This Hearty Marinara with Sausage is the quintessential Sunday sauce or, as some Italians, particularly in certain parts of North America, like to call it, Sunday gravy.
The wonderful meaty flavor of this pasta sauce will trick your taste buds into thinking that this sauce has simmered for hours. But the reality is that it cooks up within one hour. When the hearty aroma of the simmered sauce fills your home, you'll know that the sauce is ready to serve with your favorite pasta.
For this recipe, I've used Italian sausage, but you can also make this sauce with homemade meatballs, beef short ribs, or even chicken drumsticks (though your cooking times will vary based on your meat of choice). Whichever meat you choose, your sauce will have a beautiful round flavor and garner many compliments.
If this Italian sausage marinara is not the ultimate comfort food you are seeking, or maybe you are looking for a vegetarian option, then perhaps you would enjoy my recipe for Spaghetti Napoli or fluffy pizza with homemade pizza sauce. And to end your meal, consider trying my easy Apple Blackberry Crumble 🙂
Ingredients for Marinara with Italian Sausage
- Good quality crushed tomatoes are key to this recipe. Brands I like include Mutti and Pastene.
- Mild and hot Italian sausage is good in this hearty sauce; it's up to you.
- I use dried basil here, but a sprig of fresh basil can be substituted.
See the recipe below for specific quantities and details.
How to make Hearty Marinara with Sausage
Sauté. To a heavy-bottomed 4 quart Dutch oven, add olive oil and, over medium-high heat, sauté sausage pieces until golden brown. This should take 5-8 minutes.
Add onion and garlic. Once the sausage is golden brown and well caramelized, add in the diced onion and sauté until translucent, 3-5 minutes. Next, add garlic and sauté 30 seconds or until fragrant (be careful not to burn the garlic).
Add remaining ingredients. Next, add crushed tomatoes, dried basil, kosher salt and the bay leaf.
Simmer. Stir to combine and bring to a boil. Once boiling, reduce the heat to low, simmer with the lid on, and cook for 30-45 minutes, stirring occasionally. When done, remove and discard the bay leaf, and your hearty marinara with sausage is ready to serve.
Secret for Success
- Be patient browning the sausage as the caramelization will add depth and give the sauce its hearty flavor, characteristic of a sauce that has simmered for longer than one hour.
Tips for Great Pasta
The Size of the Pot
- Always cook your pasta in a big pot, preferably a 6 to 8-quart pot. If your pot is too small for the quantity of pasta you are cooking, you will unnecessarily lower the temperature of the water, and it will take longer for the water to come back up to the boiling point. Furthermore, insufficient water will result in too much starch surrounding the pasta as it boils, resulting in gummy pasta.
Salting the Water
- Salt the water. Not sure if you salted the water enough? Just taste it. If it tastes like the ocean, then you have salted it enough.
Good Quality Pasta
- Choose good quality pasta made strictly from semolina and water. Semolina is a coarse flour made from durum wheat and not common wheat. Your first cue that pasta is of superior quality will be its color. As semolina is pale yellow, the pasta should also look pale yellow to white in the package. Exceptional quality pasta will also have texture and not be smooth. This texture is terrific because it allows the sauce to coat and adhere better to the pasta. Better quality pasta is dried at a low temperature for a long time, 30-36 hours. Brands I like that are readily available where I live include Deleverde, Garofolo, and De Cecco. If I haven't convinced you that good quality pasta is essential, then look at this video on How to Buy Pasta like an Italian.
Not Over Cooking
- Follow the package directions when cooking pasta, but start testing it 3 minutes before the suggested cooking time on the package. It should be al dente, which means it is not mushy but offers some resistance when you bite into it. You can even see a bit of the uncooked pasta when you bite into a perfectly cooked al dente noodle. Try it, and you'll see what I mean.
Coating the Pasta with Sauce
- When serving pasta, always add a ladle of sauce to your pot of cooked, drained pasta. Never serve plain white pasta with a spoonful of sauce straight over the top. This is a big no, no! Adding a ladle of sauce to the pot of cooked pasta serves two purposes: firstly, each delicious noodle is perfectly coated with the silky sauce, and secondly, it makes leftover pasta less dry, sticky, and easier to portion out. If you'd like more sauce after you've coated the entire pot of pasta, then add more at this point.
Substitutions & Variations
- You can substitute various types of meat for the sausage in this recipe. I chose to highlight sausage as it is the meat that will cook the fastest. If you use meatballs or chicken drumsticks, increase the cooking time to 1 hour and 15 minutes. Going the beef short ribs route will require the low and slow approach, meaning you would gently simmer the sauce for approximately 2 hours.
Frequently Asked Questions
A marinara is essentially the base of a Sunday gravy or Sunday sauce. It includes such ingredients as crushed tomatoes, olive oil, onions, garlic, and basil. The hallmark of a gravy is the inclusion of meat in the sauce. Sometimes cooked directly in the sauce or lightly sautéed before adding the tomatoes and the rest of the ingredients.
Typically, when Italians arrived in the United States and Canada in the early 1900s, they worked labor-intensive jobs and the only time rest was afforded to them was on Sunday. The biggest, most abundant meal was served after church on Sunday afternoons to celebrate time off and enjoy family. This was very popular in our family growing up. Though many no longer attend church as they once did, the tradition of Sunday lunch has endured. Perhaps not every week, but the ritual bears a strong attachment to the importance of family.
Our family's top meat choices are homemade meatballs, Italian sausage, braciole (thin slices of beef rolled around a mixture of breadcrumbs, garlic, parsley, and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese), beef short ribs, and chicken drumsticks.
- After you sauté the uncooked sausage, use another wooden spoon to occasionally stir the sauce while it simmers to avoid cross-contamination.
- Refrigerate this hearty marinara for up to two days and freeze for up to three months.
📖 Recipe Card
Hearty Marinara with Sausage
- heavy bottomed pot, such as a Dutch oven, or stainless steel pot
- sharp chef's knife
- cutting board
- wooden spoon
- measuring spoons
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 pound Italian sausage links, 454 grams sausage, cut in half
- 1 cup yellow onion, one small onion, diced
- 3 garlic cloves, finely minced
- 1 28 ounce can crushed tomatoes, 796 millilitres
- 1 teaspoon dried basil
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 dried bay leaf
- Sauté: To a heavy-bottomed 4-quart Dutch oven, add olive oil and, over medium-high heat, sauté sausage pieces until golden brown. This should take 5-8 minutes.1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, 1 pound Italian sausage links
- Add onion and garlic: Once the sausage is golden brown and well caramelized, add in the diced onion and sauté until translucent, 3-5 minutes. Next, add garlic and sauté 30 seconds or until fragrant (be careful not to burn the garlic).1 cup yellow onion, 3 garlic cloves
- Add remaining ingredients: Add crushed tomatoes, dried basil, kosher salt and the bay leaf.1 28 ounce can crushed tomatoes, 1 teaspoon dried basil, 1 teaspoon kosher salt, 1 dried bay leaf
- Simmer: Stir to combine and bring to a boil. Once boiling, reduce the heat to low, simmer with the lid on, and cook for 30-45 minutes, stirring occasionally. When done, remove and discard the bay leaf, and your hearty marinara with sausage is ready to serve.