35 Pasta Sauce Hacks

spaghetti with pasta sauce

spaghetti with pasta sauce

Pasta is a big deal in our family.   Not only is it something that we enjoy eating, but it is something we enjoying cooking and sharing with others.  And as much as I love pasta, in all honesty, I view it as a vehicle for the pasta sauce.  Around here, sauce is red, luscious, and has a depth of flavor that is hard to find in store brands from the grocery store.  But if you are a fan of the store-bought kind, you can make it taste even better with these simple hacks.  Yes… you can hack your way to the perfect pasta sauce.

In order to hack the perfect pasta sauce, you will need a few items in your pantry, ‘fridge, or freezer.   And these hacks can be applied to your own homemade sauce or to a jar that you bring home from the grocery store.  Feel free to experiment with the individual tips to create a sauce that suits your palette.

simmering pasta sauce

simmering pasta sauce

Hacks to the Perfect Pasta Sauce

  1. Add roasted tomatoes – roasting brings a deeper and more ‘tomatoey’ flavor
  2. Use paste tomatoes – they have less liquid compared to beefsteak type of tomatoes and cook down more quickly into a sauce
  3. Use homegrown or tomatoes fresh from a farmer’s market – these tomatoes were picked at the peak of ripeness and bring more flavor than those typically found at the grocery store

    fresh tomatoes, garlic, and basil add great flavor

    fresh tomatoes, garlic, and basil add great flavor

  4. Add roasted, pureed carrots – they add a subtle sweetness and can balance out acidic tomatoes
  5. Add roasted, pureed beets – start with 1/2 of a beet (they tend to be sweeter than carrots when roasted) and add more if necessary to the sauce
  6. A spoonful of sugar – if you are not a fan of carrots or beets, sugar will help balance the acidity of tomatoes
  7. Molasses – brings a very earthy, yet subtle sweetness to the sauce
  8. Add fresh garlic – garlic in pasta sauce is a great combination, but be sure to saute or roast the garlic first
  9. Two words… roasted onions – they bring subtle sweetness and a depth of flavor
  10. Pinch of cayenne or chili flakes – they bring a little spicy heat to the sauce
  11. Bay leaf – add a bay leaf to the sauce and simmer for at least 30 minutes, but remember to remove the bay leaf before serving… bay leaf adds another layer of flavor… deep and herbal
  12. Pesto – whether it is fresh or out of a jar, a heaping tablespoon provides a great taste of Italy
  13. Fresh basil – this herb marries well with pasta sauce, bringing a taste of summer to even winter meals
  14. Roasted red bell peppers – dice them or turn them into a puree and add to the sauce… great veggie sweetness and wonderful roasted flavor
  15. Add a good splash or two of a Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Marsala  or Chianti – use a good quality wine and I am a fan of using a wine that you would drink (if it doesn’t taste good to you when you drink it, the flavor won’t improve in the sauce)
  16. Add a splash of really good olive oil – add at the end of simmering, right before you take the sauce off of the heat and stir in well… a good, fruity variety will elevate the flavor of the sauce
  17. Clams – make sure they are clean before adding (rinse off any sand) then bring the sauce to a simmer and cook until the clams open
  18. Italian sausage – not only will it add great flavor, but it will help create a hearty sauce
  19. Ground fennel seed – helps create an Italian sausage flavor, minus the meat
  20. Assorted fresh or dried herbs – parsley, oregano, and thyme all play well with pasta sauce
  21. Saute a small sprig of rosemary in one tablespoon of olive oil – saute for a minute then remove the rosemary and add the olive oil to the sauce
  22. Nutritional yeast – stir in a small amount, taste, and add more if desired… it brings an earthiness to the sauce
  23. Meat on the bone such as oxtail or ribs – add a richness and meatiness to the sauce, but simmer until the meat is fork-tender… be sure to remove bones before serving
  24. Good quality tomato paste – saute with a little olive oil first to create a deep, tomato flavor then add to the sauce
  25. Diced, sautéed or roasted mushrooms – they add not only great texture, but flavor
  26. Garlic powder – great substitute for fresh garlic, add to the sauce and stir in well
  27. Anchovy paste – it brings a saltiness and a hint of the sea… anchovies are great for more than Caesar Salad dressing or a topping on pizza
  28. Drizzle of honey – adds a subtle sweetness to balance out acidic tomatoes

    grated parsesan and parmesan rind

    grated parsesan and parmesan rind

  29. Parmesan rinds – add a couple of rinds to the sauce and simmer for a depth of flavor (remove rinds prior to serving)
  30. Grated parmesan – add  1/2 – 1 cup after removing sauce from heat… stir in well
  31. Dried poultry seasoning – if you don’t have any fresh herbs on hand, add one teaspoon to the sauce
  32. Smoked paprika – this seasoning will add a wonderful, deep smokey flavor… plus a little heat
  33. Vegetable pulp from juicing (omit seeds, stems, and thick rinds) – add 1 cup of vegetable pulp to a saute pan with a little olive oil… saute for a few minutes then add the sauce
  34. Vegetable or chicken stock – add 1 cup to the sauce and simmer until the sauce begins to thicken
  35. Cook pasta according to directions on the package, minus two minutes – then add pasta to the pasta sauce and finish cooking in the sauce… the pasta picks up the flavor of the sauce within the pasta itself

    finish cooking the pasta in the sauce

    finish cooking the pasta in the sauce

Whether you are starting with your own homemade sauce or a jar from the grocery store, you can always enhance the flavor.  But one thing to keep in mind as you try the hacks… taste as you go.  Maybe the base sauce is sweet enough as it is.  Looking for a more robust flavor?  Perhaps cook some meat on the bone in the sauce?  Looking for a brighter, fresher flavor?  You can’t go wrong with fresh herbs.  With these 35 hacks, you can create a pasta sauce to suit your needs.



2 responses »

  1. Wow and triple wow! I cook almost everything from scratch, and can’t wait to implement these ideas next time I make a marinara sauce . . . yum! And I can’t WAIT to make your garlic soup! Thanks so much for all you offer here. =}

    • I hope you do enjoy trying these tips. When I don’t have time make pasta sauce and revert to buying it instead, these hints help enhance the flavor and make it something special. Have a great time cooking! And you are welcome. 🙂

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