13 Quick & Easy Recipes with Marinara Sauce You’ll Love

“What can I do with Marinara sauce?”

Whether you’re making it by yourself for the first time, or you’re wondering what to do with your leftover jarred marinara sauce, this article is for you.

Marinara is a very simple and versatile sauce, so it is perfect both for beginners who are trying to make their first dishes, and for more experienced cooks who need to assemble a last-minute meal.

Here you’ll find 13 recipe ideas that you can try immediately.

Some are so easy to make that they don’t require specific instructions. You can just put the ingredients together and enjoy. Others need a little extra care and specific measures, but don’t worry: I’ve added a link to the complete recipe for each of them 😉

What’s marinara sauce?

In Italy, the term marinara (or alla marinara) is used to refer to a variety of foods that can be made with oregano, basil or seafood. It derives from the word mare (“sea”), and seems to suggest that those foods originated among sailors (marinai) or their families.

Well, it’s actually more than a hint… marinara literally means “seafaring” or “sailor’s style”.

Marinara sauce is basically just tomato puree with garlic and oregano. It can be customized with other ingredients, but if you ask any Italian their mind will probably go to the simpler version.

It is very easy to make and does not require expensive ingredients. This allows it to adapt to different ingredients and types of cooking, making it perfect for last minute dishes as well as elaborate ones.

For this, below you will find a selection of appetizers, pasta dishes, comfort foods and subs with marinara that will allow you to create something wonderful in any occasion.

Let’s start!

And if you’re running short of sauce…

a picture of jars full with marinara sauce


Marinara is a perfect dipping sauce for many types of appetizers. You can just leave it in a little bowl and set it alongside some jalapeño poppers, chicken wings or fried mozzarella balls.

And speaking of mozzarella…

Mozzarella Sticks

I don’t usually like store bought mozzarella sticks. They’re too small, and their taste is nothing special. But with a few ingredients, you can make some great ones at home.

So, the first recipe with marinara sauce I’m going to list is Chuck’s big fat mozzarella sticks. They’re very easy to make, and they take just about 15 minutes to be made.

Read the full recipe


hands pulling two pieces of mozzarella stick before dipping them in marinara sauce

Bruschette alla marinara

This is another great appetizer with marinara.

It’s quick. It’s easy. It’s delicious – and it gives me strong summer vibes. Bruschette alla marinara is a great choice for an outdoor aperitivo, on a hot afternoon, with a nice fresh cocktail in your other hand.

All you have to do is to grill some slices of bread, rub them with garlic, add a pinch of salt and some drops of oil, and finally top them with marinara sauce.

It’s as simple as that.

Want to make them perfect? Add some tomato cubes, mozzarella flakes, and garnish with basil leaves.

Pasta recipes with marinara sauce

Marinara sauce is a great dressing for pasta dishes. You can make it while you heat the water to spare some time, and then you just have to toss it into a bowl with your favorite pasta type.

Here are some tasty recipes.

Pasta alla norma

Pasta alla norma is a typical Sicilian dish made with marinara sauce, macaroni, and fried eggplant.

It’s a great vegetarian meal that tastes like Italy at every bite. Oh, and it also takes less than 20 minutes to make. Definitely worthy of your weekly rotation!

Read the full recipe

Chicken Cacciatore

Looking for some comfort food to make with your leftover tomato sauce? Then Chicken Cacciatore is the right choice for you.

It’s delicious and it looks really fancy without actually taking much time or effort, so you can use it both for lonely dinners or for Sunday lunches with your loved ones.

Read the full recipe

Gnocchi Sorrentina

Coming from the city of Sorrento in the Campania region, Gnocchi Sorrentina is another great comfort food. It has a rich taste and a soft consistency that fills your mouth with warmth.

This dish has just 5 ingredients: marinara sauce, fresh mozzarella, grated romano cheese, fresh basil – and, of course, gnocchi.

If you’re in a hurry, store bought gnocchi will do just fine. But if you have children and you’re looking for some fun activity, you can try to make them at home. It’s not that difficult, it just requires patience.

Read the full recipe

a plate of gnocchi sorrentina, a traditional Italian dish made with marinara sauce

Pasta puttanesca

A great pasta dish with marinara sauce, black olives, and capers. Its origins are still unknown, but it made its way into the menus of nearly any restaurant in Italy, and it’s now considered a typical Italian main course.

