8 Simple Ways to Spruce up Store-Bought, Jarred Tomato Sauce
If you have the time to patiently stew fresh tomatoes and gently stir in fresh basil from your windowsill plant to make homemade tomato sauce, then by all means, go for it. But, if you’re hustling to make dinner in a short amount of time, chances are you’re probably going to grab a jar of tomato sauce from the pasta aisle at the grocery store. Store-bought tomato sauce provides the ease and convenience of making any red sauce pasta dish when you’re in a hurry. Simply pop open the jar, and you’re good to go. The choices in jarred sauce usually range from chunky to ultra smooth with ingredient add-ins like cheese, peppers, onions, garlic, and mushrooms. But, not all sauces are created the same, and sometimes jarred tomato sauces could use a helping hand to achieve that signature, homemade taste. With the aid of a few items that you may already have on hand, upgrade your ordinary jar of tomato sauce with these simple hacks.
When preparing your store-bought jars of tomato sauce, it’s always good to make sure you warm the sauce in a separate pan before it’s tossed with your pasta. Warming the sauce wakes up all the spices and helps coat your pasta. Let it simmer on low for at least 15 minutes to thicken the sauce as well as intensify the flavors.
Incorporating fresh or frozen vegetables not only fulfills your daily dose of greens, but it also adds a robust flavor and texture. Simply sauté fresh vegetables in olive oil prior to adding the tomato sauce to the pan. Diced zucchini, yellow squash, carrots, bell peppers, corn, and kale are easy options to pick up in the produce section. Even the addition of freshly chopped tomatoes adds more volume and acid. If you opt for frozen vegetables like spinach or broccoli, defrost them and drain any excess water before mixing into the sauce. Caramelized onions, shallots, or garlic also bring in natural sweetness. Finish the sauce with a handful of freshly chopped herbs, such as basil, parsley, oregan, cilantro, chives or thyme.
If you happen to be drinking a glass of wine while prepping for dinner, go ahead and add a splash (a very heavy splash) to your sauce as it warms. The wine, either red or white, creates complexity and adds depth to the sauce. As it simmers, the alcohol cooks out. Light white wines like pinot grigio makes the sauce crisp with hints of citrus. Full-bodied red wines like merlot add a rich deep earthy flavor. A dry moscato gives you some sweetness if you prefer a slightly sweeter sauce. The wine choice is completely up to your preference, however overly fruity wines may change the flavor of your sauce too drastically, so try to avoid those.
WATCH: How to Make One-Pot Pasta with Tomato-Basil Sauce
Seasoned meats, tofu, and other meat substitutes change the flavor of your tomato sauce when all the ingredients are melded together. Ground turkey and ground beef are the usual go-to meats to serve with tomato sauce. If you season them well enough, the drippings will seep into the sauce along with the natural flavors from the meat.
Capers, relish, and olives bring a briny and tangy flavor to your sauce with little effort. A spoonful of fermented or pickled vegetables adds a vinegary zip that mimics the naturally occurring acid in tomatoes. The juice of a fresh lemon or a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar brings brightness and zeal.
If you got a little heavy-handed with either the wine or acid, adding little sugar to your jarred tomato sauce creates balance and harmony, while toning down any harsh flavors. You won’t need more than about a tablespoon to get the desired balance of flavor between acid and sweet.
Adding dairy is a straightforward way to achieve a creamy sauce. As the tomato sauce warms, stir in about ½ cup of heavy cream, half-and-half, or whole milk. The color will evolve from a dark red to a bright, rosy tone. Soft cheese and grated cheeses are always welcome, too. Try stirring in room temperature cream cheese or mascarpone cheese for richness and crème fraîche, sour cream, and Greek yogurt for tang. Of course, don’t forget a heaping spoonful of grated Parmesan cheese. Finish your sauce like a pro with a pat of butter.
Dried Herbs and Spices
True to traditional fashion, the sprinkle of dried herbs to your tomato sauce is the simplest way to enhance the flavor. Dried oregano, dried basil, and dried parsley all work wonders. Flecks of dried onions and garlic powder also hold their weight in adding depth to your sauce. A few other spices to consider would be crushed coriander, cumin, red chili flakes, and mustard seeds.