Caramelized Marinara Sauce - Mountain Cravings

Caramelized Marinara Sauce

Caramelized Marinara Sauce

I like to think I’m pretty relaxed on the food snob spectrum. I am definitely not above craving fast food, some of my favorite wines are priced in the single digits, and yes, there are times when Velveeta really is just going to taste the best. But I firmly believe pasta sauce should always be homemade, because it is completely different than jarred puree and it takes so little effort to make.

This Caramelized Marinara isn’t the quickest version you can make, but if you have some time to simmer on the stove it’s absolutely worth it. Caramelizing the onions first gives the sauce a wonderful deep sweetness that melds with the tomatoes instead of being sugary.

Caramelized Marinara Sauce

The secret to out-of-this-world caramelization? Whiskey. Or bourbon, we’re not picky here. Adding about a full shotglass halfway through the process brings out a wonderful depth. The best onion flavor comes from Jack Daniels, but I also keep some cheaper whiskey on hand for caramelizing and it does just fine.

The base of the sauce stays the same but I’ll often throw in meat or mushrooms to really round it out into a hearty meal. Vegetarians and mushroom-haters, I don’t understand you, but I got you – this is just as good without if that’s not your thing.

Caramelized Marinara Sauce

I usually double or even triple this recipe because it freezes beautifully. You can have it defrosted and ready to go in the same time as it takes to heat up a jar of sauce on the stove or in the microwave.

Caramelized Marinara Sauce
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
Serves: 4
  • (optional) 1 lb. ground turkey
  • 2 onions, diced
  • 2 oz. whiskey or bourbon
  • 6 cloves garlic, minced
  • 6 oz. tomato paste
  • 28 oz. crushed tomatoes
  • (optional) 4 oz. mushrooms, sliced
  • Italian herbs (parsley, oregano, basil, rosemary, thyme)
  • salt to taste
  • (optional) crushed red pepper flakes
  1. [Meat] Brown the ground turkey in a large stockpot. Set the meat aside.
  2. In a large stockpot, caramelize the onions. Begin by sautéing over medium heat until translucent. When they are just starting to turn golden on their own, add the whiskey or bourbon. The alcohol will cook out almost immediately and the onions take on the color and aroma of the whiskey. Sauté for another 10-20 minutes until deep golden brown.
  3. Add the garlic and sauté 3 minutes or so until the raw aroma is gone.
  4. Stir in the tomato paste and let cook for a few minutes.
  5. Add the crushed tomatoes and bring to a simmer for 10 minutes.
  6. [Mushrooms] Add mushrooms with the crushed tomatoes.
  7. When tomatoes are starting to break down and mushrooms are cooked through (if added), season with fresh herbs or dry Italian seasoning, salt to taste, and crushed red pepper flakes for a kick.
  8. Return the meat to the pot (if using) and finish simmering for another 5 minutes.
Nutrition information is for meatless, mushroom-free sauce.

Nutrition Facts
4 servings per container
Serving size

Amount per serving
Calories 159
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 0g 0%
Saturated Fat 0g 0%
Trans Fat 0g
Cholesterol 0mg 0%
Sodium 482mg 21%
Total Carbohydrate 25g 9%
Dietary Fiber 5g 17%
Total Sugars 12g
Includes g Added Sugars 0%
Protein 7g

Calcium 8mg 1%
Iron 12mg 67%
Not a significant source of vitamin D, or potassium.

The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a serving of food contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.

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