There’s something undeniably comforting about a plate of perfectly cooked spaghetti drenched in a rich and hearty sauce. But what if that beloved sauce turns out a tad too runny? If that happens, here’s how to thicken spaghetti sauce.
Ways to Thicken Your Spaghetti Sauce:
- Using Pasta Water
- Cornstarch Slurry
- Tomato Paste
- Simmer and Reduce
But those are just 5 of my 11 ways. And don’t worry, I walk you step by step through each of those 11.
Everyone has their own idea of the perfect spaghetti sauce consistency, but when it’s more watery than desired, it can dilute the flavors and impact the overall dining experience. The good news is that thickening your sauce is a straightforward process, and there are multiple methods available to achieve that ideal texture.
Each of these techniques has its own unique benefits, whether you’re looking for a quick fix or aiming to enhance the flavor depth.
By continuing to read, you’ll dive deep into each method, discovering the steps, tips, and potential pitfalls to avoid. So, whether you’re a seasoned chef or a kitchen newbie, there’s a solution here for everyone. Elevate your next spaghetti night with a sauce that’s just right in consistency and bursting with flavor.
Is Spaghetti Sauce the Same as Pasta Sauce or Marinara?
Spaghetti sauce, pasta sauce, and marinara are terms often used interchangeably, but there are subtle differences that set them apart.
Spaghetti sauce, as the name suggests, is typically paired with spaghetti.
While it can be a simple tomato-based sauce, it often includes ingredients like ground meat, vegetables, and a blend of herbs and spices. It’s a heartier, more robust sauce designed to cling to the spaghetti strands and deliver a burst of flavor with every bite.
On the other hand, pasta sauce is a generic term that encompasses a wide variety of sauces used in Italian cuisine.
This includes Alfredo, pesto, carbonara, and, yes, even marinara. Essentially, any sauce you can toss with pasta falls under this category. The type of pasta sauce you’d choose might vary based on the pasta type, the dish’s region of origin, or personal preference. For instance, a delicate angel hair might be paired with a light olive oil-based sauce, while a rigatoni might demand something chunkier.
Marinara sauce stands out as a specific type of pasta sauce.
Originating from Naples, marinara is a simple, quick-cooking sauce made from tomatoes, garlic, herbs, and onions. It’s traditionally vegan, though variations exist. The beauty of marinara lies in its simplicity and versatility. It serves as a base for many Italian dishes, from pizza to parmigiana.
Unlike the meaty spaghetti sauce, marinara is more about the purity and taste of tomatoes.
So here are my . . .
11 Best Ways to Thicken Pasta Sauce
1. Incorporate Breadcrumbs to Thicken Spaghetti Sauce
Breadcrumbs absorb excess moisture and can seamlessly blend into your sauce, providing thickness without altering the flavor significantly. You’d want to add them gradually and stir to achieve the desired consistency. This method is also a great way to repurpose stale bread.
2. How to Use Starchy Spaghetti Water to Thicken Spaghetti Sauce
When draining your spaghetti, reserve about a cup of the starchy water.
As you simmer your sauce, slowly stir in the starchy spaghetti water until you reach the desired consistency. The starches from the pasta water act as a natural thickener, giving your sauce a richer texture and a more robust flavor profile. It’s a chef’s trick that’s both easy and effective!
3. How to Use Cornstarch to Thicken Spaghetti Sauce
To thicken spaghetti sauce with cornstarch, first, ensure your sauce is simmering.
Gradually whisk in a pre-made cornstarch slurry. It’ll integrate smoothly without clumping, and you’ll notice the sauce thickening almost instantly. Remember, a little goes a long way! Adjust the amount based on how thick you want your sauce, and give it a few minutes to cook out any starchy taste.
Voilà, a perfectly thickened sauce!
How to Make a Cornstarch Slurry
Corn starch is a great thickening agent in soups and sauces. But it should not be added directly to the sauce you want to thicken, as it would clump it if you did. So, first, make a cornstarch slurry.
Simply add equal parts cornstarch and cold water and prepare your cornstarch mixture. Take a small bowl, add a tablespoon of cornstarch and add an equal amount of liquid. Stir until smooth paste forms. The ratio of cornstarch used should be the same as that of the liquid to ensure the mixture is thick. Finally, whisk the slurry into the sauce.
If your sauce is marinara sauce, you may want to use arrowroot powder instead of cornstarch. Why? Cornstarch is not very effective as a thickening ingredient when the sauce is tomato-based because tomato is acidic.
But arrow powder should not be used with milk or cream-based sauce as it tends to make the sauce slimy if it’s frozen. Don’t use cornstarch if you plan to freeze the sauce, as it can take on a spongy texture when frozen.
4. How to Use a Roux to Thicken Spaghetti Sauce
Using a roux is a classic method to amp up the thickness of your spaghetti sauce.
