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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.