It’s hard to overstate how often I relied on good ol’ spaghetti dinners while I was raising four young kids. Spaghetti was like a life raft, something I could grab onto when I was adrift in the seas of parenting. Dried pasta and jars of pasta sauce have always held a special place in my heart for that reason!
But I must admit that I wasn’t nearly as creative in the kitchen back then as I am now. And the hard truth is that most of those plates of spaghetti probably tasted pretty bland. If I could go back in time, I would tell myself how easy it is to turn a jar of pre-made pasta sauce into something flavorful and delicious! In fact, I would probably just show myself today’s blog post!
That’s because today I’ll be sharing 9 super simple ways to dress up a jar of pasta sauce. Because while it’s very nice to be able to rely on a simple pasta dinner on those crazy-busy nights, that doesn’t mean we have to sacrifice flavor! :-)
How To Choose A Good Jar Of Pasta Sauce
Even though this post is all about “dressing up” a jar of pasta sauce, it’s always going to be easier if you start out with quality ingredients. That’s why I thought it would be useful to include a few helpful tips about picking out a good jar of pasta sauce at the grocery store!
A single jar of pasta sauce can cost you anywhere between $1 and $10, depending on the brand. But you don’t have to shell out the full $10 to pick up a decent sauce! Just be sure to check out the ingredient lists while you’re browsing your sauce options. Pick a sauce that has whole tomatoes listed as the first ingredient, and avoid sauces that contain added sugars.
Once you’ve picked out your sauce, it’s time to start cooking! :-)
9 Ways To Make A Jar Of Pasta Sauce More Delicious
1. Fresh Veggies
Adding fresh vegetables to your pasta dish is an easy way to make it more flavorful and more nutritious! Start by sautéing diced onion, tomatoes, peppers, and carrots in a pan until soft. Then add your pasta sauce and simmer for a few minutes to finish it off!
Adding fresh garlic to a pre-made pasta sauce makes a world of difference. You can either either use roasted garlic (see Minimalist Baker for a great guide on how to roast your own garlic) or use fresh garlic.
Mince a few cloves of garlic, toss it in a warm pan with a bit of oil, and cook until fragrant. Then add your pasta sauce and stir to combine.
3. Fresh Greens
While you’re warming up your pasta sauce on the stove, toss in a handful of fresh greens. Tender baby greens will wilt beautifully into your sauce, like baby kale and baby spinach. But you could also get creative and add some chopped broccoli or peas! (Just make sure they are warmed through first.)
4. Ground Meat
Adding meat to your sauce helps add flavor and can make your meal more satiating! Brown some ground beef, ground turkey, or Italian sausage in a pan, then drain off any fat. Add the drained meat to your sauce and simmer for a few minutes, adding salt and pepper as needed.
Ever feel like your pasta sauce needs a little extra “something,” but you aren’t sure what? Try adding something acidic! Acids brighten up flavors and add a delicious tanginess.
While you’re warming up your pasta sauce, add a splash of red wine vinegar, lemon juice, or balsamic vinegar, or add some chopped olives or capers. You’ll be surprised by the difference a little bit of acid can make!
6. Herbs & Spices
Herbs and spices are useful tools for adding flavor to a pre-made pasta sauce. While you’re warming your sauce, add a dash of red pepper flakes for a bit of added heat! Or sprinkle in some fragrant dried oregano or thyme. And once your pasta dish is ready to serve, you can’t go wrong with a sprinkle of fresh chopped basil or parsley!
Adding a bit of dairy can take any pasta dinner from “ho-hum” to “oh, yum!” While warming your sauce, add a spoonful of ricotta cheese, cream cheese, Greek yogurt, or goat cheese. You could also add a splash of cream, or a handful of grated Parmesan cheese!
Important Note: The key to adding a dairy ingredient to your pasta dish is to wait until the last minute or two of cooking to add it. This allows enough time for the ingredient to melt into your sauce, while preserving the delicious flavor and character.
8. Pasta Water
While you’re warming up your pasta sauce and boiling your noodles, add a splash of the pasta water to your sauce. Pasta water picks up starches from the pasta while it cooks. Adding those starches into your sauce will help the sauce stick to the noodles, rather than sliding right off!
9. Simmer It
Simmering your store-bought pasta sauce on the stove while your pasta cooks is an easy way to make it richer and more flavorful. You can also get similar results by adding a small amount of tomato paste to your sauce while heating it.
Do you have a favorite way to dress up a simple pasta dish?