I always have an internal dialogue going when it comes to jarred tomato sauce. I stand in the pasta aisle biting my nails and feeling dreadfully torn. After all, homemade marinara sauce is only really three extra steps and it’s always so much cheaper (and often better), than the stuff sitting in the pasta aisle. But let’s be real. There are days when I can’t be bothered. The idea of peeling and chopping a garlic clove sounds exhausting, and I wind up kicking myself for not just keeping a jar handy.
There’s always been buzz about Rao’s tomato sauce, but in the last couple of weeks, I’ve seen it mentioned FOUR different times, so I finally went online and did a little research. It gets rated #1 pretty much everywhere (this is a fun review, and so is this), but the shit is 9 bucks! My solution? Like one of those thrifty old ladies with painted nails who carry neatly folded coupons around with them everywhere, I waited for a sale and then pounced. I got it for $4.99 at my local (larger chain) grocery store, so keep your eye out.
I brought it home, heated it up on the stove, dumped in some al dente spaghetti, tossed it all together with some grated parmesan and ate it, standing up in the kitchen, straight out of the pot. It was good. It wasn’t, like, slap-myself-this-is-so-revolutionarily-good good, but it was really really pleasant and tasty. There was no overpowering oregano flavor, or added sweetness, or that really weird chalky, grainy texture that most jarred tomato sauces have. It was just solidly good tomato sauce, owning it. There was only one problem: I had made a decent dent in the jar, but there was still plenty left, and it’s only me eating out of my fridge. I saw my life flash before me: the jar of Rao’s marinara sauce, optimistically greeting me at eye level every time I open my refrigerator door, only to be pushed aside at the tired thoughts of english muffin pizzas, until, one fateful afternoon, it sprouts a bud of blue mold and ends up down the drain of my kitchen sink.
I was determined for this not to be its fate. I put it to use, and to good use. One note: these recipes, these ideas, are not anything particularly new or innovative (see: pizza), but just an example of how you can really make it work. I have now finished that jar, and I will say proudly: I am officially a Rao’s loyal costumer. I plan to always keep a jar in my pantry.
Garlic Toast With Tomato Sauce and a Fried Egg
The foundation here is good bread. Go with something rustic and crusty, versus the soft, pliable multigrain bread you’d eat with a tuna fish sandwich. Toast up your bread, and while that’s going, fry an egg. When your egg is done, set it aside on the plate you’ll be eating on, and spoon out two heaping dollops of tomato sauce into the same skillet. Heat it through for 30 seconds or so. Feel free to be irritated by the spatter-y quality of tomato sauce. Smash a clove of garlic, rub it on your toast. Spoon on the hot tomato sauce, then top it with the fried egg.
Step 1: Hit up your local grocery store for pre-made, fresh pizza dough. It should be hanging out somewhere refrigerated and unassuming, in a nondescript plastic bag. Look for the bag with the newest date, give it a tender poke, and throw it in your basket. (*OR. If you’re lucky enough to live in a bustling cosmopolitan region, hit up your favorite local pizzeria and ask for a ball of dough. They may give you a look and swat you away. Gently persist. Say it’s the best pizza dough you’ve tried.)
Step 2: Find some fresh mozzarella, and here’s where it gets a little specific: you want fresh mozzarella, but you don’t want watery fresh mozzarella. You don’t want the stuff sitting in milky liquid, you want the stuff packaged up but still squishy. You read me? It makes all the difference.
Step 3: Grab your favorite toppings, forget the tomato sauce because you ALREADY HAVE A HALF OPENED JAR AT HOME! and call your girlfriend. It’s pizza night.
Step 4: Assemble pizza – top it off with some freshly grated parmesan and a drizzle of olive oil. Crank your oven as high as it will go. Drink sparkly red wine and start peeking after 8 minutes or so, depending on your oven’s deal.
Tomato Rice with Mozzarella and Basil
I found the inspiration for this recipe on Smitten Kitchen, and loved the idea of throwing everything into a pot all at once, then letting it do its magic without any babysitting or hovering (or general risotto anxiety). Here’s what I threw in my pot:
3/4 cup arborio rice
~2 1/2 cups water + 1 cup chicken or vegetable stock
1/2 red onion, sliced
3 garlic cloves, chopped
pinch of red pepper flakes
1/2 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
1 tablespoon olive oil
pinch of salt
1/2 cup rao’s tomato sauce
a few basil leaves, including stem + more basil, chopped, for garnishing
Prep all your ingredients. Find a medium, heavy bottomed pot, throw everything in and let it simmer for ~25 minutes. Begin checking and stirring after 20 minutes, adding more liquid if necessary. Stir in some fresh mozzarella (left over from pizza?!), one tablespoon of butter, and a good grating of parmesan cheese. Top with more basil.
In a medium size pot, sauté 1/2 yellow onion in a tablespoon of olive oil until it has softened, about 5 minutes. Add 1/2 pound ground beef (85/15 is where it’s at), not touching it for a minute or two so it can develop color. Season with salt and pepper, then break it up with a wooden spoon, and when it’s cooked through, dump in your favorite tomato sauce. Let the two hang out for about five minutes, then add a splash of red wine. Let that reduce for another couple minutes, then finish with a splash of cream. Trust me, this stuff is gold.
(This will serve two. Use a full pound of beef and more tomato sauce if you’re feeding a family, or want to freeze some for later use.)
**This post was not sponsored by Rao’s.
Bottom image by Alida Ryder