My goal still is to show people that vegan food can be delicious, fun, easy, accessible, kid-friendly, and reminiscent of the foods they grew up on. My all-time favorites range from Southern twists based on my childhood in Louisiana to comfort dishes inspired by my hometown of Fresno, California, which is deeply rooted in Hispanic culture and Mexican cuisine.—Ashley Hankins

Spicy Marinara Sauce FAQs

Can I make spicy marinara sauce less spicy?

If you want a less spicy or more “traditional” marinara sauce, simply reduce the red pepper flakes by half, or omit them altogether.

How do I make a marinara sauce if I don’t have an immersion blender?

If you don’t have an immersion blender, let the sauce cool for 15 to 20 minutes, then transfer it to a blender and pulse until it’s just smooth.

What can I do with extra marinara sauce?

Aside from using your spicy sauce on a plate of perfectly cooked pasta, you can use it for quite a few other things. It’ll make a terrific base for chili, shakshuka, meatball subs, easy skillet lasagna, pizza sauce, and sloppy Joes.

Spicy marinara sauce in a small mason jar with a spoon, with a larger mason jar, a jar of dry spaghetti, two tomatoes on the vine, and parsley in the background.

Spicy Marinara Sauce

5 from 1 vote
This marinara sauce is so delicious. The hint of sugar balances out the acidity in the tomatoes, and the pop of heat from the red pepper flakes really brings it full circle. Not all canned tomatoes are created equal, though! My favorite brands are San Merican (S.M.T.) Whole Peeled Tomatoes and Target’s house food brand, Good & Gather.
David Leite
Servings4 servings | 3 cups
Calories83 kcal
Prep Time15 minutes
Cook Time45 minutes
Total Time1 hour


  • One (28-ounce) can whole peeled tomatoes
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 tablespoons (1 oz) vegan butter, or substitute regular butter
  • 2/3 cup (about 1 small onion) finely chopped white onions
  • 10 medium cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
  • 2 teaspoons red pepper flakes
  • 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 5 large fresh basil leaves


  • Dump the tomatoes and their juice into a large bowl. Using your hands, crush the tomatoes. Pour 1 cup of water into the empty can and slosh it around carefully to get the rest of the juices. Set the can and water aside.
  • In a large skillet over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the onions and cook, stirring frequently, until they become slightly translucent, 5 to 6 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes more.
  • Carefully pour the tomatoes into the skillet along with the reserved water in the can. Season with sugar, red pepper flakes, Italian seasoning, salt, and black pepper, and stir to combine the ingredients thoroughly.
  • Add the fresh basil and increase the heat to high. Once the sauce reaches a simmer, cover, reduce the heat to low, and simmer until the sauce begins to darken, about 30 minutes.
  • Remove the lid and simmer until thickened, about 15 minutes more. Using an immersion blender, blend the sauce until mostly smooth.

    ☞ TESTER TIP: To avoid splatters from your immersion blender, move the sauce to a deep bowl before blending, or use a regular blender with a lid.

  • Serve immediately or cool to room temperature and refrigerate in an airtight container until ready to serve.
Make It Vegan Cookbook

Adapted From

Make it Vegan

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Serving: 1 servingCalories: 83 kcalCarbohydrates: 9 gProtein: 1 gFat: 5 gSaturated Fat: 1 gMonounsaturated Fat: 2 gTrans Fat: 1 gSodium: 661 mgFiber: 1 gSugar: 4 g

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

Tried this recipe?Mention @leitesculinaria or tag #leitesculinaria!
Recipe © 2021 Ashley Hankins. Photo © 2021 Ashley Hankins. All rights reserved.

Recipe Testers’ Reviews

Homemade marinara is one of those things that is so much better than anything in a jar. My “audience” raved about this sauce. This spicy marinara sauce is packed with flavor and just the right amount of spice. 

My first thought was that 2 teaspoons of red pepper flakes was quite a bit, but it turned out to be just right for us. We do like things on the spicy side, so if you don’t, you might want to decrease the amount of red pepper. Next time, I’ll probably add more fresh basil just because that is a flavor we really enjoy.

Unlike some homemade sauces, it does not require a long time commitment and your kitchen will smell divine while the sauce is simmering. The rest of your meal can be prepared during the simmering time, or the sauce could be made ahead and just heated up when ready to use. 

This versatile sauce could be used in a variety of ways. I served it over grilled chicken on a bed of Campanelle with shaved Parmesan. Some fresh focaccia, a green salad, and a glass of Cabernet completed the meal. It would also be great on a meatball sandwich or as a dipping sauce for breadsticks or fried cheese sticks. This sauce will definitely become a staple at my house.

The title of this spicy marinara sauce is totally accurate – it is spicy – and not for the faint of heart. It is also deliciously thick and robust with straightforward directions. Personally, I didn’t waste fresh basil in this sauce per the directions since long time cooking destroys the delicate flavor. Toss the basil in a salad instead and substitute 1/2 tsp dried basil. Towards the end of simmering, pleasing puddles of dark red floated on the sauce as spicy oils were released from the red pepper flakes.

I served the sauce with bronze die-cut spaghetti but my tasters thought the heat level was a bit much for spaghetti. We enjoyed dipping crusty bread in the remnants and agreed spicy marinara sauce makes a great dipping sauce for almost anything (deep-fried cheese curds anyone?) plus pizza sauce, spiced up chicken cacciatore, and meatball subs.

This recipe will be a keeper with heat level adjustments to suit the dish. We popped the cork of an old vine Zinfandel but the spice level overpowered the wine. Hubby got out some IPA Beer instead and we saved the Zinfandel for later.  

I’m always on the lookout for a “go-to” marinara sauce that isn’t complicated, and therefore easy to remember without having to refer back to the recipe for next time. For easier clean-up, I did everything in one pot: sautéed the onions and garlic in oil, then added the tomatoes (cutting them up with scissors instead of by hand) and water directly to the same pot. I don’t have a lot of freezer space, so it’s nice to be able to make a small batch, although it can be easily doubled if you’re hoping to stock up. The only caution is that it is VERY spicy–you might want to start with just 1 teaspoon to start!

I should start by saying that I am a big fan of Marcella Hazan’s marinara sauce and have been making that for years, making some additions to her ingredient list on occasion. While the sauce is delicious, and I appreciated the additions to Marcella’s recipe, you have to love lots of garlic and lots of heat to like this as written. There are those who appreciate a little more subtlety and will surely want to reduce the garlic and red pepper flakes by at least half.

I thought that this spicy marinara sauce recipe had a lot of garlic cloves in it and thought that it was important that I had used small cloves. The taste of garlic was not over-powering however. I thought that the final taste of chile flakes was a little overpowering for my taste and would definitely tone this down if I made the sauce again.

About David Leite

I count myself lucky to have received three James Beard Awards for my writing as well as for Leite’s Culinaria. My work has also appeared in The New York Times, Martha Stewart Living, Saveur, Bon Appétit, Gourmet, Food & Wine, Yankee, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, The Washington Post, and more.

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