The Sweet Ingredient You Should Add To Your Spaghetti And Meatballs

In Italy, you won't find a dish like spaghetti and meatballs unless it's on the menu of a touristy restaurant, but you will find pasta sauce sweetened with a bit of sugar. Adding extra sugar to any dish may seem like an American thing, but according to Michael Chiarello, chef and owner of Bottega Restaurant, it's customary practice in southern Italian cuisine. "A pinch of sugar is a Southern Italian trick that was used when the sauce was made with end-of-season tomatoes that did not get ripe, or the tomatoes were so tart they needed to be balanced," Chiarello explained to Epicurious. But as Chiarello stressed, the addition and amount of sugar depend on the initial state of your tomatoes. Underripe, low-quality, or canned tomatoes will naturally be more acidic than you'd want for a sauce, and that's where the sugar comes in.

To determine how much sugar your pasta sauce needs, Taste of Home recommends starting with just ¼ teaspoon and working up from there. You'll know you've added enough sugar when the tartness has toned down and the actual tomato flavor begins to emerge.

Try using carrots to cut the acidity of your pasta sauce

Giada DeLaurentiis is known for putting a twist on many Italian classics. Her carbonara has cream in it, after all — but when it comes to her tomato sauce, the celebrity chef doesn't stray far from tradition. In a live cooking demo on the Food Network app, De Laurentiis explained that her family has always sweetened their sauce to remove the acidity. But instead of adding sugar, DeLaurentiis was taught to rely on the natural sweetness of carrots, because sugar "gets sweet very fast." If you decide to add sugar, she advises against adding more than half a teaspoon.

As per the recipe DeLaurentiis shared with Food Network, all it takes is one chopped carrot per two 32-ounce cans of crushed tomatoes. Once cooked, they can be blended together in a food processor. The Spruce Eats, however, suggests four carrots per two cans, plus an additional 2 teaspoons of sugar. Ratios vary depending on how sweet you want your sauce to taste, and how acidic your tomatoes are, so it's best to taste as you go.