Olive Garden Copycat Marinara Sauce

This copycat Olive Garden Marinara Sauce is a herb-rich, chunky tomato sauce that can be poured over pasta or spread over homemade pizza crusts for an authentic Italian flavor.

pan with homemade marinara sauce

With the simplest of ingredients and no special cooking skills, this version of the popular Olive Garden spaghetti sauce is a breeze to make at home.

If you’re anything like me, you love restaurant classics, but you also love to recreate simple, homemade, and budget-friendly versions of your favorite restaurant foods instead.

Most times I prefer to make these myself because I can make as much as I want, and I can tweak it to taste slightly different every time.

More Olive Garden-Inspired Recipes To Try

Olive Garden Italian Dressing
Zuppa Toscana (Tuscan Soup)
Steak Gorgonzola (like Olive Garden)

This marinara sauce is one of the easiest Italian sauces to make and tastes just as good or even better than the original Olive Garden marinara pasta sauce.

The most complicated part of this recipe is patience. It takes some time to cook the sauce for the best flavor, but the preparation can be done in 10 minutes.

Like many Italian sauces, the ingredients are simple but pack an incredible flavor punch.

In this dish, the fanciest addition is parmesan cheese, which you don’t even have to use if you want a dairy-free sauce.

sliced pepperoni pizza with marinara sauce mozzarella and basil leaves

Copycat Olive Garden Marinara Sauce Ingredients

The star ingredient of this sauce recipe is of course tomatoes.

With just a few herbs and seasoning, the tomatoes are transformed into a luscious, chunky topping you can reach for any time you want.

Here’s the full list of Marinara Sauce Ingredients:

  • Tomatoes
  • Olive oil
  • Garlic
  • Basil
  • Oregano (optional)
  • Rosemary (optional)
  • Thyme (optional)
  • Black pepper
  • Parmesan cheese
  • Salt
  • Green peppers (optional)
  • Sugar (optional)

Tomatoes – You can use fresh or canned tomatoes.

I’m in the habit of always having a can or two of whole peeled tomatoes on hand, for making Italian, Mexican, and even Indian tomato-based sauces.

If all you have is canned tomato puree or plain passata, you can use it. The only difference in the end result would be that your sauce won’t be as chunky as traditional marinara.

Olive oil – I find that using authentic Italian extra virgin olive oil gives the absolute best flavor, but it can be substituted with any neutral-flavored oil you prefer.

Garlic – My opinion is that freshly chopped garlic works better in this sauce than garlic powder.

For me, a big part of the flavor experience when eating marinara is biting into a tiny piece of fresh garlic with every bite.

If garlic powder is all you have, you can definitely use it, but add it in small amounts at first, and taste, it to determine how much more you need.

Basil – I love to add store-bought fresh basil leaves to my marinara sauce recipe because I feel it complements the tomatoes perfectly.

I don’t always have fresh basil though, so I swap it out for dried basil. Use whichever you have in your kitchen.

If you’re using dried basil, just know that you’ll have little green flecks in your sauce. No big deal.

Oregano (optional) – I oscillate between adding dried oregano and leaving it out. Sometimes I just add it straight to my food if I feel like having a herb-loaded meal. You can definitely skip it.

Rosemary (optional) – Previously I used to use dried rosemary all the time. These days I prefer the taste of fresh rosemary every time.

A little trick I use to get the most intense flavor is to lightly bruise the fresh rosemary leaves. It gives a pungent spike to marinara sauce, which is unmistakable.

If you don’t enjoy rosemary, leave it out completely.

Thyme (optional) – I don’t usually use thyme when making marinara tomato sauce.

If I’m combining the sauce with chicken, I much rather prefer to add the thyme when preparing the chicken instead.

But that’s just what I like. You don’t have to add it if you’d rather not.

Black pepper – Ground black pepper is the only spice you need to add to the marinara sauce. If you don’t have it, you can leave it out.

Just be prepared – you might find that you miss it if it’s not in there.

Parmesan cheese – The addition of parmesan cheese in this sauce recipe gives it some salty, savoriness that raw tomatoes need to reach their flavor potential.

You can omit the cheese if you’re going for a dairy-free version of this marinara.

If you are using parmesan though, be sure to taste the sauce before adding more salt.

Salt – Adding salt to your tomato marinara is optional, especially if you’ve opted to use parmesan cheese.

If you’re unsure, leave it out. That way, when you serve it up, everyone can adjust their serving according to their taste.

white bowl with spaghetti and marinara sauce

Green peppers (optional) – I like the freshness that finely diced fresh green peppers give to any tomato or cheese-based dish.

In this case, when I use this marinara as a pizza sauce, I chop up a green pepper and sprinkle it over the sauce, just before the grated cheese.

And if you don’t mind a hint of heat, add a tiny bit of sliced green chili. So delicious!

