The Secret Ingredient for Making Jarred Pasta Sauce Taste Like It Came From an Italian Restaurant

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Whenever possible, I make homemade tomato sauce for my pasta dishes, but, sometimes, I just don’t have the time or energy. Whenever that happens, I crack open a jar of store-bought tomato sauce, and I turn to a trick from the queen of Italian cooking, Marcella Hazan.

If you’ve ever felt like your jarred pasta sauce tasted pretty good but was missing just a little something, there’s 1 ingredient that will transform your jarred sauce from good to great—and it's probably waiting for you in the fridge.

Would you believe me if I said that butter is the key to making store-bought tomato sauce taste like something restaurant-worthy? Well, believe it!

Related: Ina Garten's Weeknight Bolognese

What Does Butter Do to Tomato Sauce?

Marcella Hazan uses butter in her famous tomato sauce recipe from her renowned cookbook, Essentials of Italian Cooking. The incredibly simple, yet shockingly flavorful tomato sauce only calls for 4 ingredients: canned tomatoes, butter, 1/2 of an onion and salt. This means that the taste of the sauce hinges on each and every one of the ingredients—especially the butter.

Similar to creamy sauces like Alfredo, or meaty sauces like ragu, tomato sauce is naturally low in fat, and as a result, sometimes becomes too thick and too starchy when it's been tossed with pasta. The addition of butter helps to loosen and emulsify the sauce, making it smooth and creamy.

Butter plays another pivotal role in jarred sauce. Because of the naturally high acidity of tomato sauce, I find that most store-bought tomato sauces tend to be way too abrasive and sharp-tasting. The addition of butter really rounds out the flavor of the sauce and helps to temper the acidity. It also gives the sauce a nice sheen, which is a fun bonus.

Related: Stanley Tucci's Famous Marinara Sauce Recipe

How Much Butter Do I Add?

This hack is super simple to try. Bring your favorite jarred tomato sauce up to a simmer, then melt in some butter. The amount of butter used is ultimately a matter of taste, but start by adding 2 tablespoons, stirring it into your sauce as it melts. Hazan’s recipe calls for 5 tablespoons of butter, so feel free to add more until you get the flavor and texture you like.

Related: 10 Best European-Style Butters, Ranked

Tips for Adding Butter to Your Jarred Pasta Sauce:

  • Use a good quality jarred tomato sauce. My favorite brand is Rao’s and their limited edition Calabrian Chili Marinara is currently available at Costco’s, which I think is a sign that you need to try the butter trick asap.

  • If you don’t eat dairy, you could use olive oil instead. The fat in olive oil will provide a similar result (although butter really can’t be beat here).

  • Reserve a tiny bit of pasta water and add it in when you’re dressing the noodles in the tomato sauce. The combination of butter and a bit of pasta water will help the sauce coat the noodles beautifully.

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