5 Ways to Gussy Up a Jar of Pasta Sauce

While we love making homemade sauce, there's no shame in the jarred pasta sauce game! Jarred sauce has saved many weeknight meals, and today we're sharing our top five favorite tips on how to dress it up!

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Photography Credit: Simply Recipes Team

Nothing beats the flavor of homemade slow-cooked tomato sauce, but unless you have some of that sauce stashed in your freezer, a jar of store-bought pasta sauce is the quickest alternative. (And we have a favorite, too!)

Add a bowl of spaghetti and you have a weeknight meal – maybe not the best meal of all time, but perfectly respectable.

But what if you could have the convenience of jarred sauce and some of the extra deliciousness you get from a homemade sauce? You can!

First thing’s first: Taste your sauce!

Warm up the pasta sauce, grab a spoonful, taste it. Think about what the sauce could use. Is it too watery? Acidic? Bland? Could it benefit from a little more fat (olive oil, butter, cream) or a handful of fresh herbs?

You might not know exactly, and that’s okay. It’s still good practice to taste the sauce first and try to figure it out. You don’t want to dump a bunch of oregano into the sauce if that sauce already has a lot of oregano!

Now, then. Ready to punch up that pasta sauce? Let’s get going!

1. SPICES & SEASONINGS

spices for moroccan pot roast

A good place to start is with the seasoning. If the sauce tastes a little flat or uninspiring, play around with spices to give it more depth. Add more salt, a few grinds of cracked black pepper, or dried herbs like rosemary, oregano, or thyme. (Fresh herbs, too – a handful of basil will give the sauce a bright, fresh flavor.)

If you’re in the mood for heat, try red pepper flakes, cayenne, or a dash of Sriracha or harissa sauce. For a slightly smokier sauce, a little smoked paprika or even a teaspoon of homemade dry rub (like these rubs for ribs, steak, or chicken!) could bring that sauce to life.

2. GARLIC AND SAUTÉED VEGETABLES

saute garlic and chili flakes to make clam sauce for spaghetti

Sauté garlic and chopped onions or mirepoix (which are chopped onions, celery, and carrots) in butter or olive oil, then deglaze the pan with the jarred pasta sauce. Those caramelized vegetable bits will add a lot of flavor! Sautéed mushrooms would also be an excellent addition to store-bought pasta sauce.

3. Fat 

Authentic Indian Butter Chicken Recipe melt the butter

Fat adds flavor and richness, so just say yes to butter, cream, or cheese for a souped-up tomato sauce! Stir in a spoonful of cream or ricotta, add a pat of butter, or top the sauce with grated Parmesan or pecorino.

For a dairy-free option, opt for olive oil! Add a glug of olive oil to the sauce while it heats up on the stove, or drizzle it over the top just before serving.

4. Meat

add tomatoes to make bolognese sauce

Turn that tomato sauce into a meat sauce! Brown a pound of ground beef or Italian sausage, add it to a pan with the jarred tomato sauce and some sautéed onion and garlic, and simmer. In less than 15 minutes you’ll have a completely new sauce – rich, textured, and super flavorful. Try this recipe!

5. Red Wine

Basic Tomato Sauce

If you’re sautéing vegetables or browning meat to amp up the sauce, consider deglazing the pan with a splash of red wine (ideally one you enjoy drinking because then you can have a glass!). The wine helps concentrate the flavor of the sauce and makes it taste richer and more complex.

TROUBLESHOOTING JARRED PASTA SAUCE

 Here’s how to quickly fix your jarred pasta sauce:

  • Too watery? Reduce it on the stove for 10 minutes.
  • Too acidic? Add a tablespoon of sugar or a little cream.
  • Too sweet? Add lemon zest, a splash of red wine, or some acid in the form olives or capers.
  • Too salty? Add a squeeze of lemon juice, red wine vinegar, or a spoonful of cream.
  • Too bland? Missing that savory umami note? Add parmesan, browned tomato paste, anchovies, or fish sauce.
  • Too dull? Brighten it with a handful of fresh herbs, like basil, parsley, or thyme.

How have you enhanced a plain ol’ jar of store-bought pasta sauce?

We’d love to hear your tips and tricks, too!

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Cambria Bold

Cambria Bold is a Contributing Editor for Simply Recipes with almost a decades' worth of online editorial experience and know-how. She is the former Design and Lifestyle Editor for The Kitchn, where she directed all kitchen design, product, and lifestyle coverage, and the former Managing Editor for Apartment Therapy's green living site, Re-Nest (RIP). She lives in the Twin Cities with her husband and their two little girls.

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12 Comments

No Image5 Ways to Gussy Up a Jar of Pasta Sauce

  1. Susan Jankovski

    Thanks for the sauce tips

  2. Jo

    I keep a tube of anchovy paste tomato paste in freezer to dress up tomato sauce also a blogger I follow recommends keeping a jar of pesto in freezer to use when you want basil flavor works well. Costco has a pesto great price size she recommends also selling the pricer sauces that you recommended I’m going to try tonight. Cafe surcasine is the blog.

  3. keena

    All good ideas and I’ve done the garlic and wine ones but honestly at that point just open a can of San Manzano tomatoes do the same thing and you have a much better sauce In essentially the same time.

  4. Sally

    I sauté carrots, garlic, celery and onions in some butter when done add the jarred sauce. Delicious

  5. Ron Wyman

    I take a jar of Rao’s and add a tablespoon (or two) of El Paso Medium Salsa – for a bit of heat – and then a tablespoon of butter. Sometimes I’ll add some mushrooms to the mix. I wind up with a tomato-y, somewhat spicy, smooth concoction. BTW, some torn-up fresh basil doesn’t hurt.

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5 Ways to Gussy Up a Jar of Pasta Sauce