Start with a Jar of Pasta Sauce

Use its rich, slow-simmered herb-and-tomato goodness as a starting point for dinner, be it chili, braised lamb, poached eggs, or baked pasta.

Marinara: An Essential Ingredient for the Healthy Cook

Photo: Johnny Autry

An Essential Ingredient for the Healthy Cook

Of all the shortcut ingredients for the healthy cook, a good marinara is one of the finest because it delivers the pleasures of slow-cooking—in a jar. If you've ever put up your own sauce, you know the work involved. A good factory marinara (and please see the buying notes on the next slide, because there are a few things to look for) is thick, packed with flavor from herbs and garlic, and, above all, tastes like concentrated summery-tomatoey goodness. Think about what those qualities can do for your everyday cooking: add body to stew or chili; make a tangy braising liquid for meaty lamb shanks; and turn out hearty, gooey baked pasta.

Marinara Buying Notes

Photo: Johnny Autry

Marinara Buying Notes

We sorted through the billion pasta sauce choices now on supermarket shelves, focused on marinara (the most basic and most versatile), and evaluated using two criteria: sodium and flavor. Sodium can be particularly high, as much as 540mg per half-cup serving. Generally, we recommend seeking out sauces with less than 350mg sodium per half-cup serving. Some sauces also contain a lot of added sugar, which means you'll want to add salt to rebalance. Others have a too-pronounced dried herb flavor. Our favorites from the marinara tasting: McCutcheon's Marinara Pasta Sauce and Amy's Light in Sodium Family Marinara Pasta Sauce.

McCutcheon's Marinara Pasta Sauce

Photo: Johnny Autry

McCutcheon's Marinara Pasta Sauce

Not labeled as lower-sodium, but it is—only 185mg in a half cup. No added sugar, so it's decidedly savory, with just the right amount of herby-garlicky kick. The unanimous favorite, it has become our default pasta sauce. (We buy ours at Whole Foods.)

Amy's Light in Sodium Family Marinara Pasta Sauce

Photo: Johnny Autry

Amy's Light in Sodium Family Marinara Pasta Sauce

Sweeter than McCutcheon's (it contains "organic evaporated cane juice," which is basically sugar), but it's nicely balanced by savory onions and garlic. A half-cup serving has 290mg sodium.

Chicken and Sausage Stew Recipe

Photo: Johnny Autry

Chicken and Sausage Stew

The cooked flour and oil mixture, known as roux, thickens this gumbo-inspired stew. Marinara sauce adds body, enriches the color and taste, and provides slightly tangy notes for a more rounded flavor.

View Recipe: Chicken and Sausage Stew

Cheesy Pasta Bake Recipe

Photo: Johnny Autry

Cheesy Pasta Bake

This recipe utilizes the classic formula of pasta plus sauce plus sausage plus cheese. Tasty!

View Recipe: Cheesy Pasta Bake

Slow-Braised Lamb Shanks Recipe

Photo: Johnny Autry

Slow-Braised Lamb Shanks

A long, gentle simmer produces buttery, fork-tender meat. This is a definite sure-to-please option for your next dinner party.

View Recipe: Slow-Braised Lamb Shanks

Chicken Cacciatore Recipe

Photo: Johnny Autry

Chicken Cacciatore

Serve on a bed of spaghetti or with a short pasta like penne or cavatappi for a complete meal.

View Recipe: Chicken Cacciatore

Poblano-Jalapeño Chili Recipe

Photo: Johnny Autry

Poblano-Jalapeño Chili

This chili is meaty, juicy, and moderately spicy. For a bit of crunch, top with thinly sliced radishes.

View Recipe: Poblano-Jalapeño Chili

Eggs Poached in Tomato Sauce with Onions and Peppers Recipe

Photo: Johnny Autry

Eggs Poached in Tomato Sauce with Onions and Peppers

Vegetarian delight: A chunk of hearty toast soaks up savory deliciousness from tangy sauce and creamy egg yolk.

View Recipe: Eggs Poached in Tomato Sauce with Onions and Peppers

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