Something Different

Cooking down my sauce for the week and thought I would do something different. Normally I just use romas, olive oil, onion, garlic, couple anchovies, basil, bay leaves, salt and pepper. Any idea on a way to kick it up a notch yet still make an all around serviceable sauce?

*** Update ***

Added some capers:

88 replies
  1. 1
    kdaug says:

    Throw in a tablespoon or so of minced jalapeno, seeds and stems removed.

  2. 2
    John Cole says:

    I just so happen to have some jalapenos from the garden!

  3. 3
    licensed to kill time says:

    First check the spelling of “something”, unless somethign is a type of elitist ingredient I am unaware of ;-)

  4. 4
    maeby says:

    Since you’re already using anchovies, go ahead and throw in some capers, olives and chilli flakes for the full Puttanesca. So addictive.

  5. 5
    MikeF says:

    I usually go with all of the above, minus anchovies, plus fresh oregano, marjoram, and a bit of lemon peel.

  6. 6
    JGabriel says:

    Red Wine. And Sausage.

    If you want to kick up the vitamins, spinach and / or something from the broccoli family (broccoli, broccolette, broccolini, or broccoli rabe) are good additions.



  7. 7
    eemom says:


    I use Marsala.

    Ditto re oregano.

  8. 8
    Peter says:

    I like to throw a couple of dried red pepperoncini in with the garlic at the outset to get sort of an arrabiata vibe happening. You can leave them whole if you don’t want it too hot. And handfuls of fresh herbs are always good, especially the underrated marjoram.

    For extra credit, make your own pasta.

  9. 9
    kdaug says:

    @John Cole: Perfect. If you want a more subtle heat, cook it down with the rest. For a brighter snap, throw it in close to the end (that’s how I like it).

  10. 10

    I am plotting to create instant meals that are Tortilla based. Maybe some Black Eyed Peas, grated cheese, stir fried ground turkey, and whatever else comes to mind. Make twenty or thirty Burritos and freeze them. And only use the microwave to defrost and heat. I hate turning on the stove in the summer, it’s hot enough already. Don’t know a damn thing about sauces though.

  11. 11
    cincyanon says:

    If those jalapenos are fresh from the garden, I like to give them a seer on the grill or even in the frying pan before throwing them in the mix. Brings out the complexity in the flavor for me.

  12. 12
    asdf says:

    What a good idea. It’s nice to have some red sauce in the freezer for a rainy day too. I’ve got everything for a Puttanesca on hand but a can of good tomatoes. Thanks.

  13. 13
    NickM says:

    Artichoke hearts are always a jazzy little addition to a sauce.

  14. 14
    Ailuridae says:

    Gravy isn’t gravy without oregano. Use quality dried oregano.

    Also fresh thyme can do wonders.

  15. 15
    John Cole says:

    @Ailuridae: I have fresh oregano in it. Just forgot to type it.

  16. 16
    Jules says:

    red wine always does it for my sauce…

  17. 17
    Leisureguy says:

    A little crushed red pepper—not so much that it’s spicy, just enough to give it some presence.

    Anchovies excellent idea: good source of umami. You can also include a small can of tomato paste, but cook it with a little olive oil until it caramelizes a bit and turns slightly darker.

    Finely grated carrots add a touch of sweetness and good texture.

    Pitted ripe olives are nice: Saracena or Kalamata.

    I like mushrooms; YMMV.

  18. 18
    cleek says:

    go crazy and make a bolognase!

  19. 19
    andy says:

    Smoked Spanish Paprika!

  20. 20
    mikey says:

    Sriracha sauce.

    Curry Powder.

    Garam Masala.

    Any or all…


  21. 21
    Mike E says:

    Anise (secret ingred of Domino’s 20 yrs ago, back when their sauce really rocked).

  22. 22
    Violet says:

    Add a pinch of sugar to take the bitterness out of the tomatoes. Even if they don’t seem bitter, a pinch of sugar can really improve a sauce.

  23. 23
    Honus says:

    This time of year, if I had any sweet peppers, I’d throw them in. And some thyme. Maybe a fresh bannana pepper or two. But WTFDIK, I only cooked that stuff in restaurants for 20 years or so.

  24. 24
    Mary G says:

    @Leisureguy: I second the carrots, even if just chopped fine.

  25. 25
    Keith says:

    Good move on the capers; they make everything taste better. I would have also added artichoke hearts for bulk, but that’s just me.

