Jun 10, 2011

Homemade Italian Tomato (Marinara) Sauce

Recently I had a friend ask for my help when cooking, she was in need of recipes for a posh dinner party and was beginning to lose control! I can safely say we have never had a posh dinner party as we prefer food that everyone can share and have fun with. But I agreed to help, this was going to be tough. So as we normally do we sent back and forth recipes until she stumbled upon one she liked. The problem was she had never made a basic tomato sauce or a roux before. I have to say i was shocked, but then i began to see people in the supermarket buying hollandaise and bechamel sauces and they are not cheap! After a lengthy tutorial in sauce making she practiced and had a wonderful dinner party but the thing that still stuck in my mind was the lack of knowledge of basic sauce making. So the next 5 posts shall concern the 5 mother sauces!

The First Mother Sauce - Marinara - Basic Tomato

OK so what are the 5 mother sauces, well they were a creation by the king of chefs, French chef Antoine Careme who is probably better known as the father of French Haute Cuisine. They are the 5 basic sauces on which all sauces are created. They are Bechamel, Veloute, Espangole, Hollandaise / Mayonnaise and Tomato (Pomodoro/Marinara).The tomato sauce was added later to the list due to its versatility.

Each of these is essential to learn as they feature quite heavily in a lot of recipes. For example bechamel can be used as a base for cheese sauce, parsley sauce, as a white sauce for lasagna and cannelloni and as a seafood sauce. Veloute can be flavoured with fish, meat or fruit making it a very versatile sauce to have in your recipe kit. Espangole is a heavier style sauce and one which goes very well with robust cuts of meat, its particularly good in beef Bourguignonne. 

Hollandaise and Mayonnaise are two of the hardest sauces you will learn to cook but when you get them right I promise you will never ever buy the shop bought stuff again. Its always nice to see peoples reactions when you tell them that you made the sauce, have a pen and paper handy as you will be giving the recipe out constantly. Hollandaise is so widely used a base for many sauces, but my favorites would have to be Bearnaise, Vin Blanc, Dijon and Beurre Noisette. Mayonnaise again is another sauce that loves to have flavour added whether that's ketchup, dijon, dill, garlic (aioli), lemon or just plain mayonnaise to dunk your fries into.

Finally and I leave the best till last as its the one you will use the most in your cooking is the tomato based sauce. Friends and family have all asked for this recipe and it is the first thing I teach to new cooks. It breeds confidence into a person when they taste their creation and urges them on to learn and create new dishes with this delicious sauce. It is so versatile and can be used as a sauce for cannelloni, lasagna, wet burritos, curry,  in minestrone soup, or as a sauce over meat and fish. Its especially good in moules provencale.

So in keeping with my five sauce posts promise here is the first, my basic Italian tomato sauce, feel free to leave out the bay leaf and thyme or add/reduce the garlic to your taste or substitute with other flavours to create new dishes. Add some homemade curry paste or preserved lemons for curries and tagines for example. The fun is in the experimentation! With this Italian tomato sauce always make more than you need, not only does it freeze so well but the larger the amount the better the flavour. Also you wont have it long sitting in the freezer. Mine stays in no longer than a week! Buon Appetito!

Makes 2 litres

2 Large Onions
6 Cloves Garlic
6 Large Ripe Tomatoes
4 x 400g Tin Plum tomatoes
2-3 Bay Leafs
Sprig of Thyme
Handful of Basil (Opt)
2 Vegetable Stock cubes / 100ml Fresh stock
Sugar (Only use if bitter taste to sauce)
Sea Salt
Freshly Ground Black Pepper

To a large saucepan add a couple of tablespoons of olive oil and heat gently. Be generous as it will infuse great flavour in your sauce. Finely chop your onion and sweat with no color until soft and opaque. Crush in the garlic and cook for a further minute. Make sure your garlic does not burn as it will give your sauce a bitter taste.

Add your roughly chopped fresh tomatoes and your tins of plum tomatoes. Mix well. Add the 2 stock cubes or even better the 100mls of fresh stock and stir again. If the sauce tastes a little bitter you can add a little sugar to sweeten. This usually only happens with not quite ripe tomatoes or cheap tinned tomatoes.

Throw in a couple of bay leafs and a sprig of thyme. Simmer for 20 mins then remove the bay leaves and thyme sprig. Do not leave this in the sauce as it will make it bitter. At the very end of cooking add the torn basil leaves and mix through gently. Adjust seasoning if required and freeze in handy batches for use later.


  1. Great idea - I cannot imagine buying sauces (apart from the annual jar of Hellmans mayo - and only for particular dishes) but I wholehearted agree. It is worth learning these mother sauces because you will use them again, and again, and again. Great post!

  2. Great basic - I have to say, never made hollandaise and I DO get lazy about mayo, though I buy it maybe once or twice a year to make a special dish or something. Marinara sauce, though, don't know the last time I bought a jar of tomato sauce! thanks for this wonderful version.

  3. I think the self made tomato sauce tastes so much better than the can ready made. There is only one but, in the northern hemisphere the tomatoes in the shops taste nothing in the winter. Then I prefer to make the sauce with canned tomatoes. I think it tastes better. But in the summer and with the tomatoes from your own garden, it's heaven :P. Thanks for the recipe

  4. Dee Bee @Thyme and PatienceJune 10, 2011 at 2:56 PM

    @Belinda, I get lazy too and I have a jar of mayo in the fridge for sandwiches right now. Cant beat some hellmans! Hollandaise is so easy once you get the hang of it.

    @Mumsfilibaba, I totally agree, Im a very seasonal cook and I substitute fresh tomatoes for more tinned tomatoes aswell in winter. Have to say though nothing compares to a ruby red freshly picked tomato.

  5. Great plan. Most people don't realize they can make their own sauces or that they're usually healthier and tastier! Can't wait to see the next ones :) Buzzed!

  6. This is a really good post! Thanks for sharing. And I agree... making your own sauces is so much better for you.

  7. Marinara is something I use a lot of and this recipe looks easy and delicious. thanks for sharing.

  8. Great article. I am Italian and I literally grew up with my mom preparing tomato sauce. She would also use garden tomatoes in the summer and canned peeled tomatoes ('pelati') in winter. I was shocked to find out that very few people in North America make their sauces from scratch, and by the huge amounts of spices and other ingredients contained in bought tomato sauces (or "spaghetti" sauces as they're often called). Thanks for your recipe and looking forward to the other 4 sauces!

  9. Thanks for sharing this recipe. I am sure it will help a lot :)

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  11. Looks delicious! Nothing like a good home made marinara

  12. This looks wonderful, I've been looking for a good basic marinara sauce! I need to give it a try for sure.