Slow-Cooked Marinara Sauce


Preparation info

  • Difficulty


  • Servings: Makes

    8-9 cups

Appears in

This is where it all starts. A large pot of tomatoes simmering with herbs and onions on the stovetop is perhaps the iconic image of Italian cooking.

For this recipe, don’t even try to use fresh tomatoes unless you can find very fresh, in-season tomatoes. Using bland winter tomatoes will leave you with a lackluster sauce. If you’re in doubt, just use good canned tomatoes. They work really well. If you do find yourself with perfect, fresh tomatoes, see "Working with Fresh Tomatoes" at right for advice on preparing them for your sauce.

Prep Time: 10 minutes (30 if using fresh tomatoes)
Total Time: 1 hour 30 minutes (at least 2 hours with fresh)


  • 2 medium white onions
  • 3-4 cloves garlic
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • ½ cup red wine
  • 5 pounds fresh tomatoes or 3 (28-ounce) cans whole tomatoes
  • 1 tablespoon dried basil
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon dried marjoram (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)
  • Salt and pepper


  1. Dice onions and mince garlic. Add oil to a large, heavy pot over medium-low heat. Add onions and garlic and cook until transparent, about 5 minutes. You don’t want the vegetables to brown.
  2. Add red wine to pan and cook for another minute to deglaze the pan. Add tomatoes along with any juice from the tomatoes. Bring to a simmer over medium heat. Add basil, oregano, and optional herbs to the sauce, stir, and continue to cook.
  3. Let the sauce simmer, partially covered, until the tomatoes break down almost completely. This will take over an hour. You can use a potato masher to help break down the tomatoes.
  4. If at any point the sauce looks too thick, add ½ cup water to the sauce and continue to cook down. Keep your heat on low to medium so the sauce doesn’t burn.
  5. When the tomatoes are mostly broken down and the sauce is nice and thick, it’s done. Taste for salt and pepper. It’ll probably need a good pinch of both. If you prefer a smoother sauce, feel free to pulse in a blender or food processor until smooth.

Garnishes for Pasta

  • Parmesan cheese
  • Fresh basil
  • Pine nuts

Working with Fresh Tomatoes

Fresh tomatoes will add at least an hour onto your total cooking time for a marinara sauce, but your sauce will have a slightly fresher taste. It’s not worth it, though, unless you can find very good, fresh tomatoes. I prefer to use Roma tomatoes when I make it.

To prepare the tomatoes, start by cutting a small × in the bottom of the tomato with a sharp knife. Dunk the tomatoes in boiling water for about 30 to 45 seconds, then remove the tomatoes with a slotted spoon and let them cool briefly.

Using your hands, peel off the tomato skins. Assuming you have ripe tomatoes, they should slip out of their skins without too much trouble. Use your hands to roughly rip apart the tomatoes, saving the juices. Add the dissected tomatoes to a large bowl. After all your tomatoes have been juiced, add the juice (being sure to strain it first to remove seeds) back in with the tomatoes. It’s okay if a few seeds are in the mix, but try to get rid of most of them, as they will never cook down.

Use the fresh tomatoes and juice for the Slow-Cooked Marinara Sauce recipe.