The Simplest Way To Bring Out The Flavor In Jarred Tomato Sauce

Tomato sauce is one of those things we could feel guilty about for not making from scratch. A quick recipe, if one is even necessary, isn't difficult and can be easily committed to memory. Although homemade usually tastes best, prepared versions can be a decent option, especially when we're tired or pressed for time. Enter a reliable go-to brand of jarred pasta sauce. While a slurp-worthy option might not be a bargain, it can save us from ordering out, and it will certainly fill our bellies spooned over a starch, veggies, or meat of choice. Plus, there are a lot of simple tweaks and additions to give ready-made tomato sauce some homemade flavor. 

If it's one of many components in a dish, popping the top and pouring in the contents might be fine. Lasagna packed with other savory goodness, or pizza topped with cheese, will be appetizing — if not absolutely delicious — made with prepared sauce. Baked spaghetti is a favorite weeknight dinner and another perfect meal for it. Ready-made ingredients up the odds someone may actually cook these dishes and allow more time for the preparation of extra ingredients — mushrooms AND spinach in the lasagna or both veggies and meat on the pizza for example. On the other hand, there are instances when the cook's tank and supplies are on low, necessitating a plain, straightforward dish. In those cases, a jarred tomato sauce might be front and center. Some added pantry staples can make the difference between a mediocre sauce, and one that you'll wish there was more of. 

Alliums to the rescue

Per Insider, sautéed onions and garlic will add flavor and sweetness to a jar of tomato sauce. Sean Ferraro, chef-owner of Madison Avenue Pizza, cooks diced onions in olive oil until they're translucent before incorporating minced garlic. Once the garlic releases its aroma, he pours a jar of sauce into the pan. It's an abbreviated treatment similar to Marcella Hazan's signature Tomato Sauce with Onion and Butter; however, her recipe contains no garlic. Fresh or canned tomatoes are slow-simmered with the alliums and butter for 45 minutes for a result that Food52 claims lands it within their site's top three most popular recipes. Butter adds a hint of creaminess and helps to emulsify the liquid. A splash of fish sauce or a sprinkle of parmesan cheese will also change your tomato sauce for the better.

It's not only the ingredients that add a token of mellowness and complexity — it's also the action of gently heating the sauce. And depending upon how long it's heated, some of the liquid will boil out, condensing flavors. Even a short time on the stovetop helps to meld the components and soften any acidity, but at least 15 minutes is best. Finally, to stretch your jarred sauce if you find there isn't quite enough, stir in some pasta water. Don't worry — the starch from the pasta will help to thicken out the liquid, so your sauce won't be watery!