Nothing beats the taste of a homemade pasta sauce that’s simmered for hours. But sometimes you have a lone jar of “heat and eat marinara” and just want dinner now. However, you don’t have to sacrifice flavor. That’s when you get creative.
I keep an emergency jar of marinara for days when I only have the energy to boil water. Thankfully, a plain jar of tomato sauce can easily be dressed up with whatever you have on-hand. Be warned: your creation may not impress your Italian grandmother, but the results are very satisfying.
Here are a few of my favorite ways to elevate a simple jar of sauce:
Oil, garlic, and onion: Even the barest pantry generally has these staples. Sauté some fresh garlic, onion, and olive oil, then add your sauce and simmer for several minutes.
Fresh or dried herbs and spices: Yes, jar sauce already has all the basic seasonings. But simmering spaghetti sauce with a sprinkle of oregano, basil, red pepper flakes—or anything else you have available—boosts the flavor.
Fresh or frozen veggies: A veggie-loaded sauce does double duty. First, you get a well-balanced meal. Second, it bulks up the dish and makes you feel more satisfied with a single two-ounce serving of pasta. Typically, I sauté mushrooms, peppers, or zucchini in a pan with garlic before adding my sauce. However, you can do this with any veggie, like spinach or kale.
Protein: Defrost that packet of ground beef and brown it in a pan before combining with sauce. If you don’t eat meat, this method works with tofu or plant-based “meats.”
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