The Ingredient Giada De Laurentiis Adds To Store-Bought Pasta Sauce

There is nothing wrong with keeping some pantry staples on hand for throwing together a quick meal or speeding up the process of a more involved dish. However, just because something is technically a shortcut does not mean it has to taste like it.

Store-bought pasta sauce is one such convenience item. Most brands taste good enough — but not great — because they lack depth of flavor. While you can load up a pre-made sauce with sauteed meats and veggies to amp up the flavor, too much slicing and dicing chips away at the convenience factor. Fortunately, Giada De Laurentiis has a simple hack to upgrade any jar. She drops a parmesan rind into the sauce as she heats it. Not only does parmesan introduce some yummy umami notes, but it also improves the texture by adding a silky touch.

Once you finish up a wedge of parm, you can stash the rinds in a bag in the freezer to have them on hand whenever you need them for pasta sauces, soups, stews, or stocks. If you don't have any reserved rinds, a chunk of parmesan cheese will also do the trick.

What other cheese rinds can you use?

While all cheese rinds are safe to eat (excluding inedible wrappings like wax, paper, or cloth), not all of them are going to be great in your sauce. Cheeses with bloomy rinds, such as brie and camembert, are too soft to stand up to simmering and are best enjoyed along with the creamy inside. Some longer-aged, low-moisture, washed-rind cheeses like gruyère will work. Others may have a flavor profile that is too bold, earthy, or funky to complement tomato sauce, and many washed-rind cheeses are also very soft. Parmesan has a natural rind like a nice aged cheddar or Mimolette. Other natural rind cheeses, like pecorino, grana padano, asiago, and manchego, will add depth to your sauce, though the flavor profiles will vary.

Compared to the rest of the cheese, the rind has a higher concentration of mold and bacteria, so the flavors can be strong. To get a sense, take a nibble. Is it pleasant or overly pungent? Let your palate guide you, and if you are worried about introducing too much funk, start by adding a small piece to see how you like the taste.

More easy upgrades for store-bought pasta sauce

If you do not have parmesan rinds on hand and still want to upgrade your sauce, you still have plenty of options using ingredients you may already have in your pantry or fridge. To amp up the savory qualities of the tomatoes, consider adding a scoop of tomato paste, a sprinkle of MSG, a little bouillon powder, or the anchovy paste Giada De Laurentiis can't go without. Just make sure to taste your sauce first, and add these ingredients a little bit at a time so you don't accidentally oversalt your dish. You can also add some intrigue to your sauce by incorporating olives, capers, and pickled peppers to add a little tang and a complementary layer of acidity. A good pour of red or white wine or a small splash of balsamic vinegar is nice, too.

If richness is what you are after, a drizzle of heavy cream, a scoop of full-fat Greek yogurt, or a tablespoon or two of cream cheese will be delicious. You can also keep it simple and stir in a couple of knobs of butter — or finish your pasta sauce with some quality olive oil.