Once your roux is prepared, whisk it into your simmering sauce a little at a time. The mixture of flour and fat from the roux integrates smoothly, giving your sauce a velvety consistency without altering the flavor profile. Remember, a small amount goes a long way, so add gradually and taste as you go!
How to Make a Roux
To make a roux, you use equal parts flour and equal parts butter. You can use all-purpose flour or bread flour.
The first step is to melt a cup of butter over medium-low heat. When it’s bubbling, add in a cup of flour. Cook the mixture until it is light brown. Then add hot liquid to the roux (two ounces of roux for every cup of liquid is the ideal ratio). Whisk it into the sauce.
To make a roux, combine flour and softened butter into a thick paste, then divide the paste into small balls. Simply add these balls to your homemade sauce until you get the desired consistency.
If you like, you can add cream cheese to your pasta sauce.
5. Add Tomato Paste to Thicken Spaghetti Sauce
Arguably the easiest way to have a thick sauce is to simply add tomato paste to the pasta sauce.
When added to your pasta sauce, you’re increasing the number of solids in it without increasing its liquid content. The result is you’ve easily changed watery pasta sauce to one that’s got the right consistency you want.
6. Simmer and Reduce Spaghetti Sauce to Thicken It
If your sauce has too much liquid, simmering is an easy way to have thicker sauce in a short time. You simply put the sauce in a saucepan and leave it on a stovetop at low heat or medium heat for 5 to 10 minutes.
This would ensure that the extra liquid is boiled out. Keep an eye on it so that it does not dry out but is just the desired consistency you want. It is a great way to alter the water content of the sauce while leaving the taste of the sauce unchanged.
Simmering is a simple and effective reduction process that does not require the use of additional ingredients.
7. Add Ground Beef or Sausage to Thicken Spaghetti Sauce
Boosting the heartiness of your spaghetti sauce is as simple as adding ground beef or sausage.
Brown your choice of meat in a skillet, drain excess fat, and stir it into the simmering sauce. Not only does this method naturally thicken the texture, but it also infuses the sauce with rich, meaty flavors. It’s a win-win for both consistency and taste!
8. Add Mashed Potatoes to Thicken Spaghetti Sauce
Adding mashed potatoes to your spaghetti sauce is a nifty trick!
Not only do they naturally thicken the sauce, but they also impart a subtle, creamy texture. Simply stir in a spoonful of your leftover mashed potatoes into the simmering sauce, allowing it to integrate fully. Adjust the quantity based on your desired consistency, and voila, a richer, heartier sauce is ready for your pasta!
9. Add Heavy Cream or Sour Cream to Thicken Spaghetti Sauce
For a luxurious twist, add heavy cream or sour cream to your spaghetti sauce.
Besides thickening, it lends a velvety texture and a hint of tanginess. Just pour in a splash of heavy cream or a dollop of sour cream, stirring well to combine. This method not only boosts the sauce’s richness but also mellows out its acidity, creating a balanced flavor profile.
10. Add Egg Yolks to Thicken Spaghetti Sauce
Separate the egg yolk from the whites, and beat the yolk with a fork until it is smooth.
Add a small sauce to the egg as you beat it to prevent it from scrambling. Then put the mixture in the sauce. This is the best option if you want your homemade spaghetti sauce to have a creamy texture.
11. Add Diced, Sauteed Vegetables to Thicken Spaghetti Sauce
Elevate your spaghetti sauce by adding diced, sautéed vegetables.
Onions, bell peppers, carrots, or zucchini work wonders. Sauté your chosen veggies in olive oil until they’re soft and translucent, then mix them into the sauce. As they cook down, they’ll release natural pectin, thickening the sauce while adding a depth of flavor and boosting its nutritional value.
Plus, it’s a clever way to sneak in extra veggies!
Crafting the perfect spaghetti sauce is as much an art as it is a science.
Whether you like it velvety and rich or light with just a hint of tomato, the thickness plays a pivotal role in elevating your dish. We’ve journeyed through multiple techniques, each offering a unique twist to the classic sauce. From using starchy spaghetti water to concocting a creamy roux, the options are plenty.
And don’t forget the flavorful additions like ground beef or sautéed vegetables that not only add depth but also a lovely consistency.
Remember, thickening your sauce isn’t just about achieving the right texture; it’s about enhancing flavors and making sure each spoonful is memorable.
Whether you’re hosting a family dinner or cooking for yourself, it’s these little nuances that can transform an ordinary meal into a culinary masterpiece.
So, the next time your sauce feels a tad watery, don’t fret! You now possess the know-how to perfect it. As you continue to experiment and find your personal favorite method, you’ll come to appreciate the subtle beauty of a well-thickened spaghetti sauce.
