Cooking with Lou

Lou’s Marinara Sauce

– Posted in: Pasta

marinara_to_freezeI like to make up marinara sauce (meatless red sauce)  in very large batches. Then I can adapt it to many dishes. To turn it into a delicious red meat sauce, lasagna sauce, or even chili check out the spaghetti sauce recipe, Lou’s Low Fat Lasagna, or Spiced up Chili.

Here’s where you can make your meals healthier. Don’t buy processed sauce in a jar from the grocery store.  Most of them contain an abundance of sodium (salt) and sugar. If you make your own, you know exactly what is in it. You control the ingredients. That is one of the keys to a healthier life style.

You can always add vegetables to the sauce for a vegetarian twist. One of my favorite things to do is to grill or bake chicken using my favorite seasonings, then chop it up and add it to a quart of sauce and pour it over penne noodles. It also makes a great pizza sauce. I’m sure you can find even more uses for this sauce.


  • 1 large onion
  • 4 gloves of garlic or 2 teaspoons garlic powder, NOT garlic salt. If you use minced garlic from a jar, you’ll need 1  tablespoon.
  • 1 stalk of celery, if you don’t like the texture of celery, you can substitute celery seed (which I do)
  • 2 small cans of quality tomato paste (4 oz)
  • 1 large can of quality tomato sauce (32 oz)
  • 1 can of dice tomatoes (16 oz)
  • Water
  • 2 tablespoons fresh basil (chopped) or 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1 tablespoon fresh oregano (chopped) or 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon of all spice (or 5-6 whole all spice cloves)
  • 1-2 bay leaves
  • a sprinkle or two of nutmeg or grate a small amount of a fresh nutmeg nut with your zester.
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar (Don’t substitute other vinegars, such as cider, or plain vinegar)
  • 1 cup of drinkable red wine.
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda (it helps reduce the acidity of the tomatoes)
  • 1 teaspoons salt
  • Black pepper to taste (but at least a teaspoon)

This is the total list of ingredients for my marinara sauce.


  • Finely chop the onion, celery and garlic (If you use minced garlic in a jar (which I do often), you’ll need about 2 tablespoons. (I love garlic, so if you don’t, reduce the total amount of garlic in half, but absolutely DO NOT leave it out.
  • Pour enough olive oil into a large sauce pan (A LARGE sauce pan, like you would boil noodles in) to cover the bottom. Turn heat to medium. When the oil is hot (wavy in the bottom of the pan, turn the heat to medium-low and add the onions and celery.
  • Saute the onions and celery until the onions are translucent. If you chose not to use celery, but to use celery seed, don’t add that now. Wait a few steps.
  • Turn the heat down to low and add half of the garlic. Let simmer for 1-2 minutes.
  • Add the tomato sauce and the diced tomatoes.
  • Rinse each can with a little water and dump into the pot.
  • Add the tomato paste. Stir until all paste is incorporated. Don’t throw the can away yet! We’re going to fill it with wine (or water) first.
  • Pour some of the wine into each can, swish or stir gently to get all of the paste off the edges. Pour it into the pot. Any extra wine….pour it in. If you only have white wine in the house… problem, use it.
  • Add salt, pepper,celery seed, garlic powder, bay leaf, allspice, and sugar
  • Bring up to a low simmer and let it cook for 20  minutes
  • Add the herbs  (While dried herbs are more potent, it takes them longer to release their flavor than it does for fresh herbs). Let simmer 5 to 10 minutes
  • Add the balsamic vinegar (optional) Sometimes the sauce will just lack depth of flavor (don’t ask me to explain that, it’s just that if all you can taste is tomatoes, then the sauce lacks depth. This is when I add the balsamic vinegar. I add it a little bit at a time until I can pick up the delicacy of the herbs and the underlying tartness of the tomatoes.
  • Add the baking soda (optional)
  • let simmer on low heat  for 10 more minutes or two hours. The longer it cooks the thicker the sauce and the richer the flavor. STIR FREQUENTLY! TASTE FREQUENTLY. Tasting is how you learn what to add to perfect the sauce. Sometimes all it takes is a pinch of salt to bring out multiple flavors.

This is the  basic marinara sauce recipe. The amount of garlic and black pepper is a matter of personal taste. You can add more or lessen the amount if you choose. Don’t be afraid to taste and taste often during the cooking process.  If you think it needs something, add it. Towards the end of the cooking time, I always check to see if it needs more salt.  I usually have to add more than the original teaspoon, but not wanting it to get too salty at this point I only add  salt, one pinch at a time, and taste until I achieve the right level.  Just to reduce the acid from the tomatoes, I add a little baking soda (no more than a 1/2 teaspoon.) It will fizz a bit, but just let it continue to simmer for a bit and then let it sit. The fizz will get absorbed.

Your marinara sauce is ready to use or to freeze. Divide it into pint or quart containers. You should end up with 3+ quarts of sauce.


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