How to Make Store-Bought Pasta Sauce Taste Homemade

Our field editors tell you what to add to spaghetti sauce (the store-bought kind!) to make it taste like it's straight from Nonna's kitchen.

Don’t have much time to cook dinner? Grab your pasta pot—it’s Spaghetti Night (or Chicken Penne Night or Lasagna Skillet Night…you get the idea). Our field editors are about to tell you what to add to spaghetti sauce from the supermarket to give it some serious Italian appeal. The finished product may taste like you stood at the stove for hours, but these tried-and-true tricks take mere minutes.

How to Make Store-Bought Pasta Sauce Taste Homemade

Our field editors recommend that when you’re stocking up on pasta sauce, look for a traditional, meatless variety so you can doctor it up with as many or as few ingredients as you like without worrying that they’ll clash. “Honestly, I treat it like tomato sauce,” says Shawn Barto.

Ingredients:

  • 1 jar (24 ounces) pasta sauce
  • 1 pound ground beef, Italian sausage or meat of your choice
  • 1 small onion
  • Garlic, to your taste
  • Chopped vegetables of your choice
  • 1/4 cup broth, red wine or vodka
  • Fresh or dried herbs of your choice
  • 1 tablespoon butter

Tools:

  • Dutch oven or pot
  • Wooden spoon
  • Measuring cups/spoons

Directions

Overhead view of savory marinara, slow cooked all day in an enamel coated cast iron Dutch oven.Aimee M Lee/Shutterstock

Step 1. Brown Some Meat

Pop a Dutch oven on the stove and get it nice and hot. Then brown ground beef, bulk Italian sausage— or anything from the butcher’s case. Set it aside and tent with foil. (If you have precooked meat, like pepperoni or leftover grilled chicken, hold off for now.) Got an extra pound of ground beef? Here are some ground beef recipes that will put it to work.

Step 2. Veg out, or, Rather, In

If you have a few minutes to spare, don’t add the sauce to the pan just yet. Saute a chopped onion or some minced garlic in the Dutch oven to add more savory goodness to the sauce. Now’s the time to add any other chopped vegetables you like, too: “Peppers, eggplant, zucchini, carrot, mushrooms, etc.,” suggests Ann Sheehy. Speaking of veggies, here are some of the healthiest vegetables you can add.

Step 3. Booze It Up

Once your veggies are tender, you could deglaze the pan with broth, balsamic vinegar, or you could add red wine or vodka like Ruth Hartunian-Alumbaugh does. Keep the bottle handy. You’ll need it again in a minute. Cooking terms got you in a tizzy? This breakdown will help.

Step 4. Dump in the Sauce

And reach for that adult-beverage bottle again, says Crystal Jo Bruns: “Swirl about 1/4 cup of your favorite red wine in the jar to get out the very last dribbles of sauce to add amazing flavor.” A glass of red pairs great with any of these Italian recipes.

Person sprinkling in herbs into a pot on the stovetop with one hand and stirring sauce with a wooden spoon with their other

Step 5. Add in the Savory Stuff

Stir the meat you browned earlier or any precooked meat you have on hand into the sauce. And if you want to use canned tomatoes or mushrooms (“Canned are fine!” assures Allison Ochoa), toss them in, along with the dried seasonings you want. Some field editors even add a pinch of sugar. Let the sauce bubble away, uncovered, for as long as possible. Here are some of our field editors’ favorite Taste of Home recipes.

Step 6. Finish It Off

Before you take your new-and-improved sauce to the table, cut the heat and stir in a pat of butter or a splash of half-and-half for extra creaminess, or minced fresh herbs for extra freshness. “I also add Better Than Bouillon to make it taste like it’s been simmering forever,” explains Angela Lively. Last, sprinkle in freshly shredded Parm. Time to eat! Psst! Did you know Parmesan isn’t vegetarian?

What to add to spaghetti sauce that is too sweet?

If your pasta sauce comes out a bit too sweet for your tastes, add a splash of balsamic vinegar or lemon juice. The acidity will help cut the sweetness and result in a more balanced sauce. Check out how to fix other common cooking mistakes.

How do you thicken spaghetti sauce?

The best way to add some bulk to a watery pasta sauce is to add about 1/8-1/4 cup of starchy pasta water. If you’ve already strained the pasta, you can mix together a bit of cornstarch and water to create a slurry and add it to the sauce instead.

No matter how much time you have, these pasta sauce hacks from our field editors are sure to earn a big bravo from your family. And remember, it’s all about convenience and resourcefulness, says Kelly Kirby: “Never the same twice!” You’ve got this.

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Ellie Martin Cliffe
Now an executive editor at Taste of Home, Ellie has been writing about food and parenting for more than a decade. When she isn't at TOH HQ, she's likely trying gluten- and dairy-free recipes, canning whatever's in season, listening to anything with a fiddle, or playing Uno with her family.