Homemade tomato sauce is a treat for the family that everyone will love, but you don’t always have the time to whip up a batch on a busy weeknight. Sometimes, you are already making a labor-intensive dish, and you want to save time. A jarred tomato sauce comes to the rescue.
There are so many great brands of jarred or canned tomato sauce in the supermarket, but they all benefit from a little upgrade. The good news is, most of the ways to improve it doesn’t take so much time at all. Here are some ways to improve your jarred spaghetti sauce and make it taste like home-made.
1. Heat it
Never, ever pour your jarred sauce directly to the pasta and call it a day, even if you’re pouring it to something that’s hot like cooked pasta and meatballs. Heating the sauce in a separate pot warms up flavors and spices, which allows the sugars to caramelize and the aromas to release. If you have the time, allow the sauce to cook on low heat for about 15 to 30 minutes. This will help concentrate the sugar and ingredients for a more robust flavor.
2. Sauté it with garlic and onions
Your jarred pasta sauce may list garlic and onions in its ingredients, but if you add fresh ones as well, the flavor of the sauce will taste more distinct and powerful. Sauté finely chopped garlic and onions in olive oil until fragrant and golden, then add the sauce and let it simmer so the flavors can hold together.
3. Add some meat
Adding meat to jarred spaghetti sauce can add extra flavor and texture. Adding protein can also help keep your belly feel full longer. You can use whatever meat you have on hand: ground beef, ground pork, sausage, turkey, meatballs, or chicken, then brown it to add tons of flavor. This can instantly make your sauce heartier and more filling. Brown it first in your pan with the sautéed garlic and onions, then add the sauce when the meat is nearly cooked, so it can finish cooking while mixed to the sauce to add more flavor. As you simmer the sauce, skim off excess grease that rises to the top.
4. Throw in some veggies
You can add veggies in your jarred tomato sauce to help make it a complete dish. You can dice up some veggies like mushrooms, peppers, and carrots and make the sauce taste like homemade sauce. Be sure to brown the veggies to help bring out the flavors before adding the sauce. Sometimes, if you add veggies with fresh herbs and some cheese, you won’t even need meat.
5, Cook it with wine
Take your favorite wine and use it to deglaze the pan after sautéing meat or veggies. Wine can add another layer of flavor to your sauce. Consider it like vanilla extract. You don’t have enough time to cook it out, so you would want to use enough flavor to the sauce but not too much alcohol flavor. Two tablespoons of wine should be enough, depending on how much sauce you are cooking. It also helps to release any bits of meat stuck into the bottom of the pan before adding the sauce. This will also help incorporate flavors into the sauce that would otherwise be burnt to the cooking surface.
6. Add spices and fresh herbs
Again, the ingredients of the jarred spaghetti sauce may list herbs, but fresh or dried herbs and spices can still be added to enhance the flavors further. If you add dried herbs, add them at any time during cooking. If you want to use fresh herbs, it’s best to add them near the end or use as a garnish so you won’t lose the freshness.
You can add a teaspoon or two of oregano, basil, or thyme if you want to add some rich flavors. But don’t go overboard if the sauce already has these ingredients.
7. Thicken it up
If your sauce tastes watery for you, you can add a few tablespoons of tomato paste to thicken the sauce a bit and give it some depth and richness. This can also add more tomato flavor.
Another thing that can give the body to the sauce is starch. Save a bit of the starchy water and help it coat the pasta.
8. Add some cheese
Cheese is one of the most exciting, flavor-adding ingredients to the sauce. A spaghetti is boring without any cheese. Adding parmesan cheese while simmering the sauce can add a salty and a bit of nutty flavor. Then before serving, grate parmesan or pecorino cheese over your pasta. If you want to do something heartier, add a couple of tablespoons of ricotta cheese for a rich and creamy tomato sauce.
If you don’t have any of these cheeses, you can definitely use cheddar, mozzarella, Colby, or anything you fancy. It’s your spaghetti – the important thing is you like the flavor of the cheese you add.
9 Add a little dairy
Adding half a cup of milk or cream just before serving the sauce can make it creamy and rich. Or you can finish the sauce by tossing in a few tablespoons of butter. It may seem strange for some, but really, butter or milk can make a tomato sauce smooth, velvety, and tasty. It balances too much acidity, which is common in jarred sauces.
10. Sprinkle with some sugar
A little sugar can help bring the flavors of the tomato sauce together. You may not want your spaghetti to be sweet, but it helps balance out the acidity and enhance the natural sweetness of tomatoes. Depending on how acidic the sauce is, you can add a teaspoon to a tablespoon of sugar.
11. Add pepper flakes
One way to add some extra flavor to your spaghetti sauce is by adding hot pepper flakes. It gives your sauce a kick. You can try to make the sauce spicy or just the meat. Either way, it’s your call.
12. Try to bake it
It may sound strange, but one way to deepen the flavors of a jarred tomato sauce is to bake it. This way, the sugars really caramelize, and the flavors cook down and take on some of the flavors of the ingredients that your sauce is cooked with.