Vegan Chunky Pantry Marinara Sauce is a perfect healthy solution for busy weeknights.
If you need a quick, healthy meal, Vegan Pantry Marinara Sauce is your ticket. It’s hearty and rich, with no refined sugar added. I like to make a double batch because the sauce keeps well in the freezer for 6 months or more. That means an even easier dinner down the road!
How do I fix a bitter tomato sauce?
That’s a great question. I know people who won’t make marinara sauce at home because it always turns out bitter. But jarred marinara sauce makers have this all figured out: add a ton of sugar. In fact, the most popular brands add 2–3 teaspoons of sugar per serving!
But a great trick for great-tasting marinara sauce without all the refined sugar is to use ingredients that are naturally sweet.
Naturally sweet ingredients in Chunky Pantry Marinara Sauce
I start out with Vidalia onions (or other sweet onions) and some garlic. When these have softened, I add in the first secret ingredient: 2 tablespoons of finely grated carrot (I grate mine with a microplane). This is a trick I picked up from Food Network (I think it was Mario Batali), and it works like a charm.
I realize that the carrot is not technically a resident of the pantry. If you don’t have any, don’t panic. We have other tricks up our sleeve, including tomato paste (I’ll talk more about that below).
The final trick to a non-bitter/acidic sauce is baking soda. Yes, really. I learned this trick from a friend’s Italian grandmother. NOTE: this is not an automatic step. You’re going to taste your sauce first: if it tastes just fine as-is, leave it alone.
Here’s how the baking soda hack works. Did you ever make an erupting paper mâché volcano?
No, your tomato sauce is not going to erupt. But we’re using the same principle. Here, the tomatoes provide the acid and we neutralize some of it with a small amount of baking soda.
If your sauce is too acidic, sprinkle in 1/4 tsp of baking soda. Wait for the foaming to subside, stir, and taste again. Then, if it’s still too acidic, stir in another 1/4 tsp of baking soda. Don’t add any more than this, however. Too much baking soda will make your sauce salty and give it a nasty, alkaline wang that we definitely don’t want.
Giving your Chunky Pantry Marinara Sauce a “simmered all day” flavor
When it’s summer and I have fresh tomatoes from the garden, I slow-roast the tomatoes with herbs, olive oil, and other good stuff to make Slow-Roasted Tomato Sauce.
But, given that it’s the dead of winter outside, I have to use different tricks to get that rich flavor.
First, I use good-quality canned tomatoes in my chunky pantry marinara sauce. Phil likes chunky marinara sauce. For the sauce pictured here, I used a 28-oz. can of whole tomatoes, which I broke up with a spatula, AND a 14-oz. can of diced tomatoes. I also added a small (8-oz.) can of tomato sauce. (If you prefer a smoother sauce, use 42 ounces of crushed tomatoes and and 8-oz. can of sauce.)
The first flavor-building hack for chunky pantry marinara sauce involves tomato paste. When the veggies have sautéed and softened, I add a couple of tablespoons of the paste. I stir it in and let it caramelize for about a minute. In addition to deepening the flavor of the sauce, this step adds more natural sweetness.
Coconut aminos are a fantastic vegan alternative to umami-rich ingredients like soy or Worcestershire sauce. I like to add 2 tsp of this magic sauce to the caramelized tomato paste and let it reduce a little bit before adding in the crushed tomatoes. (If you’re not vegetarian/vegan, an equal amount of Asian fish sauce or 3–4 dashes of Maggi seasoning sauce can substitute for coconut aminos.)
Because we sauté the vegetables and caramelize the tomato paste, we want to be sure to scrape every bit of flavor from the bottom of the pot. I do this using a small amount of white wine: I reduce it to almost nothing, so the alcohol is mostly—if not completely—cooked out. If you prefer not to use alcohol, you can use the juice from the canned tomatoes or vegetable broth.
Preparing your chunky pantry marinara sauce
(These steps are summarized in the photo collage below.)
Sautéing the aromatics
Add 2 tbsp of extra virgin olive oil to a heavy-bottomed pot or skillet over medium heat. Then, add finely diced onions and sauté until translucent and soft, about 8–10 minutes. Finally, add 2 tbsp minced garlic and sauté for an additional minute.
Deglazing and simmering
Stir in finely grated carrot, 1 tbsp of tomato paste, and 1 tbsp of coconut aminos or substitute (if using). Continue sautéing for an additional minute. Then, turn the heat to high, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon or spatula to prevent burning. Next, add the wine and scrape the bottom of the pot while the wine reduces.
Simmering the sauce
When the wine is nearly evaporated, add the tomatoes, tomato sauce, salt, and freshly ground black pepper. Break the whole tomatoes into small pieces with your spatula. Then, let the sauce simmer on low, uncovered, for about 20 minutes. This is a great time to prepare your pasta, if that’s what you plan to eat with the sauce, or the protein or vegetable of your choice.
After 20 minutes, the sauce will have thickened and darkened slightly. Taste the sauce: if it’s too acidic, sprinkle baking soda over the top as discussed above (a tiny bit goes a long way!). Then add salt and black pepper as needed.
Using dried herbs
To me, this marinara sauce is absolutely delicious and needs no other addition besides a sprinkling of chopped fresh parsley (or basil) just before serving. But Phil likes some Italian herbs cooked into the sauce. So, I’ve relented lately and have taken to adding a tsp of dried herbs to the nearly finished sauce.