Want to know what-size-glass-baking-dish-is-best-for-1-lb-of-pasta? This is what I got into in a recent article I published. In it, I looked at how much a 9×13 casserole dish holds and the volume of 1 pound of pasta cooked? I even revealed whether you could cook pasta dry in the oven.
Just click that link to read it on my site.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is Spaghetti Sauce Thinner Than Pasta Sauce or Marinara?
Distinguishing between spaghetti sauce, pasta sauce, and marinara often boils down to their consistency and ingredients. Spaghetti sauce typically comes across as heartier and more robust, often because it’s loaded with additional components like meat, vegetables, and a mix of seasonings.
This addition can sometimes make it thicker than other sauces.
Pasta sauce, being an umbrella term, has varied consistencies depending on its type — from the creamy thickness of Alfredo to the lightness of an olive oil and garlic combo. Marinara, however, is where things get interesting. Traditionally, marinara is a simple blend of tomatoes, garlic, herbs, and occasionally onions.
Its consistency is primarily determined by the tomatoes used and how it’s cooked. A quickly cooked marinara retains a thinner, fresher texture, emphasizing the tomato’s natural juiciness.
So, while spaghetti sauce might generally be richer and denser, marinara can range from thin to moderately thick, depending on its preparation.
Why Isn’t My Pasta Sauce Thick?
Watery spaghetti sauce can be caused by using canned tomatoes with too much water in them or if, after adding the pasta, there is excess water from the pasta that was not drained off before it was mixed with the sauce.
So when using canned tomatoes (preferable except when tomatoes are at peak freshness), it’s usually a good idea to strain the excess liquid out before adding them to the pot. You can always add liquid (wine or olive oil being preferable to water). But if you have too much water, simply simmering it a lot longer is the only really good way to get the consistency right.
And if you added vegetables to the sauce, the moisture content of the vegetables could be a factor in making the sauce watery because, as you know, vegetables release liquid when you cook them down.
If you do add veggies to the sauce, it’s the salt that releases the moisture.
So it’s always better to saute them on their own first and salt and pepper them and allow that moisture to cook off before adding it to the tomatoes.
But it could be because you did not allow your pasta sauce to simmer and reduce. It’s understandable — you could be in a hurry and were not patient enough to allow the pasta sauce to reduce enough. (Perhaps you were very hungry).
The best pasta sauces are always ones where they simmer for an hour minimum. And your Italian grandmother would argue that it should simmer all day.
How Do You Thicken Pasta Sauce Without Cornstarch?
You could use another thickening agent apart from cornstarch, add pureed vegetables, use flour and butter to make a roux, add egg yolks, or reduce the sauce and let it simmer for an hour or 2 longer.
There are other thickening agents apart from cornstarch that you can use. They include arrowroot powder, tapioca, gelatin, potato starch, and others.
Does Spaghetti Sauce Need to Be Thick?
The desired thickness of spaghetti sauce truly rests on personal preference and the dish it’s complementing.
Some folks cherish a thick sauce that clings heartily to their noodles, allowing each bite to be rich in flavor. This denser consistency can be especially wonderful in layered dishes like lasagna, where the sauce’s robustness shines between pasta sheets.
On the flip side, a thinner sauce offers a light, fresh touch, emphasizing the tomato’s natural zest. It’s brilliant for dishes where you don’t want the sauce to overshadow other ingredients. If you’re going for a seafood pasta, for instance, a lighter sauce might be the ticket, letting the seafood’s nuances come through.
In essence, there’s no strict rulebook stating spaghetti sauce’s ideal consistency.
But personally, for me, there’s nothing worse than sitting down with a plate of pasta and sauce and having the sauce be so thin it sloshes over the side with the slightest movement of the plate.
So thick sauce all the way for me.
How do you make spaghetti sauce thicker without tomato paste?
You can add cornstarch slurry, add egg yolks, simmer the sauce, add other thickening agents, add a roux, and you can add pureed vegetables. You can also add Italian sausage or brown ground beef.
We have explored what virtually all these methods entail in the section above. They equally work for thickening watery tomato sauce or your homemade tomato sauce made from fresh tomatoes. An immersion blender would be great to puree tomatoes.
Speaking of sauces, are you wanting to know the difference between marinara and spaghetti sauce?
Check out a recent article I published. In it, I shared why it’s called marinara (you’d find it interesting) and if you can sub marinara sauce for spaghetti sauce. Ironically while most people use the terms interchangeably, there are some key differences!
Just click that link to read it on my site.
Pro Tips: Pasta has a lot of starch. Don’t forget that you can use the starchy pasta water as broth, and extra-virgin olive oil is essential the next time you’re cooking pasta sauce, and you want it to have a good texture. Your trusty slow cooker can help you prep a mean red sauce!