Adding a few ingredients of your own to store-bought pasta sauce can fool anyone into thinking the sauce is from scratch.
If I had to pick one food to eat for the rest of my life, pasta would top the list. The never-ending combinations of noodles and sauces mean it never gets boring — and I have yet to find a bowl of pasta I don’t like. Gnocchi with pesto and mom’s lasagna are the ultimate comfort foods for me, but oftentimes real life calls for a dinner that’s even more effortless.
I always keep a jar or two of store-bought pasta sauce in our cabinet for nights when I really don’t feel like cooking. I always buy a marinara-style sauce because it’s a blank canvas for other ingredients. My favorite pre-made sauces are Rao’s (worth the extra cost) and Private Selection Basilico. While the sauces taste OK straight out of the jar, a little extra effort makes them taste more like they’re homemade. And, the final product still comes together quickly.
Here’s how to elevate your favorite store-bought pasta sauce:
Start With Garlic
In my opinion, this is how all delicious meals start! I begin by sautéing two to three cloves of minced garlic in two Tablespoons of olive oil until fragrant. You can also add some soffritto, which is the base of all good Italian dishes. It’s the flavorful combination of chopped onion, carrot and celery. Cook the garlic and onion first until softened, then add in the carrot and celery.
Adding meat to the sauce will not only give your final pasta dish more flavor, but it will amp up the nutritional stats on the meal and keep you feeling full longer. I love using lean ground beef, ground turkey or a combination of sweet and spicy Italian sausage. Once the meat is browned, drain fat and add sauce to the pan. Simmer for at least 15 minutes to let the flavors marinate; the longer it simmers, the better it will taste. I typically use about one pound of meat for 24 oz. of sauce.
Pour In Some Wine
If you really want to make your sauce taste fancy, pour a couple splashes of wine into the pan to deglaze it after sautéing meat or veggies and before you add the sauce to the pan. A little bit goes a long way and makes pasta taste especially rich.
Stir In Fresh Herbs
I like my pasta sauce packed with flavor, so I often throw in a handful of chopped fresh herbs while it simmers. You can use whatever herbs you have on hand, but I like to toss in lots of basil, oregano, thyme and parsley. If you don’t have fresh herbs, use a Tablespoon or two of dried Italian seasoning and one teaspoon of ground fennel to amp up the flavor.
Top With Quality Cheese
One of the biggest splurges in my grocery budget each week is fancy cheese. I buy a couple of varieties: at least one for snacking and one for grating. I like to top my pasta with aged parmigiano-reggiano, mimolette or fresh mozzarella — or all three! I stick the cheese-topped pasta under the broiler for a couple of minutes to make it extra gooey and delicious.