While there’s nothing quite like fresh, homemade pasta sauce, it can be rather time-consuming to make it from scratch. Especially if you’re getting home from a long day at work or out running errands. I make some sort of pasta dish for dinner at least once a week, and it’s usually because everything is easy to toss together – including store-bought marinara sauce. Luckily, there are some easy ways to upgrade the store-bought stuff so you can have a delicious, yet simple and quick meal.
Before pouring the jar of sauce in the skillet to heat up, dice up a few veggies and sauté them in a splash of oil. Onions, peppers, diced tomatoes, and carrots are great choices, but really you can use whatever you have on hand. Getting that nice crunch of veggies makes the store-bought stuff taste more authentic. Plus, it’ll stretch your sauce out so you have more of it to go around. What’s not to love about that?
Doesn’t this already look ten times better than plain old sauce from a jar? Ground beef works great, as well as ground turkey. If you’re working with a cream-based sauce like alfredo, you can dice up some chicken and toss it in a skillet to brown it up before adding the sauce.
Store-bought sauce is a great base that can be improved upon in so may ways. Another excellent upgrade is to add a few spices to really bring out the rich and savory flavors. Some great choices for marinara sauce include thyme, oregano, basil, or even a small pinch of red pepper flakes if you like a little heat. Just a teaspoon or so will do, seeing as the sauce probably has its own spices. You’ll be surprised how much of a difference this easy step will make!
Deglaze The Pan
If you sautéed veggies or browed hamburger on your skillet, pour a little broth or even wine to loosen up any pieces left behind. This process is called deglazing, and it helps incorporate all of those flavors into the final product. Otherwise, they’d just stick to the pan and burn. Plus, the broth or wine will add a bit of savory goodness and depth of flavor to your sauce!
If you’ve ever made your own marinara sauce, you’ll know that there’s typically a tablespoon or two of sugar mixed in with the spices. However, if you’ve only used the jarred stuff, this may come as a surprise to you. It balances out the acidity and enhances the natural sweetness of the tomatoes. Start with a few teaspoons and do a taste test. Add more as you see fit!
Let It Simmer
If you can wait a little bit longer for your meal to be complete, letting the sauce simmer really can make all the difference. Cooking the sauce on low heat helps to concentrate the flavors and thicken the sauce. This is doubly true if you added spices and deglazed your pan! Even just twenty minutes helps, but you can let it simmer for up to an hour, depending on how much time you can spare.
Add Pasta Water
Another strange thing to add, but easy and totally worth it! The starchiness of the pasta water helps bring everything together and improves the texture. Just a spoonful or two will do the trick. Don’t believe me? Try it out for yourself! Here’s another tip – add some salt to your water before boiling. The pasta will soak up that flavor and be even more delicious. Plus, it’ll improve the overall flavor of the sauce if you choose to add a spoonful or two.
Finish With Butter
I feel like I don’t even have to explain why adding butter is a good idea. I mean, isn’t adding butter always a good idea? That being said, it’s a little strange, but it’s a trick a lot of professionals use. Just a tablespoon or two makes the flavor richer and the texture smooth and velvety, and also helps tone down acidity.