How To: 10 Easy Tricks to Make Store-Bought Pasta Sauce Taste Homemade

10 Easy Tricks to Make Store-Bought Pasta Sauce Taste Homemade

There's nothing better than real, homemade tomato sauce, but to really develop the flavors, it usually has to simmer for a few hours. And while it's totally worth doing if you have the time, some nights it's just not an option. That's where the pre-made stuff comes in.

Jarred pasta sauce certainly doesn't taste the same, but it's really easy to dress up when you need something quick. If you don't want anyone to know your "secret recipe," here are 10 ways to make store-bought spaghetti or marinara sauce taste like you made it yourself.

#1. Start with Sautéed Vegetables

Dice up some vegetables and sauté them in a little oil before adding the sauce. Onions, peppers, carrots and garlic are all good, but you can throw in pretty much anything you like. The key is to have some kind of fresh vegetable to make it taste and look like fresh homemade sauce.

#2. Add Some Meat

Brown some ground beef, turkey, or sausage to add tons of flavor and instantly make your sauce heartier and more filling. Just make sure to drain it before adding the other ingredients—you don't want all that extra grease in your sauce.

#3. Spice It Up

A few herbs and spices add a lot of flavor to pre-made sauce. Add a teaspoon or two of thyme, oregano, basil, or even a small pinch of red pepper flakes if you like a little heat. Just remember that your sauce might already have some of these as ingredients, so don't go overboard on them.

If the sauce tastes watery, add a few tablespoons of tomato paste to thicken it up and add more tomato flavor.

#4. Deglaze Your Pan

If you add sautéed vegetables or meat, stir in a little stock or wine before adding the sauce to release any bits stuck to the bottom of the pan. This is called deglazing, and it helps incorporate all the flavors into your sauce that would otherwise just be burnt onto the cooking surface.

#5. Add a Spoonful of Sugar

It may sound strange, but a little sugar helps bring the flavors together in a tomato sauce. It balances out the acidity and enhances the natural sweetness of the tomatoes. Depending on how acidic your sauce is to start with, a teaspoon to a tablespoon should be enough, or you may not need any at all. It's all a matter of preference.

#6. Let It Simmer

If you have any time at all, let your sauce simmer for a while. Even if it's just 20 minutes, it helps concentrate the flavors and thicken the sauce.

#7. Throw in a Handful of Greens

Get an extra dose of vegetables by hiding greens in your pasta sauce. Stir in a handful of spinach, chopped kale, or basil strips a few minutes before it's done for a healthier, heartier sauce.

#8. Save Some Pasta Water

When your pasta is finished, save some of the water you cooked it in and add a few tablespoons at a time to your tomato sauce. The starchiness of the pasta water helps bring everything together and improves the texture.

#9. Add a Little Dairy

Add about half a cup of cream or milk just before serving to make your sauce creamy and rich. My personal favorite is to throw in a scoop of ricotta, but you can also use cream cheese, mascarpone, or crème fraîche. It gives a silkiness to the texture and coats the pasta better. You can even toss in the rind from a piece of parmesan while it's simmering to add complexity to the flavor.

#10. Finish with Butter

When your sauce is heated through and you're ready to take it off the stove, stir in a pat of butter. It may sound strange, but it's a trick professional cooks use in tons of sauces. A tablespoon or two makes the flavor richer and the texture smooth and velvety, and also helps tone down acidity.

What are your favorite tricks for dressing up jarred pasta sauce? Share with us in the comments.

Sauteed onions, Bolognese sauce, Jarred sauces, Butter, Parmesan images via Shutterstock

19 Comments

  1. Not exac: use onions,only, and NOT so much as the picture.You can use water instead of oil.
  2. Not at all: only ragù have meat, don't use
  3. Not at all, none of spice, please
  4. pleese, you make me cry! No alcohol at all, it's not a scaloppina
  5. Yes! That's right, a little of sugar in the tomatoes
  6. Yes, but turn very often, but not all the tomatoes need the same timing: look out
  7. ONLY basil, please!
  8. Aarrgh! This one is only used if you start from the tomatoes, not sauce
  9. Ricotta at least, if you want a variation, but the only acceptable cheese are grana Padang è Parmeggiano reggiano
  10. NOT AT ALL, are you French?
  11. Some Olio di Olivia (only this) when the cooking is done

You are pompous ass. If you think your a real chef, why are you on this site looking for tips? Dick head!

