This easy San Marzano sauce is a classic Italian marinara sauce made with fresh or canned Roma tomatoes, garlic, and herbs. It's ready in 30 minutes and can be frozen for later!
This summer I planted tons and tons of tomato plants.
At least, it was a lot for my little garden plot.
By late spring, I had twenty tomato plants in the ground, and about half of them were varieties of Roma tomatoes. Most of the Roma plants were San Marzano tomatoes, a large Italian tomato variety.
As the weeks went by and the tomatoes ripened, I got busy!
The juicier tomatoes became tomatoes provençal (baked tomatoes with herbs) and were (mostly) packed away in the freezer for later.
Now, as summer is wrapping up and fall is on its way, I wanted to share an easy San Marzano sauce. This classic Italian marinara can be made with your fresh summer tomatoes or with canned tomatoes later in the year.
Why Use San Marzano Tomatoes for Sauce?
San Marzano tomatoes, as well as other types of Roma and paste-style tomatoes, aren't juicy.
When you make sauce with juicy tomatoes, you'll be dealing with a lot more liquid.
San Marzanos also have the perfect flavor for tomato sauce. Their flavor (in my opinion) gets better when cooked, while juicy tomatoes often taste best raw.
Should I Use Fresh Tomatoes or Canned for This Sauce?
For this recipe you can use either.
If you have fresh San Marzanos, use them. This is the recipe they were born to be in!
That said, it's incredibly easy to find canned San Marzano tomatoes.
If you want, look for the D.O.P. certification on the canned tomatoes. This label ensures that the tomatoes are both the San Marzano variety and were grown in the San Marzano region of Italy, as well as a few other regulations.
I use fresh tomatoes in the photos.
Should I Peel the Fresh Tomatoes?
You can if you want to.
Peeled tomatoes will make a smoother sauce.
Personally, I like a little texture in my pasta sauce, and don't mind the peels.
If you want to peel your fresh tomatoes before making this sauce, check the recipe card notes for peeling directions.
If you're using canned tomatoes, they should already be peeled.
How to Make San Marzano Marinara Sauce
If you're using fresh, unpeeled tomatoes, start by roughly dicing them, and then adding them to a bowl.
For whole canned tomatoes, add them to a bowl and crush them with your hands.
Add a cup of water to the bowl with the tomatoes.
Next, add olive oil and diced garlic to a large, shallow pan. I used this Lodge 12" carbon steel skillet.
Don't use a smaller, deeper pan or pot, because the water won't evaporate as quickly.
Heat the oil and garlic until the garlic begins to sizzle.
You're not trying to toast the garlic, but if a little bit of the garlic starts to toast it's okay.
As soon as you hear sizzling, add the tomatoes and water.
At this point, add salt and red chili flakes.
Place a sprig of basil on top of the tomatoes.
As the liquid begins to simmer, it will steam the basil.
Once the basil is wilted, gently push it into the sauce.
If you're making this sauce in the middle of winter and have zero access to fresh basil, that's fine.
Use dried oregano instead. Simply sprinkle it in when you add the salt and chili flakes.
Opt for dried oregano instead of dried basil (if possible) because dried basil is much less flavorful than fresh basil, but dried oregano stays flavorful for a long time.
Simmer the sauce until most of the liquid has evaporated and the sauce is thick.
Pull the basil out of the sauce, and season to taste.
If you decide the sauce is too chunky, add it to a blender and blend until smooth.
At this point, you can serve the sauce right away, store it in the fridge for a few days, or freeze it.
This San Marzano sauce is adapted from The New York Time's classic marinara recipe.
San Marzano Sauce (Classic Marinara)
- large heavy skillet (12-inch minimum)
- 2 pounds fresh San Marzano tomatoes or 28oz canned whole San Marzano tomatoes or swap other varieties of Roma tomatoes
- 1 cup water
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 7 garlic cloves, diced
- 1 teaspoon sea salt, plus more to taste
- ¼ teaspoon red chili flakes
- 1 sprig fresh basil, still on stem Or sub ¼ tsp dried oregano, plus more to taste
- For Fresh Tomatoes:Roughly dice tomatoes. Add to a large bowl with 1 cup water and set aside.For Canned Tomatoes:Add tomatoes to a large bowl, and crush with your hands. Add 1 cup water and set aside.
- Add the oil and garlic to a large, shallow pan. (Use a 12" pan or larger, see recipe notes.)Heat the garlic over medium-low heat, until it begins to sizzle.
- When the garlic is sizzling, but before it begins to toast, add the tomatoes and water. Some small pieces of garlic will likely begin to toast before you add the tomatoes, and that's okay.Increase the heat to medium.
- Add the salt and chili flakes. Set the sprig of basil on top of the tomatoes, but do not submerge it.If you don't have access to fresh basil, sprinkle oregano in the tomato mixture instead.
- When the tomatoes begin to simmer, the basil will wilt. When it is completely wilted, gently push it down into the sauce.
- Simmer the tomatoes for 15-20 minutes, or until most of the water has evaporated and the sauce has thickened.Taste the sauce, and add more chili flakes or salt if desired. If you swapped oregano for basil, add more oregano if desired. Simmer 1-2 more minutes if you added more seasoning.Remove the sprig of basil from the sauce.Serve immediately along with fresh pasta or on pizza, or refrigerate and use within 4-6 days, or freeze and use within a year.
Canned tomatoes are peeled, and will yield a smoother sauce with less texture. If you're using fresh tomatoes and want an extra-smooth marinara, you have two options. 1. Peel the tomatoes first. Use a knife to mark an X on each tomato, and then blanch them in boiling water until the tomato peel loosens (~15-30 seconds). Peel, and then proceed with the recipe. Crush tomatoes with your hands instead of dicing. 2. Blend the sauce. After cooking, add the sauce to a blender or use an immersion blender to blend the peels into the sauce. Varieties of tomatoes: San Marzano (as well as other Roma or paste-style) tomatoes are less juicy, and result in a thicker sauce. If using juicy tomatoes instead of Roma, core and seed the tomatoes. You may want to omit the added water (or add less water), depending on how juicy the tomatoes are.