Our Best Tips for Thickening Your Favorite Tomato-Based Pasta Sauces
A little bit of patience makes all the difference.
Whether you like it spread over pizza, stirred into pasta, or served as a delicious dipping sauce alongside mozzarella sticks, tomato sauce is likely a staple in so many different recipes you turn to regularly. While making pasta sauce might be easy for you, learning how to thicken sauce comes with its own set of challenges, and that's true whether you prefer store-bought or homemade, chunky or smooth. If you find that your spaghetti sauce or tomato sauce is a little too thin, there are a few simple ways to thicken it. Ahead, we're sharing our go-to methods.
How to Thicken Tomato Sauce
The easiest—yet most time-consuming—method for thickening a tomato-based sauce is letting it slowly reduce over the course of several hours. To do this, heat tomato sauce in a saucepan on a stovetop over low heat for approximately six hours. "Six hours not only creates the perfect consistency, but it also allows time for the natural sugars to get released and caramelize," explains Christopher Arturo, chef-instructor at the Institute of Culinary Education. Tomatoes naturally contain lots of water, so cooking any sauce for a long period of time will help eliminate some of the water content. During this time, the water will slowly but surely evaporate, leaving behind a thickened, full-bodied sauce with lots of flavor.
If you're short on time one day, you can always start the process for making a marinara sauce, but then reduce it for several more hours the following day. When cooking or reheating any sauces, Arturo emphasizes the importance of using non-reactive cookware and avoiding copper or aluminum saucepans, as they can give the sauce a metallic flavor.
Why You Should Reach for Tomato Paste
This is a highly concentrated tomato-based product that adds even deeper tomato flavors and naturally helps to thicken any pasta sauce, thanks to its paste-like consistency. One of the best ways to make use of tomato paste is by treating it as a natural thickening agent for tomato-based sauces, says Arturo. This pantry staple will not only help alter the consistency of a sauce—it will also help to further enhance the rich, savory flavors of tomato sauce. He recommends using a tablespoon or two and you'll be well on your way to the perfect sauce.
How to Thicken Spaghetti Sauce, or Meat-Based Sauces
If you are trying to thicken a meat-based sauce, follow the same reduction process as you would for any other tomato sauce, says Arturo. To create a ragu sauce—a traditional Italian meat sauce that's thicker and meatier than Bolognese—start with the base of a Bolognese sauce using mirepoix (celery, carrots, onions, and garlic), a blend of ground pork and beef, wine, olive oil, and canned tomatoes. Continue to cook it for a couple of hours until most of the liquid has evaporated and all you're left with is a hearty meat sauce with a touch of tomato, says Arturo. Layer this in lasagna or serve a generous ladle of ragu over pasta.