Sugar (optional) – I never intend to add sugar to tomato-based Italian sauces, but somehow I always do.

That’s only because the acidity of the tomatoes is a little too much for me to bear.

I have found that even a single teaspoon of sugar makes a noticeable difference, but I’m working my way up to no sugar at all.

You can adjust your marinara with as much or as little sugar as you feel it needs.

white pot with homemade marinara sauce

More Sauce Recipes To Try

Boiling Crab Sauce
Easy Coconut Curry Sauce

How to make Marinara Sauce

Tools you’ll need:

  • Sharp knife
  • Cutting board
  • Large pot
  • Cheese grater or vegetable peeler
  • Meal storage container

Prepare the Tomato Sauce Ingredients

Here’s how:

There’s not much preparation needed to get your marinara sauce started, besides chopping the garlic and shredding the parmesan.

Feel free to double the ingredients if you prefer making a larger batch of sauce.

Make the Marina Sauce

  1. Olive oil and garlic – Warm a splash of olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the chopped garlic, and saute until you can smell it. You don’t want to burn the garlic, because it’ll give your sauce a bitter taste, instead of a garlicky flavor.
  2. Tomatoes, black pepper (if using), sugar (if using), basil, and other optional herbs of your choice (oregano, rosemary, thyme) – Add the tomatoes and herbs, stir well and allow the sauce to come to a slow boil.
  3. Then, turn down the heat to low and simmer the tomato sauce uncovered for close to an hour. Just like with most tomato-based sauces, the longer they simmer over low heat, the better.
  4. You’ll want to check on your marinara at regular intervals throughout the hour and stir frequently to make sure that nothing sticks to the bottom of your pot and burns.
  5. After an hour of uncovered simmering, place the lid on the pot and leave to cook for another hour or so, stirring at regular intervals.
  6. Parmesan cheese – After roughly 2 hours of cooking, completely turn off the heat and add the grated cheese. Give your marinara sauce a good stir to incorporate the cheese and now it’s time to taste for salt.
  7. Salt – Depending on the salt content of the parmesan you’re using you may or may not want to add salt. Start off by adding less than you think you need, and taste. If you feel like the sauce could be better with more salt, go for it. It’s always going to be best to use less, rather than more while cooking.
  8. Green peppers (optional) – Add in chopped fresh green peppers if using. If not, your marinara tomato sauce is done!
pepperoni pizza with marinara sauce and basil leaves

What to serve with Italian Marinara Sauce

The great thing about a purely tomato-based sauce is it goes with almost anything.

Personally, I love to grill a few slices of good Italian bread with a dollop of marinara sauce and grated mozzarella cheese. Plain, simple, and totally delicious!

Try this marinara sauce tossed with pasta or spread over homemade pizza crusts for an authentic Italian experience.

Or simply use it as a sauce with breakfast eggs and sausages, or as a dipping sauce for french fries, chicken nuggets or garlic bread.

homemade marinara sauce spread over pizza crust

How to store Marinara Sauce

Homemade marinara sauce can be stored in the refrigerator for 3 or 4 days. To preserve the taste, it’s best to use a glass jar or container with an airtight lid.

If you need to store your marinara for longer, decant it into a freezer-safe, airtight container and store it in the freezer for up to 6 months.

Or you could portion it off in a silicone ice tray in the freezer for convenience. Just pop out a few marinara ice cubes whenever you need them.

Only reheat as much sauce as you intend to use at any given time, to avoid having to refreeze leftovers, and to maintain the truest texture and flavor of marinara.

pizza with marinara sauce and basil leaves

Olive Garden Copycat Marinara Sauce

Super easy copycat Olive Garden Marinara Sauce Recipe! Make your restaurant favorite at home with this copycat sauce recipe! Perfect for pasta night.
Prep Time10 minutes
Cook Time2 hours
Total Time2 hours 10 minutes
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: American, Italian
Keyword: Olive Garden Copycat Marinara Sauce


  • 28 oz crushed tomatoes OR 7-10 fresh tomatoes, peeled and chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1-1½ tsp dried basil
  • ½-1 tsp black pepper
  • 1-3 tsp sugar (optional)
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • cup grated parmesan cheese
  • green peppers, chopped (optional)


  • Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium heat, and add the garlic. Saute for a minute until fragrant.
  • Add the crushed or chopped tomatoes, basil, black pepper, and sugar. Bring to a low boil while stirring frequently.
  • Once the sauce boils, turn the heat down to a low simmer.
  • Allow to simmer uncovered for 40 minutes to 1 hour, then covered for another hour. Stir occasionally to avoid burning.
  • Add the cheese, stir well and simmer for an additional 5 minutes.

If you’re a tomato lover, this simple copycat Olive Garden marinara recipe is sure to please. Let me know in the comments below how your sauce turns out!

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