If there’s one meal we turn to time and time again, on busy weeknights or when we’re sick, when we forgot to go grocery shopping or we just don’t feel like doing a ton of work in the kitchen, it’s pasta with store bought marinara sauce. One jar, one box of pasta, and you’ve got dinner – it’s hard to go wrong. But even though there are some amazing brands of jarred marinara out there these days (like Ina Garten favorite Rao’s), they still don’t quite taste like homemade. Thankfully, Italian cookbook author and chef Giada De Laurentiis just shared her best tips for making store bought marinara better, and they’re super manageable, even on those busy nights when you don’t really feel like cooking.
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Our favorite tip of hers is a classic: add butter to your sauce right before serving. The butter makes the sauce creamier and richer, and all it takes is about a tablespoon. It also reminds us of Marcella Hazan’s classic tomato sauce made with canned plum tomatoes, half an onion, and a stick of butter, which is worth looking up if you are in the opposite situation – no jarred marinara on hand, but a can of tomatoes in your pantry.
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De Laurentiis also recommends adding Calabrian chili paste to your sauce. It’s spicy, a little sweet sweet, and savory, and adds a huge amount of flavor with just a small amount. She likes the stuff so much, she even told us it’s one of her favorite ways to jazz up a box of store bought stuffing for Thanksgiving.
TuttoCalabria Calabrian Chili Paste
To build the flavor of your sauce from the ground up, De Laurentiis suggests first sauteeing some onion and garlic in olive oil, then adding your jarred sauce. Let everything simmer together so the flavors can meld.
If you really want to boost the flavor, she has two additional add-ins. Fresh basil added while the sauce is simmering, and right before serving, adds a fresh, sweet herbal flavor to your sauce that makes a big impact.
Rao's Homemade Marinara Tomato Sauce 28 oz 2-Pack
Last but not least, if you have a few Parmesan rinds on hand (we save ours in the freezer until we need them, and we’ve even seen Parm rinds sold in the fancy cheese section of our local grocery store), add those right to your sauce. Let simmer for about 15 minutes, and all of that cheesy, salty, umami flavor will infuse your sauce. We also love snacking on the chewy, warm Parm rind we scoop out of the sauce before serving – it’s the ultimate cook’s treat.
Butter, aromatics, basil, cheese, and chili paste: with these five additions, your store bought marinara game will be better than ever.
Before you go, check out our gallery below:
Watch: How to Make Giada De Laurentiis’ Stuffed Lasagna Rolls
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