Bursting with zesty tomato goodness, this homemade marinara sauce is delicious over Italian-style baked meatballs with gluten-free pasta, as a dipping sauce for garlic bread, and more. We’ll talk about more ways to use it in a moment, but first let’s talk tomatoes.
If you’ve ever experienced the summer-in-a-jar, bright flavor of San Marzano tomatoes, you may be convinced there’s no other tomato worth making marinara with.
I hear you, I do. But . . . it’s possible to add that brightness all kinds of whole tomatoes regardless of where they’re grown.
When the brand I used to buy stopped carrying organic San Marzano tomatoes in glass jars, I began experimenting with other options to see which ones had the best flavor profile.
What I discovered is that one simple ingredient increases the brightness of just about any marinara sauce without overdoing the acidity – lemon zest.
Once the marinara is finished simmering, just use a microplane grater to lightly dust the sauce with zest. The perfect amount will vary based on the acidity and flavor of the tomatoes, so let your palate be your guide. And if you’re anything like me, try not to eat most of the sauce while you’re “taste testing” for flavor.
Ways To Use Homemade Marinara Sauce
- With oven-baked meatballs
- As pizza sauce spread over a homemade crust
- Over gluten-free pasta or zucchini noodles
- As a dipping sauce for homemade garlic bread (made with gluten-free boule bread), mozzarella cheese sticks, or fried calamari
- Over chicken parmesan or eggplant parmesan
- In homemade lasagna or baked ziti
Easy Homemade Marinara Sauce Recipe
- sharp chopping knife
- stirring spoon
- microplane grater (optional)
- 28 oz. whole tomatoes or crushed tomatoes with liquid (That's 1.5 jars of the brand I usually use. I use the remaining half jar in soup)
- ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 tbsp minced garlic cloves
- ⅓ cup yellow onion (finely diced)
- 1 tsp dried oregano
- ¾ tsp sea salt (plus more if needed)
- ½ tsp freshly cracked black pepper (or ¼ teaspoon finely ground pepper)
- 4 fresh basil leaves, plus extra chopped basil for serving (optional)
- organic lemon rind for zesting (optional)
- pinch of red pepper flakes (optional)
- fresh parmesan for topping (optional)
- In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium heat. When it's hot, add the garlic and onion and saute for 2 minutes.
- Add the tomatoes (with the liquid they came in), oregano, salt, pepper and optional red pepper flakes if using.
- Bring the liquid to a simmer over medium-high heat, then reduce to a low simmer and cook for about 15-20 minutes. Using a spatula, gently break apart the whole tomatoes as they cook. They'll continue to break down a little as they simmer, so leave them a little larger than you want them to be in the final sauce.
- During the last five minutes, add four whole fresh basil leaves if desired. Remove the pan from heat and scoop out the leaves before serving. Add more salt and pepper to taste if needed. If desired, add a light dusting of lemon zest to brighten up the flavor. You can also top with chopped fresh basil or parmesan cheese if desired.
More Italian Inspired Comfort Food Recipes
Cassava Pizza Crust – If you love pizza but need to be gluten-free, this pizza crust is easy to make, holds together well and has the doughy texture of traditional pizza.
Homemade Pesto – Basil pesto is so versatile. It can be sauteed with shrimp, slathered over chicken or fish, tossed with grilled veggies, mixed into pasta, or used as a topping for pizza.
Creamy Tuscan Chicken – This one-skillet recipe from Paleo Running Momma features a creamy sauce packed with spinach and sun-dried tomatoes. It’s dairy-free and Whole30-friendly.