Read the full recipe

Pasta Puttanesca is a typical Italian dish with marinara sauce

Baked dishes with marinara sauce

Marinara sauce can also be used to make some great baked dishes. Here are some you can make easily at home.

Eggplant involtini

A tasty baked dish for all the eggplant lovers out there. Eggplant involtini is a quick and easy main course perfect for Sunday lunches and family gatherings. And if you’re visiting someone, you can assemble them in advance and bake them as you arrive.

Read the full recipe

Eggplant parmigiana

Very similar to the recipe above, this dish is made with fried eggplants, provolone cheese, pecorino romano, and marinara sauce. It’s very common in Southern Italy, where it’s known as parmigiana di melanzane.

Read the full recipe

Baked Ziti

If you love the way a piece of lasagna can fill your mouth with its warm, cheesy consistency, you are going to love baked ziti as well. They taste and look like lasagna, but they take half the time and effort.

Many people make ‘em with bolognese sauce, but you can use marinara and turn them into a wonderful vegetarian main course.

Read the full recipe

baked ziti made with marinara sauce


Whenever I don’t feel like cooking, subs are my go-to option. I like ‘em big and juicy. The bigger, the better. Here are two that you should definitely try sometimes.

The Screamin’ Sicilian Sub

My favorite subs are those that have meat, cheese and veggies all together.

Mortadella Head’s Screamin’ Sicilian Sub is a perfect example of that. It’s a steak and cheese sandwich, made perfect with pepperoni, banana peppers, marinara sauce, and Calabrian chili mayo. Definitely worth trying!

Read the full recipe

mortadella head's famous screamin sicilian sub is made with marinara sauce

Sausage pepper & onion sub with marinara sauce

I know, the original sausage, pepper & onion sub doesn’t have marinara sauce.

You won’t find this variation at Fenway Park, but once you try it at home you’ll fall in love with it.

A bit of marinara  will make all the ingredients melt in your mouth while bringin’ out all their flavors.

Read the full recipe

a sausage pepper and onion sub made perfect by adding marinara sauce

Pizza Toppings with marinara sauce

Can pizza be made with marinara sauce? Sure you can!

All the pasta dressings you’ve seen above can turn into wonderful pizza toppings. Here are 2 others that you can try right away!

Just make sure you check our short guide on how to make pizza dough at home before you try them.
The Jimmy 2 Times is of the many pizzas made with marinara sauce at Mortadella Head

Pizza Marinara

Pizza Marinara is usually the first entry under “Red Pies” in any Italian pizzeria. It’s one of the most famous types of pizza, along with Margherita.

To make a round one, take 250 kg of pizza dough, spread it over a baking pan and top it with marinara sauce, a handful of chopped oregano leaves and some small slices of garlic. Then, bake it in a preheated oven at 482° F for about 15 minutes.

a round pizza with marinara sauce and olives

Marinara, Olives & Anchovies

This is a common variation of Pizza Marinara. The process is the same as above: top your pizza dough with marinara sauce, olives, anchovies, and bake at 482° F for about 15 minutes.

If you want, you can add capers and some mozzarella slices to balance the acidity of the tomatoes in the marinara sauce.

As you can imagine, there’s a lot of variations – as many as every ingredient you would like to have with marinara sauce. Let’s see some options.



What can I add to marinara sauce?

The simplest marinara sauce is made with just tomatoes, garlic and oregano.

The first obvious additions are chopped onions, basil, thyme and ground pepper. Then, if you like it spicier, you can add some chili pepper powder to taste.

As I already mentioned, you can add olives. Some people also use celery and carrots, but that’s a soffritto with marinara sauce, if you ask me.

If you are making it at home and you want it creamier, you can add ¼ stick of butter and 2 oz of pasta cooking water just 30 seconds before turning off the heat, then let it rest. The starch in the water will mix with the butter to give your sauce a more dense consistency. If you want to know more, I wrote a whole guide on how to thicken marinara sauce.

And finally, if you like seafood, you can mix your marinara sauce with anchovies, mussels or oysters and turn it into a wonderful sugo alla pescatora (“fisherman’s sauce”).

