The Simple Hack That Will Level Up Your Store-Bought Spaghetti Sauce

Sometimes you just don't have the time or energy to crush and cook down whole tomatoes all afternoon to make a handmade spaghetti sauce, and that is okay. But there are ways to doctor up a container of store-bought spaghetti sauce to make it a little richer, a little thicker, and add additional tomato flavor than it would already have straight from the jar.

One way that you can do this is to simmer your store-bought sauce, just like you would an all-homemade sauce. Even just simmering canned basic tomato sauce down for 15 to 30 minutes will do wonders for the taste and texture, especially if you add in some aromatics like garlic and basil. But there's an even easier way: Simply stir in a tablespoon or two of tomato paste while the sauce heats. The paste will thicken it and add an extra helping of rich tomato flavor.

How tomato paste works wonders

How can a tablespoon of tomato paste transform pasta sauce into something so much deeper in flavor? The answer is all in how tomato paste is made. Crafting this ingredient involves cooking tomatoes down much longer than usual until nearly all of the water has simmered out. At this point, the paste is just an extremely concentrated glob of tomato-flavored goodness, rich with the umami flavor of the fruit it's made of. You can even find double-concentrated tomato paste, which is even more potent.

A single spoonful of tomato paste can pack in the flavor of many tomatoes and also serves as a thickening agent due to its gluey texture. This means dropping a little into a store-bought sauce, which can be watery in texture or lacking in flavor, can instantly add body and intense umami flavor — just be sure to heat and incorporate the paste thoroughly.

Other ways to style store-bought sauce

Want a few more easy ways to improve the flavor of that can of spaghetti sauce? A healthy helping of herbs and spices always goes a long way. Adding ground black pepper, red pepper flakes for a kick, and especially chopped fresh herbs like basil or oregano can really elevate the flavor and depth of a store-bought sauce. Just be sure to taste your sauce before adding any seasonings, especially salt — some brands of pasta sauce may already be salted thoroughly.

A few tablespoons of freshly shredded parmesan, a dollop of heavy cream, or a healthy pat of butter can also thicken up a tomato sauce and make it velvety smooth and especially flavorful. Even a little drizzle of high-quality extra-virgin olive oil can also add that extra fattiness that brings a sauce to the next level. Whatever way you choose to hack your store-bought spaghetti sauce, you'll have a meal in minutes.