    EDIT: And thanks for the idea, too…I was sauteeing some chicken thinking how bland it was, when I read the caper bit. Lo and behold, I dumped in a handful of them.

  26. 26
    You Don't Say says:

    I love capers.

  27. 27
    FlipYrWhig says:

    When we do something similar, we go once or twice around the pan with balsamic vinegar before adding the tomatoes and other liquid-y ingredients.

  28. 28
    Bill E Pilgrim says:

    Needs more of this.

  29. 29
    Alice Blue says:

    Looks yummy, John.

    Like my mother before me, I always add about 1/8 teaspoon of dried cloves to my sauce.

  30. 30
    birthmarker says:

    @Leisureguy: Yum! You can cook!!

    I second the crushed red pepper flakes. Start with a minute amount, like 1/8 teaspoon, to see how it goes. Crush them a bit more before adding. They are also great spinkled over veggies you are roasting in the oven, like asparagus.

    Some of the best spaghetti I ever had was made by a woman who put tons of veggies in it, like zucchini and squash and carrots. She just did a fairly chunky dice, so they were still identifiable. I assume she sauted them with other ingredients at the beginning.

  31. 31
    Just Some Fuckhead says:

    Butter, brown sugar, cumin and crushed red pepper.

  32. 32
    birthmarker says:

    Capers are delicious globs of salty goodness.

    I add 1 teaspoon of sugar to canned tomatoes and sauces. It takes the fakey canned taste out of it. I’ve never tried brown sugar instead, but hear it works well.

  33. 33
    Libby says:

    Count me in as a capers fan. Already a lot of great suggestions here but I’d add one of the most underrated herbs in America — Summer Savory. Really easy to grow and it has a certain flavor you just don’t get with anything else. Not even sure how to describe it. It’s pretty strong though so a little goes a long way. It’s really good in stews and soups as well.

  34. 34
    Chris W says:

    I find that cream cheese adds flavor and thickens the sauce nicely.
    It’s especially excellent for Vodka sauce.

  35. 35
    Central VA says:

    red pepper flakes, grated Parmesan cheese

  36. 36

    Once you’ve made your sauce, a nice addition is fennel. And, of course, fennel goes great with Italian sausage.

  37. 37
    Ailuridae says:

    @John Cole:

    I have a ton of fresh oregano now that my urban hellhole herb garden can’t be stopped. I was surprised to see I didn’t like the fresh oregano in my gravy. My neighbor loves it though so he might just get the whole pot – I don’t have a lot of use for fresh oregano.

    And if you can get good mushrooms cheap they are a pretty obvious addition as a sauce spreader.

  38. 38
    Honus says:

    Mushrooms are always good in spaghetti. The best advice I ever got about cooking was when somebody was teaching me to make lasagna about 40 years ago, and I asked about the order of the layers and he said “it really doesn’t matter, if you put good things in there it will taste good.” It’s really that simple, use good ingredients and don’t mess them up and you will have good food. And cook with love in your heart.

  39. 39
    Bella Q says:

    Fresh thyme adds a wee bit of magic to tomato sauces. And grated carrots add an indescribable light sweetness. I cannot have tomato sauce without at least a dash of balsamic vinegar – it’s against my culinary religion or something. And I always add a dash of Worcestershire for umame, but adding that is in my genes.

  40. 40
    Bill H says:

    If you put everything in it that has been suggested here you would have… Good God, I shudder to think what you would have.

  41. 41
    Yutsano says:

    If you want to give the sauce more of a Provencal twist, throw in a small pinch of lavender. It will make the sauce very fragrant and give a note that most people can’t figure out but will love anyway.

  42. 42
    monkeyboy says:

    JC: “Cooking down my sauce for the week and thought I would do something different.”

    Go ahead and add some of the spices that have been recommended that need slow cooking. But as a base sauce I would still keep it simple so that individual days can be jazzed up with a large addition of sauteed peppers, olives, mushrooms, or whatever.

  43. 43
    jonas says:

    A little red wine or vodka would be perfect. There are certain flavor compounds in tomato that are alcohol-soluble and only come out if there’s a little alcohol in the sauce. Since vodka’s a neutral spirit and won’t interfere with other flavors, esp. the herbs, it’s a good choice.

  44. 44
    daveNYC says:

    A little harissa?

  45. 45
    Yutsano says:

    @monkeyboy: Seconded. Marinara also has the added bonus of freezing beautifully. So it can be defrosted then modified to your heart’s desire.

