MARINARA – plus Six Variations on a Theme



Homemade marinara sauce over ricotta and veggie-stuffed green pepper and fusilli pasta. photo © Lorraine Caputo

Homemade marinara sauce over ricotta and veggie-stuffed green pepper and fusilli pasta.
photo © Lorraine Caputo

This classic Southern Italian tomato-based sauce is easy to make with ingredients found in Latin American markets. It prepares quickly and with only a skillet (plus a pot for your pasta) – thus making it the perfect dish for backpackers.

A multitude of variations can be played on this sauce’s theme – be sure to experiment! Marinara is also is used in other, more complex dishes, like pizza, lasagna and eggplant parmesan.


Estimated cooking time: 20 minutes

For: Vegetarians, Vegans and Carnivores.



2 tablespoons of oil

1 medium onion, finely diced

1 medium green pepper, thinly sliced or diced

2-3 cloves of garlic, finely minced

6 large tomatoes, diced

1 teaspoon of salt, scant

¼ teaspoon of dried oregano

½ teaspoon of dried basil


Heat the skillet, then add the oil. When the oil is warm, add the onion and sauté the onion until it becomes transparent. Add the green pepper and garlic and sauté. Add the tomatoes, salt and herbs. Add a splash of water (or red wine). Cover and lower the heat. Cook until the tomatoes are soft. Taste and adjust for salt and herbs. Uncover and let excess liquid evaporate.

Serve over pasta, gnocchi or polenta. Sprinkle with grated parmesan cheese, if you wish.


Buon appetite! ¡Buen provecho!



  • Cut all ingredients before beginning to cook, to save time (and lessen the risk of burning the onions and garlic!).
  • Using a skillet (instead of a pot) allows the sauce to cook much quicker.
  • Basil is difficult to find in some countries; be sure to stock up when you do find it.
  • If the tomatoes are acidic (bitter), add a pinch of thyme instead of sugar.




Sauté a quarter pound (200 grams) of ground beef with the onions. Proceed with the recipe as indicated above.


Chicken Cacciatore

First brown pieces of chicken in the oil. Take the chicken out and follow the above recipe. After adding the herbs, add the chicken, cover and cook under the chicken is tender.


Marinara con Zucchine

This version with zucchini is perfect for vegans and vegetarians.

Add small chunks (half-inch / one-centimeter) of zucchini or calabacín after the green peppers and garlic, and sauté. Then add the tomatoes and proceed with the recipe.


Marinara con Melanzane

This is another variation that is perfect for vegans and vegetarians.

In the hot oil, sauté eggplant cut into half-inch (one-centimeter) chunks. Follow the above recipe, except add a pinch of red pepper flakes instead of oregano. Cook until the tomatoes are soft and the flavors mingle.


Marinara con Salsiccia

With the onion, sauté white sausage (such as paisa – or if you are lucky enough to encounter it, Italian sausage). Add the garlic. Then, instead of the green pepper, add spinach cut into ribbons. Add the tomatoes and basil – and a pinch of red pepper flakes instead of the oregano. A splash of red wine adds an extra dimension to this dish.


Marinara con Ceci

This is an excellent vegan-vegetarian version of the preceding dish, using ceci beans (garbanzo or chick peas) in place of the sausage.