Recipes > Lunch/Dinner > Pasta Marinara

Pasta Marinara

Many people avoid pasta due to its high carbohydrate content. However, when eaten in appropriate serving sizes and mixed with a nutrient dense sauce, it makes for a healthy main dish or side!
pasta marinara

This is a variation of our whole grain pasta base recipe. Pasta is like a blank canvas – you can dress it up with sauce, vegetables, proteins, etc. But there is also beauty in simplicity. This pasta marinara recipe features the BEST marinara sauce and is topped with basil and parmesan for a classic simple Italian dinner.

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Culinary Tips for Making the Best Pasta Marinara

This recipe makes 6 ½ cups of classic marinara sauce, but you only need 1 cup for the pasta. Cool the remaining sauce and portion it into 1-cup containers. Hold in the freezer until you are ready for your next pasta night!

For kitchen efficiency, bring the pasta water to a boil and begin cooking the pasta during the last 20 minutes of the pasta marinara sauce simmering.

Generously salt the pasta water for the best flavor; this allows the salt to go inside the pasta while cooking. Don’t be scared of the large amount – not all of the sodium is absorbed by the pasta. In fact, an experiment conducted by Cook’s Illustrated found that only ¼ teaspoon is absorbed per serving! 

Don’t add oil to the pasta water! It does not prevent the pasta from sticking together, and it hinders the starch development which helps the sauce bind to the pasta.

Be sure to cook the pasta al dente. Al dente translates to “to the tooth”, meaning the pasta should still have a slight bite; it should not be mushy.

Don’t forget to reserve some pasta water! The extra liquid can help thin the sauce out, while the starch in the pasta water will help the sauce stick to the noodles. You will not need the entire cup, but it’s better to have too much than not enough.

Be sure to toss the pasta in the sauce rather than just pour the sauce on top. True Italian cooks always combine the two!

Making pasta for one? Or another quantity? This recipe is based on a ratio of 2 ounces dry pasta (1 cup cooked) to ¼ cup sauce. Adjust ingredient quantities as desired.

Ingredient Substitutions

  • Marinara Sauce: use our homemade recipe, but if you are short on time, you can use store-bought. If buying sauce, look for low-sodium options and simple ingredients.
    • Extra Virgin Olive Oil: substitute avocado or canola oil, but note that they don’t have the same classic italian flavor profile. 
    • White Onion: substitute yellow or red onion or shallot.
    • Celery: leave out if you don’t have it, but note that you won’t get that classic mirepoix flavor. 
    • Carrot: use any color.
    • Garlic: substitute 1 ½ teaspoons pre-minced garlic, 1 ½ teaspoons garlic flakes, ¾ teaspoon granulated garlic, or ½ teaspoon garlic powder.
    • Marsala or Red Wine: substitute red wine vinegar or a natural grape juice. If using grape juice, don’t add the sugar.
    • Crushed San Marzano Tomatoes: substitute regular crushed tomatoes. Choose low-sodium options if possible.
    • Italian Seasoning: substitute a combination of 1 teaspoon dried oregano, ½ teaspoon dried thyme, and ½ teaspoon dried basil. 
    • Sugar: substitute agave nectar or brown sugar.
    • Red Pepper Flakes: omit if desired.
    • Kosher Salt: substitute iodized table salt, sea salt, or Himalayan salt. If using Diamond Crystal kosher salt, double the amount recommended (trust us!). Diamond Crystal salt crystals are hollow on the inside, meaning that they have half the amount of sodium as Morton kosher salt.
  • Pasta: use any shape or even a combination of shapes, as long as they have the same cooking time. Spaghetti, fettuccine, penne, fusilli, and farfalle are all classic shapes. For gluten-free options, try pasta made from beans, quinoa, or lentils.

Recipe Variations

This is your pasta, so add other ingredients to YOUR taste!

Make pasta marinara with chicken by adding pre-cooked chicken to the sauce. Heat through before adding to the pasta.

Want some pasta recipe inspiration?

Use our whole grain pasta base recipe as a guide, then have fun exploring other flavors, ingredients, and textures!

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Is Whole Grain Pasta Healthy?

Many people avoid pasta due to its high carbohydrate content. However, when eaten in appropriate serving sizes and mixed with a nutrient dense sauce, it makes for a healthy main dish or side! Pasta made from whole grains and vegetable-rich marinara sauce are the key pasta marinara ingredients that make this a nutrient-dense meal.