  46. 46
    Flimflam says:

    Take half of your romas and fire grill them so they get slightly
    roasted and blackened. Let them cool, dice and add to sauce.
    Gives the sauce a nice flavor thats hard to identify, not at all
    overpowering the other ingredients. I like mushrooms in the
    sauce also

  47. 47
    Scott says:

    You’re on track for a serious Putanesca there John. Now all you need are some nice Calamata Olives and my secret ingredient — which you have to promise not to laugh at — an entire log of Jones frozen breakfast sausage (although Jimmy Dean “original” works OK in a pinch).

    Slice the sausage as you would for breakfast patties and fry them up until they’re cooked through and nicely browned and you can crumble them up. deglaze the pan with a half cup of red wine and then add the crumbled sausage and the wine to your sauce and cook for a while.

    I know it sounds ridiculous but there’s something about the tomatoes, the capers and the olives combined with the anchovies that bring out the very best in the sausage flavor and combine together to make a whole that you wouldn’t think possible from the individual components.

    You can pull the various ingredients together even further by adding 2 tblsp of a good Balsamic vinegar as well.

  48. 48
    Fern says:

    Sriracha. And no carrots – I am not fond of the sweetness they add to a sauce.

  49. 49
    asdf says:

    FlipYrWhig, here we are at the end of the thread but if you happen to catch this, here is what happened. I was making my normal, boring Puttanesca. Read your post and put a slug of balsamic into it. Made the difference. Brings a sort of low note to it which I especially needed.

    Good one.

  50. 50
    asdf says:

    By the way, everyone, I am making a copy of this thread to put in my recipes file. You ladies and gentlemen are aces.

  51. 51
    Felanius Kootea (formerly Salt and freshly ground black people) says:

    Looks yummy! It doesn’t help to see those images when you’re hungry (especially jeffreyw’s) – I always feel like saying “could you freeze some of that and FedEx it” ;-).

  52. 52
    Yutsano says:

    @Felanius Kootea (formerly Salt and freshly ground black people): Which, incidentally, FedEx will do if it’s packed in dry ice and sealed for containment. It ain’t cheap but it is doable. I used to handle shipments like that, and while what we were handling was a, uhh, agricultural product, it wasn’t strictly food per se.

  53. 53
    demo woman says:

    Later in the season try browning all your vegies before cooking. Blacken your tomatoes and peppers and then peel and take out the seeds. It’s a much richer flavor. Have fun cooking and trying different recipes.
    edit…Scotts sausage idea sounds interesting. I’m hungry
    FlimFlam mentioned the firing technique also.. Must read comments first.

  54. 54
    Felanius Kootea (formerly Salt and freshly ground black people) says:

    @Yutsano: I was joking about the FedEx thing. Didn’t realize you could ship food! Okay John Cole, could you FedEx some of that for real?

    Now I get around to the non-food agricultural product. It wouldn’t happen to be favored as an alternative medical “cure” for glaucoma by little old ladies in California would it?

  55. 55

    That sauce looks like it would make a fine poultice. Hope it has genuine ground chicken feet in it.

  56. 56
    birthmarker says:

    If it ever cools off, the next pot of spaghetti is getting a whisper of balsamic!

  57. 57
    Bella Q says:

    You should see the look on a FedEx guy’s face when you yell “Cool – the semen’s here!” over your shoulder as you take the package. It’s really awkward if it’s shipped to your house as opposed to the farm where the mare to be bred lives. The colors an embarrassed man can turn – who knew? That’s what Yutsano’s

    what we were handling was a, uhh, agricultural product

    brought to mind.

  58. 58
    Mnemosyne says:

    Well, I was going to go out and do errands today. Really, I was. But then TCM decided to show me a movie I’ve always meant to see: Five Million Years to Earth, written by Nigel Kneale. He’s barely known in the US, but he’s an amazing science fiction writer. Especially amazing because he really, really distrusted science.

  59. 59
    Brittany Guy says:

    Add some eggplant and when you are finished cooking the sauce, remove the bay leaves and toss the sauce in the blender. The eggplant adds a really rich flavor to the sauce.

  60. 60
    Felanius Kootea (formerly Salt and freshly ground black people) says:

    @Bella Q: The things I learn on Balloon Juice :).

  61. 61
    Jim says:

    Tobasco, I learned in my infantry days, improves the taste of anything.

    Latterly, I’ve used quantities of Mrs. Dash in places where my blood pressure contraindicates salt.

