How to Make Store-Bought Pasta Sauce Taste Homemade

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

When we’re rushing to get dinner on the table, premade ingredients make all the difference. No time to simmer an aromatic marinara? Reach for store-bought spaghetti sauce instead. But there’s no need to compromise taste for convenience: It’s so easy to make a jar of spaghetti sauce taste homemade. 

Our Community Cooks tell us what they add to spaghetti sauce to make it even better, and give it some serious Italian appeal. The finished product will taste like you stood at the stove for hours, but these tried-and-true tricks take only minutes. Start with a good jarred pasta sauce for the best results. 

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

1. Start with a Traditional Sauce

Our Community Cooks recommend looking for a traditional, meatless variety when buying pasta sauce. This will let you doctor the sauce up with as many ingredients as you like, without worrying that they’ll clash with the base flavors. “I treat it like tomato sauce,” says Shawn Barto.

2. Simmer It Down

To begin with the perfect base, simmer the store-bought sauce on the stove until it’s thickened. This will bring out an enhanced tomato flavor that’s perfect for layering on more elements. 

3. Splash in Some Wine

Reach for that adult-beverage bottle, 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.” You can even use these tricks to make the wine taste better before adding it to your sauce.

And since the bottle is open anyway, you may as well pour a glass—red wine pairs great with many Italian recipes.

4. Make It Cheesy

Shredded Mozzarela Cheese in a bowl over a kitchen cloth on a wooden tablebhofack2/Getty Images

A little cheese never hurt! Before taking your jarred spaghetti sauce off the stove, add a handful (or two) of shredded mozzarella or Parmesan cheese for a gooey and thick sauce.

5. Spice It Up

Use spices like red pepper flakes or cayenne pepper, or a splash of Sriracha, to give your jarred pasta sauce some heat. Start with just a pinch of the seasoning and add more as needed. 

6. Add Protein

Skip the jarred meat pasta sauce and add in some homemade protein instead. Brown ground beef, bulk Italian sausage or anything else you like from the butcher’s case. Drain the meat and set it aside, tenting it with foil. When it’s time to put the sauce on the stove, add the meat to the sauce, making sure it’s broken into bite-size pieces. 

For a vegetarian alternative, use your favorite plant-based meat.

7. Use Dairy

Give your sauce a creamy and rich taste by adding dairy. Cut the heat and stir in a pat of butter. a splash of half-and-half or heavy cream, or even a spoonful of yogurt for some extra creaminess.

Editor’s Tip: Turn your spaghetti sauce into a delicious vodka sauce! After adding the heavy cream to your jarred pasta sauce, pour in 1/4 to 1/3 cup of vodka and then let it simmer for 5 to 10 minutes.

8. Roast Some Garlic

Cloves of garlic in a bowlKarl Tapales/Getty Images

Spaghetti sauce tasting a little bland? Saute a few cloves of garlic in a pan, and then add the sauce.

9. Saute Veggies

If you have a few minutes to spare, don’t add the sauce to the pan just yet. Saute a chopped onion to add more savory goodness to the sauce, and then add other vegetables. Community Cook Ann Sheehy suggests bell peppers, eggplant, zucchini, carrots or mushrooms. Once the vegetables are tender, you could even deglaze the pan with broth, balsamic vinegar, red wine or vodka, like Ruth Hartunian-Alumbaugh does. 

10. Use Fresh Herbs

Liven up a jar of spaghetti sauce with fresh herbs. Add basil, thyme or oregano when the sauce is almost heated through, or use the herbs as a garnish for the plated dish. If you don’t have fresh herbs on hand, dried herbs work, too. Add a few dashes of the dried herbs while the sauce is cooking, giving the herbs enough time to be incorporated into the sauce.

Using fresh herbs is also an easy way to upgrade frozen pizza.

11. Put in Pasta Water

The best way to add bulk to a watery pasta sauce is to add 1/8 to 1/4 cup of pasta water when you combine the pasta and sauce.

If you’ve already strained the pasta, mix cornstarch and water to create a slurry and add it to the sauce instead of pasta water.

12. Add Balsamic Vinegar

Balsamic Vinegar in a glass container on a cutting board with tomatoes and garlic breadbhofack2/Getty Images

If your pasta sauce is too sweet, add a splash of balsamic vinegar or lemon juice. The acidity will help cut the sweetness and create a more balanced sauce.

13. Enhance the Tomato Flavor

Add sun-dried tomatoes or fresh diced tomatoes during the last few minutes of cooking the sauce to enhance the freshness of the tomato flavor. It’s a great way to get that extra depth of flavor without waiting for the sauce to simmer.

14. Add Broth

For pasta sauces that are missing that extra oomph, try adding a splash of broth. “I also add Better Than Bouillon to make it taste like it’s been simmering forever,” says Angela Lively. It’s a quick step to make any jarred spaghetti sauce taste homemade.

15. Incorporate Leafy Greens

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

For a simple way to bulk up your sauce, add leafy greens. Kale and spinach work wonderfully for this because they won’t take away from the traditional red sauce flavor. Add a few bunches a minute or two before taking the sauce off the stove, which should be enough time for the greens to wilt and blend into the sauce.

No matter how much time you have, these pasta sauce hacks from our Community Cooks will earn a big bravo from your family. And remember, it’s all about convenience and resourcefulness, says Kelly Kirby: “Never the same twice!”

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Ellie Martin Cliffe
Ellie has spent almost 20 years writing and editing food and lifestyle content for several well-known publishers. As Taste of Home's content director, she leads the team of editors sharing tasty recipes, cooking tips and entertaining ideas. Since joining Taste of Home 13 years ago, she has held roles in digital and print, editing cookbooks, curating special interest publications, running magazines, starring in cooking and cleaning videos, working with the Community Cooks and even handing out cookies and cocoa at local holiday events. Gluten- and dairy-free since 2017, she’s a staff go-to on allergy-friendly foods that actually taste good. If she's not in her plant-filled office, find Ellie in her family’s urban veggie garden, in the kitchen trying new GF/DF recipes or at a local hockey rink, cheering on her spouse or third grader.
Ivis Estrada
Ivis recently completed her first year as assistant editor at Taste of Home, where she's been writing and updating content about cooking trends, food news and cleaning and organizing. She also works on behind-the-scenes projects that help keep the Taste of Home team ticking along. Still learning how to cook elaborate meals, she's an expert when it comes to finding and trying beginner recipes. After hours, you can find Ivis out looking for the best restaurants in Madison (especially those that serve authentic Mexican food) or taking her dog for scenic walks.