You'll be transported to Italy!

Cook’s Illustrated Quick Marinara

It’s 2019 now and I decided it was high time I updated this post for Cook’s Illustrated Quick Marinara – I first posted this recipe in 2012, long before I knew much about running a blog at all! And here it is years later and I have only scratched the surface. In the meantime, carbs fell out of fashion, the world of cooking has exploded and now it seems, carbs are rising again in popularity.

Cook's Illustrated Quick Marinara

Cook’s Illustrated Quick Marinara


Regardless, Cook’s Illustrated Marinara has stood the test of time, at least at my house! I just made it again, today, for a quick dinner for the kids (my son Kraig, who would have been a teenager when this was first posted and is now a young man, and his girlfriend Tweety). Who would have thought the years would fly by so quickly! I do have to give a shout out to another CI recipe that’s also a fave, Simple, Quick Italian Tomato Sauce. That’s the one where the onions are grated just in case you’re looking for that recipe and landed on this page.

About Cook’s Illustrated Quick Marinara:

Speaking of quick, is it a weird transition to mention now how quick this easy but quirky marinara sauce is? And how delicious? It has just the right amount of garlicky, herby zestiness, you want, a rich flavor from deeply caramelized tomatoes, a touch of wine that gives it a deep backbone. Then the quirkiness: just before it’s done, a few reserved tomatoes are added in. It tastes so fresh, you’d never guess it was built on canned tomatoes! Only after it’s cooked is it run through the food processor, leaving this sauce the perfect combination of saucy and chunky!

Of course, you’re not limited to serving Marinara over pasta. It’s a classic sauce, and a simple one and there are literally hundreds of ways to use it.  Marinara can be used in classic dishes, it can be built upon for more complex sauces and of course you can use it anywhere you’d normally want to use a jarred “spaghetti” sauce, although this is so much better than any jarred sauce you’ll find. Try this once and there will be no going back. Here are just 50 ways to use a Pasta Sauce, from the Food Network if you’d like some inspiration.

Did you know the first marinara sauces were more like a salsa? There’s a debate on how the recipe came about; from the Italian ‘alla marinara’ or ‘sailor style’, it was named after the sailors. Was it because it is made from ingredients carried by ship from the New World or was it named for housewives, who upon seeing the ships pull in, rushed to make a quick sauce so the sailor would have something to eat as is so often speculated? Some think it was because fishermen used the sauce over seafood. Or was it named, as I believe, because mariners brought the salsa like preparation to Italy, having experienced something similar in their travels? Honestly, if my sailor was returning, the last thing on my mind would be tomato sauce – okay, I’m trying to keep it B rated here!

Cook's Illustrated Quick Marinara

Cook’s Illustrated Quick Marinara

Making Cook’s Illustrated Quick Marinara:

I think I saw someone mention once that this sauce takes about an hour. If I’m on my game, I can knock it off in about 40 minutes, especially since I love this on the fresher side. It’s perfect for a weeknight dinner! Just dump some oil in a pan, toss in the onion and while that’s cooking, drain and prepare the tomatoes, gather the rest of the ingredients and the food processor or blender.

Once the onion is browned and ready, everything else follows, lickety-split. I put the pan of water on for the pasta after I add in the tomatoes to brown and dump in the pasta three or four minutes after the tomato juice is added, and everything is finished up at about the same time. While the tomatoes are cooking or the tomato juice is simmering is a great time to multi-task and get anything else ready for dinner that needs to be done.

Since this makes about four cups, it’s perfect for a family. Sometimes I double the recipe but it does take longer to reduce and thicken and will need to be processed in batches. Still, it’s nice to double and then freeze half.

Saving Money on Cook’s Illustrated Quick Marinara:

One of my favorite, always on hand, pantry items is whole tomatoes. I rarely buy any other kind unless a recipe calls for something else and it’s very particular. I just think they’re the most versatile and can be crushed or diced as needed. Generall the larger cans are the least expensive (when compared per pound) so often use what I need from a can and label and freeze any excess.

