Spaghetti Bolognese on a white plate

Nothing beats homemade spaghetti sauce, but the time investment necessary to develop the flavors isn’t always an option. Pre-made spaghetti sauce from a can or jar need only be heated before serving, but often lacks the richness and robustness of homemade versions. Fortunately, pre-made spaghetti sauce can be improved upon with the addition of a solitary ingredient, though if you have more time to experiment adding the right combination of foodstuffs can have everyone convinced it was made from scratch.

A little dairy goes a long way to improve the flavors of spaghetti sauce from a jar or can. Heat your sauce in a pot on the stove top and stir in a splash or two of whole milk or heavy cream to instantly add richness. Stirring in a scoop of a soft cheese such as ricotta, mascarpone or even cream cheese imparts a silky texture that clings to pasta, while hard cheeses such as grated parmesan add a savory complexity. Finishing with a pat of butter or two tames acidity and creates a velvety texture and decadent flavor.

The addition of herbs and spices instantly punch up the flavor of pre-made spaghetti sauces. A teaspoon or two of dried basil, oregano, thyme or rosemary adds pungent earthiness, and a few pinches of red pepper flakes add welcome heat. Wait until you’re ready to serve to add fresh herbs to the mix, as they lose their potency when simmered for extended lengths of time. Taste your sauce before making any additions to avoid exaggerating the flavors of spices that might already be present.

Fresh or sauteed vegetables and browned meats add dimension and pack a flavorful punch. Dice up onions, peppers and garlic and briefly saute in butter or olive oil before adding them to pre-made spaghetti sauce or stir in a handful of fresh spinach leaves or kale to get your veggie fix. Browned ground beef, sausage or turkey creates a hearty, filling sauce; drain off any excess grease beforehand to avoid making the sauce too oily. Saute fresh sliced mushrooms in butter until tender or add canned mushrooms to your sauce for an earthy boost of flavor.

Adding a splash of liquid to simmering, pre-made spaghetti sauce adds subtle flavor and improves the resulting texture. Before you drain your pasta, add a tablespoon or two of the cooking liquid to your sauce. The starchy cooking liquid is a low-calorie way to instantly add creaminess and improve the texture of the sauce. A splash or two of red or white wine bolsters the flavors of even the simplest of sauces with subtle acidity and the fruity notes from a drizzle of olive oil provide complementary flavors.