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Romancing the Sauce

Updated: May 2

Almost everyone on the planet loves Italian food. If you’re like me nothing can compare to your grandmother’s pasta sauce. Whether you’re Italian or not everyone has their own favorite version. That’s not so unusual because everyone in Italy has their’s too.

Nothing says “love” like an Italian red sauce . . . but don’t always have time for a “made by hand” red sauce for your favorite pasta? Begin with a jar of store bought sauce as a base and add your own special touch. There are dozens of brands that will deliver a decent sauce with the twist of a lid. However it’s a crowded category with a huge price range. Celebrity chefs compete with traditional classics. You probably have a family favorite jarred sauce to try with these add on ingredients. Start with a pinch as some sauces make need more than others.


Our Nonna always added a few pinches of allspice to her basic red sauce for spaghetti and meatballs. Surprisingly allspice pairs well with tomatoes giving the sauce a deeper flavor. A typical Tuscan sausage recipe La Salsiccia di Lucca includes allspice as a seasoning. Like sausage the meatballs benefit from the spice’s undertones.

Basil and Oregano

Basil and oregano are complimentary herbs existing better together than apart. Both are included in most Italian/Mediterranean herb blends. Our Nonna always added an extra pinch of basil to her jarred sauce even if it was listed on the label. The best Italian basil comes from Italy’s Ligurian Riviera. Italian oregano can be strong and spicy so use sparingly.

*According to a national plant wholesaler certain plant varieties grow better when planted as companions and suggest planting basil next to tomato plants. Planting these side by side allows nutrients to be shared under the soil, enhancing the flavor of the tomatoes.


This may sound strange but a little sugar helps bring the flavors together in a tomato sauce. It balances out the acidity and enhances the natural sweetness of the tomatoes. Depending on how acidic your sauce is to start with, a pinch or two should be enough for a good balance of acidity and sweetness with neither dominating.

Making your own sauce allows you to control the amount of added sugar which sometimes can be excessive in commercial sauces. As a reference, 4 grams of sugar = 1 teaspoon. According to Very Well Fit a website on nutrition and fitness whose contributors include board-certified physicians, registered dietitians and a wellness review board of subject area experts - a typical 1/2 cup (132g) serving of marinara sauce can have as much as 6.5 grams of sugar.

Here is a referenced list of popular canned pasta sauces and the approximate amount of sugar per serving. You can reconcile the listed sugar content by referring to the serving size as noted on the product label. In some cases this may be based on a 1/2 cup serving.

Bertolli Tomato & Basil = 8 grams of sugar

Prego Traditional = 9 grams

Barilla Marinara = 5 grams

Ragu Traditional = 8 grams 

365 Organic Marinara = 4 grams

Bertolli Organic Olive Oil, Basil, & Garlic = 6 grams

Newman's Own Marinara = 6 grams 

Prego Light Smart Traditional = 8 grams

Classico Tomato & Basil = 5 grams

Rao's Homemade Marinara Sauce = 4 grams


Contains: Tomato Pulp (85%), Olive Oil, Basil (2%), Onion, Sea Salt

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