  62. 62

    Add some molasses sugar, the really dark kind, if you have it. Also, I find that a small grated carrot really helps in some tomato-based sauces to cut the acidity; if you’re reducing it down, by the time you’re finished, it’s basically dissolved.

  63. 63
    CynDee says:

    BACON. It adds a magnificent richness and depth. Precook and drain about half of what you plan to add, but cook up some of the bacon in the same pan before you add the other ingredients: you want a bit of the grease, not too much.

    However, you’ve probably already added all the other delights above, so may want to wait until next time.

    Good GRIEF, everyone! I’m copying this whole thread into a document so as to have sauce to die for the rest of my life!

    Only on BJ! Never in a million years could one eat so well “elsewhere.”

    Now, where are our doggeh and kitteh pics ? ? ?

  64. 64
    Karen says:

    Yes, I’m a moron.

    But can someone tell me what capers are? What flavor they are? What do they do to a dish. I may not be Top Chef but I’d like to start cooking something other than nuking a Marie Calendar TV dinner.

  65. 65
    birthmarker says:

    Tabasco is great added to savory dishes that are cream or milk based, such as scalloped potatoes or creamy soups. A dash or two makes a huge difference.

  66. 66
    DarrenG says:

    Probably too late now unless you cook your sauces for a *very* long time (Marcella Hazan swears a fresh tomato sauce should never be cooked for more than 45 minutes), but the one sauce base suggestion I haven’t seen above yet is about a cup of cheap, hearty red wine.

    And I completely agree with the comment above that while many/most of the suggestions above sound lovely, they don’t really belong in a mother sauce that’s going to be used for multiple dishes over a week; you can add most of them in a la minute while finishing the dish.

  67. 67
    Alan in SF says:

    Black olives & artichoke hearts!

  68. 68
    DarrenG says:


    Capers are a Mediterranean flower bud that’s usually cured in brine:

    They add a very distinctive bittersweet note, but are probably redundant with cured anchovy already in the sauce.

    They’re a staple of Italian and southern French cooking.

  69. 69


    But can someone tell me what capers are?

    Delicious Crimes.

  70. 70
  71. 71

    @General Stuck: Ha! That was pretty close to my reaction.

    Cole, that looks yummy. You make enough for everyone?

  72. 72
    magisterludi says:

    Small splash of balsamic vinegar. Umami!

  73. 73
    wrb says:


    There was a restaurant here with a beautiful river-front location from which you could watch the incredible aeronautics of pelicans every night.

    It was owned by an Irish guy and advertised “the best of Irish cooking”

    Spaghetti: Spaghetti noodles with ketchup on them

    Lasagna: Lasagna noodles layered with ketchup.

    Chicken Marsala: Chicken baked in ketchup

    True shit

  74. 74
    jeffreyw says:

    Wakes up, looks around. Smiles. My work here is done.

  75. 75
    CynDee says:

    @Karen: Well if you’re a moron, a lot of other people are, too. Every single person who knows what capers are had to find out for the first time. This is just not a fun question to have to ask. But you bravely did — and performed a real service. Now others out here will never have to risk caper humiliation; they can enjoy the pleasure of seemingly having been always in the know . . .

    @General Stuck: You really, really are in top form today, especially on this thread. Chicken feet — honestly. Pats to my goddoggie, Winsome Charles.

  76. 76
    asdf says:

    wrb, that was called Noodles and Meat by my bride in the middle 1970’s. Noodles, browned hamburger and ketchup. It was about that time that I decided I’d learn to cook.

  77. 77
    magisterludi says:

    Small splash of balsamic vinegar. Umami!

    No-knead, no-rise homemade breadsticks:

    cup warm water
    teaspoon sugar
    two healthy tsps yeast

    Add sugar to water. Sprinkle yeast on top. Let sit 5 min or until foamy.

    Mix in 2 and a half cups or so bread flour and some salt and a nice splash of EVOO (about 3 tbsps). Can sub some whole wheat, maybe a scant cup. Add some herbs or cheese or whatever, if you like. Mix it up good with your hands at the end.

    Cover with plastic wrap. Preheat oven to about 425. When oven is hot, roll or push out dough into a rectangle and slice into long thin strips. Twist and place on greased sheet. Brush with EVOO and sprinkle with kosher salt. Bake about 15-20 min, until golden brown.

