Recipe: Mark’s Marinara Sauce For Pizza And Pasta

About 10 years ago I set out on a quest to learn to make the dishes that I loved to eat the most. As I learned to make basic Italian food like baked ziti and pizza dough, the sauce I was making evolved along side these dishes.

Below is the sauce I use for most of the Italian dishes I make. I always put some kind of meat in the sauce, but it would do just fine without meat.

Baked penne with Italian sausage

Mark’s Marinara Sauce

1 large can or jar random spaghetti sauce or 2 cans plain tomato sauce
1 1/2 pounds Italian sausage or ground beef, browned
1 tablespoon fresh minced garlic
1 tablespoon Italian seasoning
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1/2 medium sweet onion, diced
1 small can mushrooms (optional)
1 small can tomato paste to thicken only if needed


Sauce: Mix everything but the meat and onions and put on low heat or in a slow cooker.

Meat: Brown whatever meat you are using with the onions at the same time. I always start out with a dash of olive oil in the pan and throw a little fresh minced garlic in there to roast a bit before I throw the meat in. For ground beef I add a dash of salt and pepper while browning the meat, but for the sausage I only do a dash of pepper.

Make sure to stop when the meat is slightly under-cooked as it will finish cooking in the sauce. Drain the grease but make sure to leave a little bit.

Add the slightly-undercooked meat to the sauce and let the sauce simmer for about 45 on low, or in a slow cooker on low for 8 hours or high for 3-4 hours.

Using The Sauce

What I usually do with a batch of this sauce is use about 3/4 of it for baked pasta, and save the leftover to make a pizza the next day. At first glance this recipe looks like you’re putting too much meat and not enough sauce, but trust me, it makes a very rich sauce that everyone will rave about.

Sometimes the sauce for whatever reason isn’t thick enough. Some brands of tomato sauce seem better and even batches among the same brand are thicker or thinner. So to thicken it up, I sometimes add the small can of tomato paste if needed.


  • This recipe works fine with or without the small can of mushrooms.
  • I usually make this with Italian sausage but it’s probably a little better with 50/50 ground beef and sausage.
  • This is one recipe where having a little body to the onions is bad. Ideally the onions just stew into the sauce and nobody notices they are there specifically. 
  • You can substitute minced garlic from a jar or even garlic powder, but it’s not the same.
  • It doesn’t really work without the sugar. It’s everyone’s grandmas’ secret ingredient, though I use more and try to use high quality cane or brown sugar. You can reduce it to 1 tablespoon if you must.
  • This sauce is noticeably better if you stew it in a slow cooker on low for most of a day, still browning the meat first of course. When I do it in a slow cooker then I don’t cook the onions with the meat. It all goes in the slow cooker separately. So it’s a matter of deciding if it’s worth waiting most of a day to eat it for having it be X amount better. Certainly not when it’s 100 degrees outside as I type this!


  1. I've been reading through your blog, and eventually came across this. I tried it out last night when making my usual Spaghetti Bolognaise. I make my own tomato sauces all the time (at the very least it's cheaper), and my usual method was about 90% to what you do, but this time it was superb! I have to agree with you that the brown sugar seems to be the secret ingredient. It doesn't make the sauce taste sweeter, but more like it unlocks the flavours of everything else in the dish. 10/10

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