If you decide to go this route, make sure not to cook herbs like oregano and basil into the sauce for long. They’ll make your sauce bitter. Instead, add the herbs to the sauce about 5 minutes before you plan to serve.
As mentioned before, Vegan Pantry Marinara Sauce has no added refined sugar. With that being said, the tomatoes, onions, and carrot themselves that go into the sauce have a higher glycemic index than recommended for most low-carb diets. In limited amounts, you’ll be fairly safe. You could use 1/4–1/2 cup of the sauce atop a grilled vegetable or protein (e.g., eggplant, portobello mushroom steaks, tofu, or, for non-vegetarians, chicken breast). Or, you could lightly toss some cooked zoodles in the sauce and eat them with a protein of your choice.
Vegetarian/Vegan, Dairy, Gluten-free
This is a vegan pantry marinara sauce that is naturally dairy and gluten-free. The challenge for gluten-free eaters will be what you decide to serve with the sauce. Chickpea, other gluten-free pasta, or vegetable noodles would be ideal.
This easy marinara sauce recipe is perfectly acceptable for Whole30. Again, it’s what you serve the sauce with that can get you in trouble (e.g., pasta is right out!). I’d recommend a ladleful of chunky marinara sauce over grilled chicken or fish served with cooked zoodles. Maybe add in some asparagus or other vegetables to make the dish more filling.
That’s it! A delicious, healthy recipe that comes almost entirely from your pantry, done in under 45 minutes. I hope you love it!
P.S. For more pantry raid meal inspiration, check out Easy Pantry Meals – Living Out of Your Pantry (and refrigerator and freezer)!
- #CookBlogShare, a great food blogger recipe-share guest-hosted this week at The Peachicks’ Bakery.
- #CookOnceEatTwice, for recipes that are just as good left-over as they are when you made them, hosted by Searching for Spice.
- The What’s For Dinner Sunday Linkup at The Lazy Gastronome.
- Delicious Dishes Recipe Party, a weekly link party where bloggers share their most delicious recipes and check out other bloggers’ amazing recipes, hosted by Walking on Sunshine.
Vegan Pantry Marinara Sauce
- 2 tbsp olive oil - extra virgin
- 1 cup Vidalia onion - (or other sweet onion) cut into small dice
- 2 cloves garlic - finely minced
- 2 tbsp carrot - peeled and finely grated with a rasp
- 2 tbsp tomato paste
- 2 tsp coconut aminos - (optional; see Recipe Note #1)
- 1/4 cup dry white wine - (or use vegetable broth or water)
- 28 oz whole tomatoes in juice or sauce - (see Recipe Note #2)
- 14 oz diced tomatoes - (drained)
- 8 oz. tomato sauce
- 1/4 tsp coarse salt - (or to taste)
- 1/4 tsp black pepper - freshly ground (or to taste)
- 1 tsp dried Italian herbs - (optional)
- 1/4 tsp baking soda - (optional; see Recipe Note #3)
- fresh basil or flat-leaf parsley - for garnish (optional; tear basil leaves directly onto individual servings; finely chop parsley)
- dairy-free, vegan Parmesan cheese alternative - for garnish (optional; see Recipe Note #4)
- Add 2 tbsp of extra virgin olive oil to a heavy-bottomed pot or skillet over medium heat. Add finely diced onions and sauté until translucent and soft, about 8–10 minutes. Add 2 tbsp minced garlic and sauté for an additional minute.
- Stir in finely grated carrot, 1 tbsp of tomato paste, and 1 tbsp of coconut aminos or substitute (if using). Continue sautéing for an additional minute. Turn the heat to high, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon or spatula to prevent burning. Add the wine and scrape the bottom of the pot while the wine reduces.
- When the wine is nearly evaporated, add the tomatoes, tomato sauce, salt, and freshly ground black pepper. Break the whole tomatoes into small pieces with your spatula. Let the sauce simmer on low, uncovered, for about 20 minutes. This is a great time to prepare your pasta, if that’s what you plan to eat with the sauce, or the protein/vegetable of your choice.
- After 20 minutes, the sauce will have thickened and darkened slightly. Taste the sauce: if it’s too acidic, sprinkle baking soda over the top as discussed above (a tiny bit goes a long way!). If you're using dried Italian herbs, add them now. Add salt and black pepper as needed.
- For serving, garnish with dairy-free cheese (or your favorite substitute), fresh chopped flat-leaf parsley and/or torn basil leaves.
- Coconut aminos add umami and richness to the sauce. If you're not following a vegetarian diet, you may substitute an equal amount of Asian fish sauce or 2–3 dashes of Maggi Seasoning Sauce.
- I use one 28-oz. can of whole tomatoes in juice, a 14-oz. can of diced tomatoes (drained), and an 8-oz. can of tomato sauce.
- If your sauce tastes too acidic after simmering, sprinkle the baking soda over the top. When the foaming subsides, stir the sauce and taste again. You can repeat ONCE if the taste of the sauce is still too acidic. Don't add more than a total of 1/2 tsp baking soda, though, or you risk giving your sauce an overly salty, alkaline flavor.
- If you're not following a strict vegan/vegetarian diet, simply use grated Parmesan cheese.
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