  78. 78
    bryanD says:

    Those are all good ideas above. But sausages in gravy is for novelty purposes or for making a pot stretch among the Five Families. Too damn rich. Sausages deserves its own course if your in a sausage mood, I say. Plus your boss will say, “Holy crap! Spaghetti AND sausages! Woo-hoo! Do you play golf, Stevens?”

    Mushrooms are always a good idea.

    The key thing is to squeeze the liquid (water) out of the tomatoes before cooking. That will negate the need to tweak the flavor mid-range, and the sauce will be satisfactory long before being cooked to death.

    Use pasta water if liquid replenishment is needed.

    Also, the best spaghetti sauce I always looked forward to eating was prepared by a older lady upon whose cabinet I once noticed two empty bullion cube wrappers as she tended to her specialty.
    The ol’ Texas chili trick!

  79. 79
    Yutsano says:

    @Bella Q: And that thought would, in fact, be accurate. :)

  80. 80
    Sandia Blanca says:

    Canned sauce works great for a quick dinner.

    Saute diced onions, celery, and carrots in olive oil. Add 1-2 cloves crushed garlic, basil, oregano, and a bay leaf. Add 2 cans tomato sauce, with a bit of water that you’ve used to rinse out the cans. Simmer for a few minutes, stir in a small amount of ground cloves and crushed red pepper, and you’re ready to serve over pasta al dente with grated parmesan cheese.

    You can include some diced zucchini with the other vegetables, and/or some sliced mushrooms (add with the tomato sauce).

  81. 81
    FlipYrWhig says:

    @asdf: W00t! I’m glad it helped! Balsamic FTW!

  82. 82
    cyndicat says:

    So many fab ideas. Never thought of using cloves but they’re definitely on for my next sauce. For those who worry about anchovies – they completely melt into the sauce and you’d never know they were there. Carrots are also good for sweetening (but I usually chuck in a pinch of sugar just to be sure). If you’ve got the time, Catherine Scorsese’s spaghetti sauce is a corker. It includes a couple of carrots and a whole potato (removed before serving) and the meat is only added once the sauce is cooked – “shredded” by hand. Well worth the effort.

  83. 83
    darms says:

    We do hot here so I’d suggest using a few serrano peppers pureed, seeds, insides, the works. While they are hotter than most jalapeno peppers unlike those the hot doesn’t linger. Also for those using canned tomatoes adding a single (chopped, pureed) fresh tomato instantly hides the canned tomato taste. We do that here all the time. (The best sauce here of all time was made with habeneros which my bride-to-be mistook for “tiny little bell peppers”, albeit peppers that caused a few blisters on her fingers. The sauce was fabulous, however, the cooking process lost quite a bit of the heat while retaining the flavor. Two habeneros for a quart of sauce & please wear gloves while chopping them)

  84. 84
    TrishB says:

    @Bella Q: Hell, in my mind I got no further than doggie insulin. You top that with no doubt.

    Regarding food. Napoli born grandma rarely cooked sausage in her sauce. Then again, when she moved with us to SW Ohio from NYS, she swore at the quality of sausage and cheese constantly. “What kind of butcher would even sell this with no flavor?” Answer, “Nana, it’s Krogers, not a butcher.” Response from 87 year old Nana, “It’s still crap.” True.

  85. 85
    sherifffruitfly says:


  86. 86
    mattt says:

    I think this thread has left the building but, for next time: try some bacon fat in the initial saute. I always have a little covered can of it in the fridge, and for something like this might use half or 1/3 bacon fat and the rest light olive oil for the initial saute. Just enough to add porky richness and smoky depth without tasting like there’s actually bacon in there.

    I like the use of anchovies. Marcella Hazan uses them in almost everything. And I vote for the suggestions of artichoke hearts and red wine. A few red pepper flakes are a must, to add zip.

    And I want to talk about your pot: it looks like bare (seasoned) cast iron. I know a lot of people swear by them but I get a distinctive metallic taste whenever I slow-cook an acidic dish in bare cast iron. I much prefer the same sauce cooked in enameled iron, or in a thick stainless clad pot.

  87. 87
    Victor says:

    i use rosemary and thyme for my sauces, it always helps – even in small amounts.

  88. 88
    jibeaux says:

    I’m with Bobby Hill on capers. I think they go with everything except fruit pies.

    Now I’m inspired to actually buy anchovies. The other day, reading about sardines as an ecologically conscious superfood actually made me want to buy those too. But I think I’ll go one step at a time. I’m not even sure what the difference is, honestly.

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