The Frugal Café | Photo credit: Rebecca Anne, "Flora's Cup"</a> | Creative Commons License,
Photo credit: Rebecca Anne, "Flora's Cup" | Creative Commons License,

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Three Frugal Marinara Sauce Recipes

Compiled by Vicki McClure Davidson


Super-Easy Marinara Sauce

This simple and zesty marinara sauce is so much better tasting than store-bought spaghetti sauce. The addition of salt is optional, although it definitely enhances the flavors.


In a large saucepan, sauté garlic and onion in olive oil on low heat until onion is tender. Stir all remaining ingredients in with sautéd mixture; heat just to boiling; then reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, for 45 minutes. Stir occasionally.

Carefully purée the hot sauce in in a food processor or a blender. This sauce can be served hot over cooked spaghetti pasta and topped with grated Parmesan cheese, or use it as the base for other Italian dishes.

Serves 5 (1/2 c. servings).


Ridiculously Easy & Thick Marinara Sauce


Sauté onions and garlic cloves in olive oil on stove until almost tender. Combine all ingredients, including liquid from canned tomatoes, in heavy pot with lid. Stir gently to thoroughly mix. Cook covered on stove, with temperature set at medium-low, for 1 hour. Serve on hot pasta or use as a dipping sauce.

Serves 4-6.


Authentic Italian Marinara Sauce


Place the sliced garlic and olive oil in large sauce pan. Turn the heat to medium and cook until the garlic is soft and lightly browned. Be careful to not overcook the garlic, or it will turn bitter. Crush the tomatoes and add, with their juices, to the pan. Add basil, salt, and pepper.

Bring to a boil, then lower the heat to a simmer and cook until the sauce has thickened—approximately 20 to 25 minutes.

Serves 6.


Here's a prep tip from America's Test Kitchen on making marinara sauce when using canned tomatoes:

"Want a better marinara? Use a quarter cup of grated onion to add sweetness and complexity to canned tomatoes."

Extracted from: America's Test Kitchen newsletter, "Kitchen Tips That Work," February 4, 2010.


Some Cool Historical Info about the Origins of Marinara Sauce

Marinara sauce originated with sailors during the 16th century. The high acid level of tomato sauce kept it from spoiling as quickly as other foods, a necessity when you're out to sea for months at a time and don't have access to buying fresh foods. | Photo credit: Public Domain Photos


Marinara sauce originated with Italian sailors during the 16th century. The high acid level of tomato sauce kept it from spoiling as quickly as other foods, a necessity when you're out to sea and don't have access to buying fresh foods. | Photo credit: Public Domain Photos

Marinara sauce apparently originated with sailors in Naples back during the 16th century, after the Spaniards introduced the tomato to their neighboring countries.

The word marinara was originally derived from the word marinaro, which is Italian for "of the sea." Because of this, many people mistakenly believe marinara sauce includes some type of fish or seafood, like anchovies.

However, that isn't the case. Marinara sauce loosely translates as "the sauce of the sailors," because it was a meatless sauce extensively used on sailing ships by cooks before modern refrigeration techniques were invented.

The lack of meat and the ease and simplicity of making tasty marinara sauces were particularly appealing to the sailing ship cooks, because the high acid content of the tomatoes and the absence of any type of meat fat resulted in a sauce that would not easily spoil. This was a necessity because the ships would be out to sea for months and opportunities to get fresh supplies were few and far between. Cooks had to employ ingenuity when feeding hungry crews; recipes for meals with a longer-than-usual shelf life were in great demand.

The nutritional value and health benefits of tomatoes were not known back then, but sailors who ate quantities of the sauce were typically in better health than those who didn't. Tomatoes are a rich source of vitamins and anti-oxidants (for more information on the preparation of tomatoes and their health benefits, read this post: The Truth about Tomatoes).

There are hundreds of variations of marinara sauce, all robust, nutritious, and delicious. And, most are quite inexpensive to make.



Related Reading & Recipes:
The Truth about Tomatoes
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Dodson, Mardi, Bachmann, Janet, and Williams, Paul, National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service website, "Organic Greenhouse Tomato Production," ATTRA Publication #IP190/197, (, 2002.
The America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook: Featuring More Than 1,200 Kitchen-Tested Recipes, America's Test Kitchen, 2005.
The Italian Chef website, (
Tomato Casual website, (
Wikipedia website, (
WiseGeek website, (