15-Minute Pasta Sauce Hack

Quick Pasta Sauce HackIf you have about $5 and 15-minutes, you can have a pasta sauce which is more zesty and flavorful than what you’ll find in many restaurants. The ingredients are few and highly portable, making this recipe an excellent choice for everything from last-minute entertaining to car-camping cuisine. Trust me.

True, dressing up a jar of store-bought marinara is not a revolutionary concept. But, this kitchen hack makes use of an ingredient shunned from many a pantry: anchovies. Stay with me. The anchovy will not make the sauce taste fishy. What it will do is provide a classic umami element, the fifth taste (which we often forget about), after sweet, salty, sour, bitter. Umami transforms this ubiquitous sauce, taking its savoriness to 11.

My Nona passed down her marinara sauce recipe, handwritten on a 3×5 card. It was just a list of ingredients, no quantities. It took a bit of time, but created a lovely, aromatic sauce. I don’t think she would mind that I’m cheating by dressing up store-bought sauce. If she were alive, I think she would approve. I imagine we’d spend our extra free time playing pool in the basement for nickels and drinking wine.


  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/2 onion, diced
  • 2 teaspoons minced garlic (about 4 cloves)
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1 teaspoon anchovy paste (or 3-4 minced filets)
  • 1 tablespoon red chili pepper flakes
  • 1 24 ounce jar red pasta sauce (ideally organic)
  • 1 pound dried pasta, cooked al dente
  • Chopped fresh basil or italian parsley (for garnish)


  1. In a 3-quart saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium heat.
  2. Add the onion, garlic and chili pepper flakes and cook until soft and light golden brown, about 8 to 10 minutes.
  3. Add the tomato paste, anchovy paste and red chili pepper flakes and stir until combined.
  4. Add the marinara sauce, stirring to incorporate all ingredients and bring to a simmer.
  5. Add the cooked pasta to the “enhanced” sauce, sprinkle the top with basil or parsley and enjoy.


  • For a starting point, I like to use a 24 ounce jar of Newman’s or an organic brand with a short ingredient list, which does not include sugar.
  • This recipe is great for those who like their tomato sauce a bit on the zesty side. If that’s not your style, either start with a 32 ounce jar of sauce or reduce the garlic, anchovy and pepper flakes by half.
  • If your pasta water has already been heated, you can cook your pasta while you let sauce come to a simmer and have both ready at about the same time.
  • This recipe can be easily made vegetarian by omitting the anchovies.


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  1. Pingback: Black Bean Pasta. Thumbs Up! | Whole Foods Explorer

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