara spaghetti sauce, let them break down during cooking. In the case of canned tomatoes, add the juice as well. Cook with the pot partially covered.

How to make your marinara sauce super-smooth? The answer is: with a blender or a food processor. But be careful – you should pulse, not puree the sauce. It is even better if you own an immersion blender.

Note: At this point, you can add previously cooked meatballs or sausages to simmer.

#5 Serving the Spaghetti Sauce

Serving your spaghetti with marinara is a process on its own and can contribute to the final deliciousness significantly.

  • Make sure that your pasta is cooked ‘al dente’, which means slightly undercooked. Bear in mind that the spaghetti will finish cooking in the hot sauce.
  • Save some of the water where your spaghetti had been cooking (about a cup) and it before adding the sauce (add the water gradually, in small batches to avoid making the dish soupy). This water contains lots of starch which will prevent the pasta from absorbing the juices from the sauce and become too dry.
  • Cover the cooked pasta with the marinara spaghetti sauce and use tongs to toss it around in order to coat completely and evenly.
  • Don’t forget to grate Parmesan cheese on top!

For more details and useful info on great pasta dishes, read The Best Homemade Spaghetti Sauce Recipes!