Kitchen and Craft: How to make jarred marinara better

Pasta that was prepared on the stove, with additional seasonings and cheese. The sauce was much more creamy, flavorful and clung to the noodle.

Aize Hassan


Aize Hassan, Photography Editor

   You feel hungry, you check the fridge. What do you see? A half empty soda can, expired milk and a jar of marinara sauce. Uh oh, your only option is pasta with that sauce.

   We all are well aware—well, those who have taste buds—that jarred marinara sauce is watery, bland and kind of tastes like sweaty tomatoes. No one really has the time to whip up homemade pasta sauce on their own so it comes down to the jarred kind. But, oh dear, it tastes so bad! No worries, here are some tips that will help you make your jarred marinara sauce taste as if it was… less jarred.

   To start off, think about the type of pasta noodles you are using. Avoid long, smooth noodles, since this type of marinara sauce tends to slip right off of them. Instead, opt for a smaller shape with ridges, for example, penne or rigatoni works well.

   While cooking the pasta, add the appropriate amount of that marinara sauce to a lightly oiled pan and keep the heat at low. The heat will help evaporate some of the water in the sauce to thicken it up, making it less slippery. Adding in a splash of heavy whipping cream will also help thicken up the sauce and make it creamy.

   Jarred marinara is very bland, so search around for all the spices in your house. Be sure to add in a pinch or two of salt and a lot of pepper. Adding garlic (minced, paste, or powder) or even some oregano will help enhance the taste. Experiment! Add red pepper flakes if you like it to be spicy. Make sure that you do not remove the sauce off of the heat until the whole process is over.

  Another efficient way to thicken it up is by adding shredded cheese. Cheddar or mozzarella work best. Keep adding sprinkles of it to the sauce while it is still on the stove, mixing it, so it gets well incorporated. The cheese should not make the sauce super stringy, though. If this happens you might end up with a block of cheese embedded with noodles. Parmesan is also awesome because it thickens up the sauce and adds flavor.

   Keep the sauce on low heat for a bit and keep moving it around. Eventually, the sauce will start thickening up. You can increase the heat a tiny bit if you feel like no progress has been made.

   Once you feel like your pasta sauce is done, start adding your noodles to the pan and make sure to reserve the water you cooked your pasta in. Add a scoop or two of this water to the pan and increase the heat a bit and continue stirring the noodles in the sauce. Keep doing this until pasta water is no longer making the sauce watery. The starch in the pasta water helps the sauce cling to the noodles. Once, you feel as if everything has thickened up, it would be the ideal time to add in any extra cheese.

   To enhance the pasta even more, you could always add vegetables like broccoli or mushrooms during the cooking process. Chicken is also an easy way to help the dish out, but if you are cooking on a whim, adding chicken might not be the best idea since you have to thaw it, season it and cook it separately.

   Jarred marinara sauce is not ideal but you can always make it taste a little bit better with these tips. Use these tips as a base and explore your cabinets and experiment with what you do!