Other Pairing Suggestions

When it comes to elevating the culinary experience, pairing is everything. Even something as simple and versatile as marinara sauce can be transformed into an extraordinary meal with the right accompaniments. In this section, let’s delve into some of the best wines, beverages, and side dishes that complement marinara-based dishes.

Wines and Beverages

Red Wines: A classic choice, red wines like Chianti or Cabernet Sauvignon pair well with marinara because the sauce’s acidity balances out the tannins in the wine.

White Wines: For lighter marinara dishes, perhaps featuring seafood, a Pinot Grigio or Sauvignon Blanc can make for a refreshing pairing.

Beer: If you’re more of a beer person, consider pairing a light lager with spicy marinara dishes. The beer’s crispness can counterbalance the sauce’s heat.

Non-Alcoholic Options: Sparkling water with a twist of lime or lemon can cleanse the palate between bites, making every morsel more enjoyable. Iced tea is another option, especially for spicy dishes.

Side Dishes


Garlic Bread: This is an obvious but essential pairing. The buttery garlic flavor makes for a perfect textual and flavor contrast to the tanginess of the marinara sauce.

Green Salad: A simple green salad with a light vinaigrette can offer a refreshing counterpoint to the richness of many marinara-based meals.

Roasted Vegetables: Think beyond the bell peppers and onions commonly used in pasta dishes. Roasted asparagus or Brussels sprouts can add both texture and a different flavor profile to your meal.

Rice or Risotto: Particularly for meaty or seafood marinara dishes, a side of plain rice or Parmesan risotto can soak up the sauce wonderfully, adding a starchy balance to the meal.

Coleslaw: For fried appetizers like mozzarella sticks that use marinara as a dipping sauce, coleslaw can add a crunchy, refreshing dimension.

Choosing the right pairing not only enhances your meal but also turns an everyday dinner into a delightful culinary experience. Next time you find yourself reaching for that jar of marinara sauce, consider these pairing options to make your meal truly special.

Alternatives and Substitutions

While marinara sauce is generally considered a versatile and user-friendly ingredient, there may be times when you need to tweak a recipe to suit your specific needs or preferences. Whether you’re dealing with dietary restrictions or simply want to switch things up, here are some alternatives and substitutions that can come in handy.

Ingredient Swaps

Tomatoes: If you’re out of fresh tomatoes, canned tomatoes can work in a pinch for homemade marinara. Alternatively, tomato purée can be used, but you may need to adjust spices to ensure robust flavor.

Garlic: Garlic powder can be a quick alternative if you don’t have fresh garlic. A general guideline is 1/8 teaspoon of garlic powder for one clove of fresh garlic.

Herbs: Dried herbs can replace fresh ones if necessary. The rule of thumb is to use a third of the quantity of fresh herbs. For instance, if a recipe calls for 3 tablespoons of fresh basil, use 1 tablespoon of dried basil instead.

Making it Vegan or Gluten-Free

Vegan Cheese: For recipes that call for cheese, such as Chicken Parmesan, consider using vegan cheese options like cashew-based cheeses or nutritional yeast for a similar texture and flavor.

Gluten-Free Pasta: Almost all pasta dishes can be made gluten-free by using pasta made from rice, quinoa, or lentils.

Meat Alternatives: In dishes like spaghetti and meatballs, consider using plant-based meatballs made from lentils, chickpeas, or commercial vegan meat substitutes.

Lower Calorie Options


Zoodles: For a lower-carb and lower-calorie option, use spiralized zucchini (zoodles) instead of traditional pasta.

Olive Oil: If the recipe calls for butter or a large amount of oil, consider reducing it or using a cooking spray to sauté your ingredients.

Sugar Substitutes: If your homemade marinara recipe calls for sugar, consider using a natural sweetener like stevia to cut down on calories.

Lean Meat: For meat-based dishes, opt for leaner cuts or ground meat options. Chicken or turkey can be a good alternative to beef or pork in many recipes.

Making these simple swaps and adjustments can help you tailor marinara-based recipes to fit your lifestyle without sacrificing flavor. Whether you’re vegan, gluten-free, or just watching your calories, these alternatives ensure that you can enjoy the delicious versatility of marinara sauce in a way that suits you best.

I hope you found the inspiration you were looking for, and I’m curious to know how you’ll use your marinara sauce. If you try any of these recipes at home, don’t forget to share a story on Instagram and to tag @mortadellahead!

See you next time 🙂

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