Instantly Thicken Your Pasta Sauce With One Creamy Cheese

There are few things more disappointing than digging into pasta that's a runny mess, with sauce so thin that it slides right off your fork and dribbles onto the plate below. Nailing the texture of a pasta sauce can be tricky, especially if you're making it from scratch with fresh tomatoes. What many might not know about tomatoes is that they are inherently watery – 95% liquid to be exact. Unless you give them time to cook down, they'll thin your sauce and make it incredibly runny. The other culprit could be an excess of that starchy pasta water, which can dilute what should be a well-emulsified sauce.

Regardless of the cause, there's a way to fix and thicken it instantly: All it takes is some cream cheese. Thanks to its luxurious consistency, it's an excellent thickening agent, adding viscosity to everything from soups and salad dressings to, you guessed it, pasta sauces. Simply whisk a dollop of the cheese into the sauce while it's still bubbling on the stove and keep stirring until everything dissolves evenly.

To check whether your sauce has thickened enough, dip a spoon into it. Observe how the sauce clings onto the back of the spoon as it cools. If it still seems too runny for your liking, go ahead and add more cream cheese to the sauce. But if it holds on well, your thickened sauce is good to go!

What to know about adding cream cheese to your pasta sauce

While thickening pasta sauce with cream cheese is fairly straightforward, there are some things to bear in mind before you do so. Cream cheese will affect the flavor of your sauce, which may not be ideal if you're looking to, say, thicken a tomato sauce without complicating its flavor. Make sure to taste the sauce, so you can balance any extra tanginess or added sweetness — and be extra careful when using flavored varieties, like garlic and herb. The cheese will also change the color from bright red to slightly rosy.

Another thing to remember is that you want cream cheese for its rich texture, which is what will ultimately thicken the sauce. Cream cheese from a tub tends to be softer than its brick counterpart. If you only have the block type, you can use less or soften it.

Seal the cream cheese in an airtight bag and soak it in warm water for a few minutes, or dump the cheese into a bowl and microwave it in short intervals until it becomes more pliable. Alternatively, you can whisk some hot pasta water into the cheese in a separate bowl so it softens into a creamy slurry, and pour that into the sauce instead. The cream cheese may not dissolve entirely due to the acidic nature of tomatoes, but it will still thicken the sauce.

Cream cheese isn't the only way to thicken sauce

Most cheeses have at least some amount of thickening power — think mascarpone, pecorino, good ole parmesan, or goat cheese. While you could technically add a cheese like mozzarella too, it will make your sauce more gloopy than thick and creamy.

A glob of butter or a drizzle of heavy cream are also ingredients to add for a creamy pasta sauce, and there's always the option of using a cornstarch slurry or a roux made from flour. You could also crack an egg yolk – though you'll have to be careful to not scramble it under the heat. Adding some pureed starchy vegetables can be a crafty alternative as well, especially if you're trying to get more veggies into your diet.

However, thickening a pasta sauce doesn't always require additional ingredients: If nothing else works, just be patient. One of the best ways to thicken a pasta sauce is to simply let it cook on low heat. The sauce will gradually reduce and concentrate as it simmers, and you may find that the cooked-down sauce even tastes more intense and punchy than before!