Anna Stockwell of Epi Test Kitchen was making batches of eggplant Parmigiana, and the Epi staff was pleasantly surprised at how good the sauce tasted. Why were they so surprised? It came straight from a jar.
So, they decided to put some jars to the test, to figure out the best sauce to turn to when a homemade sauce just isn’t possible.
Epi put together a list of 10 sauces to try, ranging from the staff favorite of Rao’s to the cult classic Trader Joe’s brand to the actually classic Classico. When they were tasted straight from the jar, most were bland, some tasted strangely chemical, and nearly all were disappointing.
The overwhelming result of our taste test: don’t eat sauce straight from the jar.
But that doesn’t mean all jarred sauce isn’t tasty. Jarred sauce can save you time for a quick weeknight meal, and make lasagna, meatballs, or Parmigiana come together beautifully. You just have follow a few steps before you use it.
1. HEAT IT
Don’t ever pour that jarred sauce directly onto pasta and call it a day! At a minimum, heat the pasta sauce in a separate pot; heating it up warms spices and flavors, allowing the sugars to begin to caramelize and the aromas to release. (You want your food to smell good, right?!)
2. FLAVOR IT
Even better, season it! Taste the sauce once it’s warm and add some seasoning, including a little salt, olive oil, crushed red pepper, and/or fresh basil.
3. COOK IT
If you want to start getting a little creative, treat that jarred sauce just like you would a can of whole or crushed tomatoes. Start by sautéing some garlic and onion, then add the sauce and let it deglaze the pan, releasing any (flavorful) bits stuck to the bottom. Add a splash of red wine, vinegar, or even a spoonful of sugar to help balance out the flavor, then toss in some fresh herbs to finish it off.
4. ENRICH IT
Want to immediately transform that sauce into a creamy, rich texture? Stir in a few spoonfuls of heavy cream. Or finish the sauce with butter, a la the much loved Marcella Hazan method.
And if you’re feeling really spunky, add some meaty richness to that sauce. Crisp some bacon, brown Italian sausage or ground beef, then add in the sauce. The rich fattiness of the meat will melt into the sauce, creating heartier texture and a lot more flavor. Or for some veggie umami, sauté some mushrooms.
5. BAKE IT
The Epi staff’s favorite way to use jarred pasta sauce is baking it, which lets those sugars really caramelize and the flavors cook down and deepen, as well as take on some of the flavor of the foods the sauce is cooked with. Use it for Parmigiana, lasagna, meatballs, baked ziti, or any other baked tomato sauce dish.
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