Twenty-Minute Marinara Sauce with Fresh Basil

Marinara is my quintessential anytime tomato sauce. I can start it when the pasta water goes on the stove and it will be ready when the pasta is just cooked. Yet despite its short cooking time, it develops such fine flavor and pleasing consistency that you may well want to make a double batch, using some right away and freezing the rest for suppers to come. The beauty of this marinara sauce is that it has a freshness, acidity, and simplicity of taste.

This recipe for marinara includes lots of fresh basil, which I keep in the house at all times now that it is available in local supermarkets year-round. I cook a whole basil stalk (or a handful of big sprigs with many leaves attached) submerged in the tomatoes to get all the herb flavor. Then I remove these and finish the sauce and pasta with fresh shredded leaves, giving it another layer of fresh-basil taste. (If you are freezing some of the sauce, by the way, you can wait until you’re cooking with it to add the fresh-basil garnish.)–Lidia Matticchio Bastianich

LC What Goes With Marinara? Note

What goes with marinara? Uh, the obvious answer is pasta. As Lidia Bastianich explains, “This sauce is good with dry and fresh pastas and raviolis. It is wonderful for baked pastas.” However, there’s more that Lidia has to say on the topic. “This sauce can be your base for cooking any fish fillet, chicken breast, pork filet, or veal scaloppini. Sear any of these in a pan, add some marinara sauce, season with your favorite herbs, and let it perk for a few minutes, you’ll have yourself a good dish.” Well. There you have it. [Editor’s Note: It ought to go without saying that you need to rely on the most fabulous quality canned tomatoes you can find.]

Twenty-Minute Marinara Sauce Recipe

  • Quick Glance
  • 20 M
  • 20 M
  • Makes enough for a pound of pasta


  • 1 pound fresh or dried pasta, uncooked
  • 4 cups (one 35-ounce can) San Marzano or other Italian plum tomatoes, undrained
  • 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 7 or 8 fat garlic cloves, sliced (about 1/2 cup)
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried peperoncino (hot red pepper flakes) or more to taste
  • 1 teaspoon salt, or more to taste
  • 1 stalk or big sprigs basil, with 20 or so whole leaves
  • 1/3 cup shredded basil leaves, packed (about 12 whole leaves)
  • 3/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or Grana Padano


  • 1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and cook the pasta according to package directions.
  • 2. Pour the tomatoes and juice into a big bowl. Using both hands, crush the tomatoes and break them up into small pieces. (You don’t have to mash them to bits; I like chunkiness in my marinara, with the tomatoes in approximately 1-inch pieces.) Pour the oil into a big skillet, scatter the garlic slices in the oil, and set over medium-high heat. Cook for 1 1/2 minutes or so, until the slices are sizzling, then add and toast the peperoncino and cook for another 1/2 minute. Shake and stir the pan until the garlic slices are light gold and starting to darken. Immediately pour in the crushed tomatoes, rinse out the tomato can and bowl with 1 cup pasta-cooking water, and dump the water into the skillet too.
  • 3. Increase the heat to medium-high, add the salt, and stir. Push the stalk or sprigs of basil into the sauce until completely covered. When the sauce is boiling, cover the pan, reduce the heat slightly, and cook for 10 minutes at an actively bubbling simmer.
  • 4. Uncover the pan and cook another 5 minutes or so. The sauce should be only slightly reduced from the original volume and ought to be loose and juicy. Remove the poached basil stalk or sprigs from the skillet and discard (but make certain you salvage the sauce that’s clinging to it) and keep the sauce at a low simmer until the pasta is ready.
  • 5. Toss the cooked pasta into the pan of marinara along with the shredded basil. Remove the pan from the heat and toss in the cheese just before serving.
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Recipe Testers Reviews

Larry Noak

May 08, 2004

I, like most other folks that make a red sauce, generally cook it down for hours. Lidia’s recipe allows us to make a WONDERFUL sauce in less than 30 minutes. It seems impossible, but trust me, here it is. It's delicious right from the saucepan, but the following day it is absolutely amazing. Great, complex flavor in a few minutes after work.

Brenda Carleton

May 08, 2004

This is one of the best marinara sauces I've had in ages. Sure, it's a very simple recipe, but the flavor is full and intensely delicious. The recipe called for 1/4 teaspoon peperoncino or more to taste, and I added a bit more for that extra kick. I'm glad I did, but I like things spicy. The recipe also uses a fair amount of garlic, but it didn't overwhelm the tomatoes whatsoever as the garlic mellows when browned. Using some of the pasta water in the sauce is a great idea. And lots of fresh basil brought everything together wonderfully. As recommended in the recipe, I squished the San Marzano tomatoes with my hands and left them chunky for a loose sauce. My husband was so pleased with the sauce he was rendered momentarily speechless!

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