I was just having this conversation with my husband who loves to cook spaghetti. His just needed something. This will work! Thanks for the tips.

Thanks, it looks great. I'm definitely going to try it soon.

Why do you want to buy an expensive branded pre-made sauce and make it better....!! I don't understand this philosophy...Doh..

Tinned Italian tomatoes are the best, so making a tomato sauce using the above procedure, onions garlic, olive oil, salt and pepper....oops basil leaves nearer to the end, the last five minutes of cooking time.

The secret to a good sauce is to cook out the acid in the onion, sweat them off for five minutes on their own then add the garlic. The garlic has a higher sugar content and will burn if you add them together with the onions. You want the recipe? Ask me and you will receive at eno31spyder@aol.com

Have been doing it for years, thanks for posting!!!

i started addin a can of cream of mushroom soup to my sauce years ao after a trucker recommend it to me one night. it helps mello out the acidity adds a creamyness and makes it taste more homemade.... lol and no one ever guesses what the trick is :)

This will sound strange, but it really works wonders. Add a pinch of cinnamon to your jarred sauce.

I like to add about a half a cup of salsa to my store bought spaghetti sauce--use mild or if you like it spicier use medium. Also one of those little envelopes of taco seasoning will tone up the flavor too, just use a sprinkle at a time and stir it in, add more to your own personal preference.

Get out your mortar and pestle, add 2-3 tablespoons of fennel seed, and you will kick up the flavor of the sauce somewhat to Italian sausage.

I really enjoyed reading all the great tips. Being on budget, I rarely waste anything. With that said, I take my leftover pizza toppings and throw that into cheap spaghetti sauce. Then cut up the pizza dough and toast them up, bite size. Twaahh Laahh!! ??

Voila (not "walla" or "Twaahh Laahh"), you mean... :) It's French... :)

I keep a few good quality jars of sauce in the pantry for those nights that you really are Int the mood for a nice bowl of spaghetti and meatballs

I'll use a marina add a large or two smaller fresh cloves of garlic sliced as thin as you can then diced so small it almost melts away into the gravy (ER sauce lol) also between a 1/2 to 1 cup of a good red wine (depending on amount your making) add in precooked meatballs (hopefully homemade) and when ready maybe cut or tear up a few fresh Basil leaves 5 to 10 minutes before serving. Serve set a bowl of freshly grated cheese on the table for everyone to add to their taste preference Enjoy!!

Hagar the happy chef
Long ago known as Hagar the Horrible (chef lol)

I add about 2 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar to my store bought sauce. It's sounds odd, but is amazing. My fiancé is funny about me "doctoring up" food but he loved it. He asked what I did different and said it was amazing.

I use balsamic vinegar too, either that or even better, balsamic syrup that I make. I add a cup of sugar to a pot and cover it in balsamic vinegar. Bring it to the boil while stirring, then turn the heat off and stir until all sugar crystals have dissolved. Add to a clean bottle (e.g. Something like a ketchup bottle with a narrow tip, makes it easy to add it in small amounts on salads or in tomato sauce). Using the syrup gives the sauce that cooked for hours with wine in it flavor at the same time as the sugar counteracts/balances the acidity. Love the syrup on tortellini or ravioli too, yuuuum! Making this is so much cheaper and better than buying that "balsamic reduction" which most of the time doesn't even contain real balsamic, from what I could see on the bottles...

BTW, instead of using sugar, a tablespoon or two of maple syrup will give a much deeper flavor (not just sweeten it)...

I add 1 packet of brown gravy mix and a little parmesan when cooking store bought sauces.. gives the sauce a richer heartier Taste.

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