Granny Zeller’s marinara sauce

Granny Zeller's marinara sauce | Photo by Brave New Food

While many recipes on this blog might come from non-Italian sources (, my “cook everything” cookbooks, etc.), this recipe is straight legit. My adorable New Yorker step-grandmother, “Granny Zeller,” was of Italian descent and one of the best cooks in New York. (I’m legally allowed to say this because it’s 100 percent accurate.) Her marinara recipe has been passed down through generations, and now I’m passing it on to you.

Perhaps you’ve wondered how hard it would be to make your own marinara sauce? The answer: not that hard. While it can be time consuming (at least one hour of stirring the pot every 15 minutes) it is completely worth the trouble. Follow this family recipe and your entire house will become immersed in the smell of Italian tomato goodness.

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • Big can of tomato purée (at least 28 oz.)
  • One (small) can of tomato paste
  • A can of whole tomatoes (at least 32 oz.)
  • 2 tsp. of salt
  • 2 tsp. oregano
  • 1 tsp. basil
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 tsp. sugar
  • 1/2 cup of olive oil
  • 4 cloves of garlic (put through a garlic press or two heaping teaspoons of minced garlic)
  • A few dashes of pepper or hot sauce to taste

Combine all ingredients (do not drain anything) into a large pot. Set burner on low heat. Stir every 15 minutes for one hour. [Tip: I like to let this sauce simmer for closer to two hours if time allows.] Take bay leaves out before serving.

This makes a decent amount of marinara – enough for a lasagna and a half or 4-6 generous servings of pasta, depending on how saucy you like your dishes. It also freezes really well.

Okay, so I know what some of you are thinking: can’t I just use the jar of sauce in the pasta aisle? If you must forsake my family, I’ll give you some pointers. You can make a pretty decent sauce by adding ingredients to the most basic marinaras.

Select marinara with no or limited ingredients, such as the Barilla jar on the right (it only has olive oil). To jazz up these store-bought brands, simply pour into a pot on low heat. Add 2 tsp. pressed (or minced) garlic, 3 heavy shakes of basil, 3 heavy shakes of oregano, a dash of salt and 1/4 cup of olive oil. If the jar already has basil in it (such as the Bertolli brand on the left), then just include one shake of basil.

There you go. No excuses. You’ll now forever serve better marinara, whether you go the lazy route or the good route. Go forth and simmer.

[Source: My sweet Granny Zeller through my step-dad, Lou.]


12 Responses to Granny Zeller’s marinara sauce

  1. Aren’t granny recipes the best? My Italian grandmother is actually the best cook in all of Florida (NY and FLA… what are the odds?!), though unfortunately has been known to intentionally leave out ingredients when giving out red sauce directions… Okay, so maybe this is just the culinary elitist coming out in me, but I cringed a little at the pics of bottled marinara sauce. For those who have no cooking skills whatsoever, I highly recommend the plain, canned tomato sauce+oil+garlic route


    Fry up a 1/2 bulb of garlic in EV olive oil, add a small can of unseasoned tomato sauce, a small can of tomato juice (or diced tomatoes), salt, pepper, red pepper flakes and, if you’re feeling frisky, oregano. Add a splash of white wine if you got it and cook on medium until the alcohol burns off.

    Impossible to screw up as long as you don’t burn it.

  2. This looks great. Not to turn this into a competition, but my Sicilian grandmother is a darn good cook in her own right.

    Granny Zeller’s sauce looks delicious – I’ve been looking for a marinara recipe for a dish I’m working on. This might just fit the bill.

  3. aflaten says:

    I’m going to just assume you added the “lazy man” version at the end just for me. And I thank you for it.

  4. Rachel says:

    Marinara sauce always sounds so daunting, but you broke it down to look manageable!

  5. I think I can make this without either a) blowing up my kitchen and b) poisoning myself and/or the people I feed it to! Can’t wait to try this!

  6. […] At least 16 ounces marinara sauce (I recommend my Granny Zeller’s marinara) […]

  7. […] Your favorite tomato sauce, 16 -32 ounces (depending on how juicy you like your lasagnas – personally, I prefer to be quite saucy. Mow.) Might I suggest my Granny Zeller’s marinara sauce. […]

  8. […] 16 oz. of your favorite marinara […]

  9. […] 16 ounces of your favorite marinara […]

  10. […] Granny Zeller’s marinara. Failure: Spaghetti […]

  11. […] got some canned tomatoes, which go so well in Granny Zeller’s marinara sauce. […]

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