Stock your pantry when they’re at a low, generally about once a quarter and you’ll always have sales priced tomatoes for your recipes. Make sure to find a use for the leftover juices from the tomatoes that aren’t used in the recipe – you’ll have a cup to a cup and a half. Maybe freeze for meatloaf, soups, etc., or doctor up for a Bloody or Virgin Mary. The juice, imho, tastes a bit “tinny” so I prefer it when something is added if I plan to drink it.

I don’t use expensive wines to cook with, but I take more care when something is simmered and reduced for a long time – use an inexpensive Chianti or Merlot here. Kee your eye open for bargain wines; my last wine was bought at a gas station while driving through Iowa – I  picked up several bottles of Yellow Tail for $2.75. Who knew you could buy wine at a gas station!

You'll be transported to Italy!

You’ll be transported to Italy!

Quick Marinara

  • Servings: makes abt 4 cups
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

  • 2 (28 oz) cans whole tomatoes packed in juice
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped finely
  • 2 medium garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/3 cup dry red wine, such as Chianti or Merlot
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh basil leaves or one tablespoon dried
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  • 1-2 teaspoons sugar, if desired
  • a few fresh herbs for garnish, basil, parsley and/or oregano, optional
  • Pasta for serving
  • Parmesan cheese, for serving

Heat olive oil in large skillet or Dutch oven over medium heat until shimmering. Add onion and cook, stirring occasionally until softened and golden around edges, 6-8 minutes. Add garlic and oregano and cook, 30 seconds or until fragrant.  If using dried basil, add it now.

As the onions cook, pour tomatoes and juice into strainer set over large bowl. Open tomatoes with hands and working over a strainer, remove, any seeds and hard areas from the stem. Place each tomato as it is finished in a bowl, and when all are done, empty out the seeds and waste from the strainer and add the tomatoes from the bowl, along with any juices, back to the strainer. Let tomatoes drain excess liquid, about 5 minutes, pushing the tomatoes around a time or two to facilitate draining. Remove 3/4 cup tomatoes from strainer and set aside. Reserve 2 1/2 cups tomato juice after stirring.

When onions are finished and the garlic and oregano and basil, if dried, are added and have cooked for about 30 seconds, add tomatoes from strainer and increase heat to medium-high. Cook, stirring every minute until liquid has evaporated and tomatoes begin to stick to bottom of pan, 10-12 minutes. Add wine and cook until thick and syrupy, about 1 minute. Add 2 1 /2 cups reserved tomato juice and bring to simmer; reduce heat to medium and cook until sauce is thick, 8-10 minutes.

Transfer sauce to food processor and add reserved tomatoes, process until slightly chunky. Return sauce to pan and add basil and extra-virgin olive oil. salt, pepper, and sugar to taste.

Serve over pasta or toss freshly cooked pasta with the marinara, garnish with fresh herbs if desired and serve, passing Parmesan cheese.


  • A pinch of red pepper flakes is a good addition to the recipe.
  • This makes 4 cups, a standard jar of pasta sauce is 20 ounces, about 2 1/2 cups

from Cook’s Illustrated

Fast, easy and fresh, Cook's Illustrated Quick Marinara is a classic and everything you could ever want in a homemade Marinara! You'll be transported to Italy in your own kitchen in about 40 minutes! #Marinara #CooksIllustratedMarinara #CIMarinara

2 thoughts on “Cook’s Illustrated Quick Marinara

  1. Lynn Albritton

    Thanks for posting, the tomato method was unexpected! I couldn’t resist a couple of minor changes: cooked the onions in butter, replaced the basil and oil with pesto, and a little balsamic vinegar instead of sugar. I used a stick blender and made it fairly smooth, like what I’m used to getting as a dip with appetizers. It’s great with breadsticks, and my husband was inspired to figure out how to fry some cheese to dip in it. Very nice!

    • FrugalHausfrau

      Hi Lynn, I love those ideas! The pesto in it sounds fabulous, especially off season! And you can never go wrong with balsamic. Love you hubby’s idea of the fried cheese. My daughter just got an air fryer and now you have me wondering if I could make cheeses in that, lol!! Thanks for stopping by and sharing your special touches. Mollie

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