1. Start with good canned tomatoes!
- I love fire-roasted tomatoes, and vacillate back and forth between crushed and diced.
- I prefer a smooth sauce, so I always puree mine with an immersion blender at the end, rendering the decision between crushed and diced insignificant. If you like your marinara sauce chunky, simply leave it as is after cooking.
- My standard ratio of tomato products is the following: 28 oz canned crushed or diced tomatoes to 8 oz canned tomato sauce to 1 Tbsp tomato paste.
- If you’re curious about specific brands, I like Muir Glen Organic Fire-Roasted Tomatoes.
2. Build layers of flavor – even before adding spices.
- I know that some people have an aversion to onions and/or garlic, so feel free to omit them. If – like me – you love ‘em, then saute onions and garlic in some olive oil as the base of your sauce. Caramelized onions are another option.
- Sometimes I add red wine to the sauce, sometimes I don’t. It usually depends on whether or not we have an open bottle in the kitchen. Now that I’m pregnant, we rarely drink wine, and the sauce is just as delicious without it. If you would like to add a touch of wine, I recommend Pinot Noir, but Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Shiraz all work fine as well.
- Some people like sweeter sauces, so you can add more honey or granulated sugar to taste. Chopped or shredded carrots added in with the onions and garlic is a natural way to sweeten your sauce and balance out the acidity of the tomatoes.
- Adding ground meat (chicken, pork, beef, sausage) to the onions and garlic is another way to add depth of flavor to your sauce. I tend to use less meat than most recipes call for, preferring to use it as a flavor element rather than main ingredient when I make meat sauce.
- A vegetarian option for “beefing” up your marinara sauce is sliced mushrooms. I am NOT a mushroom fan, so you won’t find them in my sauce, but feel free to saute some into the onions and garlic if you’d like.
- Yet another tasty add-in is sundried tomatoes. If you’re using oil-packed tomatoes, give them a good draining before adding to the cooked onions and garlic; sundried tomatoes not packed in oil will plump up during the cooking process as they absorb the moisture from the sauce.
3. Spices & seasonings.
- If you decide to use no-salt-added canned tomato products, you will obviously want to season your sauce to taste with Kosher salt.
- Freshly cracked black pepper always makes its way into my sauce.
- Other favorite spices include dried oregano, basil, red pepper flakes, garlic powder, onion powder, bay leaves, and dried parsley.
- For a spicier marinara sauce, add in more red pepper flakes to taste.
4. Finishing touches.
- Once the sauce is done cooking, you can add additional flavor by way of chopped fresh basil and/or parsley.
- Another nice finishing touch is grated parmesan stirred into the fully cooked sauce.
- For a creamy sauce, add in 1/4 cup half-and-half or milk to the cooked sauce.
- You can also stir in 1/4 cup prepared pesto into your cooked marinara sauce.
Now that you’re armed with a bunch of tips for putting your own spin on marinara sauce, take a look at my basic recipe and let your taste buds guide you .