How to Make Store-Bought Pasta Sauce Taste Homemade

Our field editors tell you what to add to pasta sauce (the jarred kind) to make it taste like it's straight from Nonna's kitchen.

By Ellie Martin Cliffe, Senior Editor

Wooden spoon resting on the edge of a blue pot of sauce

Shutterstock / Aimee M Lee

Don't have much time to cook dinner? Grab your pasta pot—it's Spaghetti Night (or Chicken Penne Night or Lasagna Skillet get the idea). Our field editors are about to tell you what to do with pasta 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.

Before You Begin

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.

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—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's else you can do with it.

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 chopped veggies, try this Test Kitchen favorite.

Step 3. Booze It Up

Once your veggies are tender, you could deglaze the pan with 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? We'll 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 meat into the sauce—that meat you've been keeping warm, or any precooked type you have on hand. 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.

Have more lunch meat than you know what to do with? Here are our tips for using up leftover ham.

Step 6. Finish It Off

Before you take your new-and-improved sauce to the table, 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 freshly shredded Parm (or over the top). Time to eat!

Psst! Did you know Parmesan isn't vegetarian?

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.