Whole Grain Pasta

Whole grains are a good source of fiber, phytonutrients, vitamins, and minerals. Compared to regular white pasta, whole grain pasta has more than double the amount of fiber! Fiber is important for digestion, satiety, stable blood sugar, good cholesterol, and healthy gut bacteria. Phytonutrients work as antioxidants to help fight off diseases and keep us well. 

Marinara Sauce

Tomatoes are the main ingredient in marinara sauce. Tomatoes are rich in lycopene, a phytonutrient that helps protect against heart disease and prostate cancer. Canned and/or cooked tomatoes are higher in lycopene than fresh. 

This classic marinara sauce is bursting with other nutrient-dense vegetables: onions, celery, carrots, garlic, and herbs. Together, these ingredients provide essential vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients that promote health and longevity.

Learn more about health benefits of different foods in our book, To Your Taste!

Serving Suggestions

Serve pasta with a side salad made with a homemade vinaigrette and/or a side of roasted vegetables to make a beautiful Whole Life Plate.

How to Store and Reheat Leftover Pasta

Cool pasta completely, then store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.

To reheat, transfer to a microwave-safe dish and heat through in the microwave. If the pasta looks too dry, drizzle with ½ – 1 Tablespoon extra virgin olive oil.

Cool the sauce completely, then portion into 1-cup containers. Store in the freezer until your next pasta night. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator for best results.

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pasta marinara

Pasta Marinara

This is a variation of our whole grain pasta base recipe. Pasta is like a blank canvas – you can dress it up with sauce, vegetables, proteins, etc. But there is also beauty in simplicity. This pasta marinara recipe features the BEST marinara sauce and is topped with basil and parmesan for a classic simple Italian dinner.
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 1 hour 15 minutes
Total Time 1 hour 25 minutes
Course Main Course
Cuisine Italian
Servings 4 servings

Ingredients
  

Marinara (makes 6 ½ cups)

  • 2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 small white onion, diced ¼” (~1 cup)
  • 1 medium stalk celery, diced ¼” (~½ cup)
  • 1 medium carrot, diced ¼” (~½ cup)
  • 3 garlic cloves, chopped (~1 Tablespoon)
  • ¼ cup Marsala or red wine
  • 2, 28-ounce cans crushed San Marzano tomatoes
  • 2 teaspoons Italian seasoning
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • Salt to taste (~2 teaspoons kosher salt recommended)

Pasta

  • ½ Tablespoon kosher salt
  • 8 ounces whole grain pasta
  • 1 cup marinara sauce
  • ½ cup reserved cooking water

Garnishes to YOUR taste

  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Fresh basil, torn or chiffonade
  • Shredded or grated parmesan

Instructions
 

  • Make marinara sauce: Heat a 4-quart saucepan over medium low heat. Add olive oil. Once shimmering, add onion, celery, and carrots and sprinkle with a pinch of salt. Sauté for ~8 minutes or until onions turn translucent. Add garlic and sauté for 2 more minutes.
  • Add wine to the pan, scraping up any brown bits that might have stuck to the pan. Simmer for 2-3 minutes or until mostly evaporated. Add tomatoes, Italian seasoning, sugar, red pepper flakes, and 1 teaspoon salt. Use ~¼ cup of water to rinse out the tomato cans and add to the pan. Bring to a boil, then partially cover and simmer for 45-60 minutes.
  • Season with additional salt to taste. Blend for a smooth sauce or leave as is. Reserve 1 cup for the recipe, and portion and freeze the rest.
  • Cook pasta: Bring 2 quarts of water to a boil. Add ½ Tablespoon of salt. (Do not add oil to the water!) Add pasta and return to a boil. Cook until al dente, according to package directions. Drain the pasta, but reserve ½ cup of the cooking liquid. Do not rinse the pasta!
  • Return pasta to the pot and add 1 cup of marinara sauce. Use tongs to gently combine. Thin sauce with reserved pasta water if needed, adding a little bit at a time (you will not need the full ½ cup). Garnish with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, freshly torn basil, and shredded parmesan. Enjoy!

Notes

Be sure to generously salt the pasta water for the best flavor; this allows the salt to go inside the pasta while cooking. Don’t be scared of the large amount – not all of the sodium is absorbed by the pasta.
Be sure to cook the pasta al dente. Al dente translates to “to the tooth”, meaning the pasta should still have a slight bite; it should not be mushy.
Keyword Pasta Marinara

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