Sometimes, all you have the energy to make for dinner is pasta with a jarred sauce, such as Alfredo. There’s no shame in that—some days are simply not made for complicated homemade sauces and elaborate dishes.
However, there’s something a little sad about jarred Alfredo. It’s comforting, it’s creamy, but it’s also a little boring.
There’s no need to get rid of your pantry staple or to resign yourself to boring meals whenever you don’t have the time to make something more elaborate. You can make jarred Alfredo better with a few quick additions, often using ingredients that you would already find in your pantry.
Here are a few suggestions for spicing up your dinner the next time you find yourself reaching for jarred Alfredo sauce.
Choose Better Alfredo Sauce
Before you even start cooking, you can set yourself up for success by choosing better jarred sauces at the supermarket. That way, you won’t even have to put in too much work to make the sauce tastier.
Not all supermarket jarred sauces are created equal. One of the best ways that you can tell the best brands from the rest is by looking at the ingredients list.
Obviously, you know that jarred sauce is not going to be the freshest, but it should still have real cream, butter, and cheese. The ones that specify that they have parmesan or romano cheese as opposed to a generic hard cheese are best.
Feel free to explore some flavor varieties until you find the sauce that your family loves the best. Try some that add different varieties of cheese, such as ricotta or asiago, or ones with extra garlic.
Season the Sauce
One of the main problems with jarred Alfredo sauce is that it tastes bland. Often, all you taste is cream and not much else.
The first step most people take is to add salt and pepper. You can keep it basic, or even mix up these seasonings by adding freshly cracked pepper or peppercorns instead of basic black pepper from a jar. Or, change the variety of pepper that you use by swapping white pepper for ordinary black pepper.
There is also a whole world of seasonings beyond salt and pepper that can make your jarred sauce unrecognizable. Try adding nutmeg, which is often used to bring out the flavor in creamy sauces.
Or, throw in some oregano or basil for an extra savory kick. Do you really want to pump up the flavor of a jarred sauce and add some heat? Throw in some cayenne pepper to cut through the heavy cream.
You can even try adding a squeeze of lemon juice for some acidity that can cut through the artificial richness and create a depth of flavor that most jarred sauces lack.
Add Some Alliums
Alliums is the name of bulbed herbs often used in cooking. In simple terms, these are onions and garlic, the backbone of any tasty dish.
Instead of just heating your sauce without any fanfare, chop up some onions and garlic. Then, saute them in a pan with some butter.
Once your garlic and onions are sauteed, you can add your jarred Alfredo sauce. The chopped-up alliums will add some freshness and savoriness to the sauce.
For extra flavor, deglaze the pan with white wine before adding the sauce (deglazing is when you add liquid to a hot pan, which unsticks any burnt-on bits of food and adds more flavor to the dish).
Add More Cheese
One of the main ingredients in Alfredo sauce is parmesan cheese. However, that doesn’t mean that you can’t add more!
Add some freshly grated parmesan or pecorino romano cheese to your jarred Alfredo as you heat it. The cheese will melt seamlessly into the sauce.
Although the sauce already has cheese, it loses much of its natural tanginess and flavor during the packaging and storage process. Adding freshly grated cheese brings out those flavors.
Cheese can also improve the texture of your sauce. If you notice that your jarred Alfredo is a little runny, adding freshly grated cheese thickens it and binds the sauce together.
Add More Fat
Alfredo sauce is already heavy on dairy and fat, so if you are trying to eat healthily, you may want to skip this step. However, adding fat is a common way to impart extra flavor to a dish. Most restaurants use this trick, which is why most dishes when you eat out contain obscene amounts of butter.
Try adding a splash of more cream or a few tablespoons of butter to the sauce as you heat it. This will improve the texture, which could be strange after an indefinite amount sitting in a jar, and add a bit more flavor.
Change How You Cook the Sauce
Sometimes, the way that you heat your Alfredo sauce could be impacting your enjoyment of the final dish.
If you have been heating the Alfredo sauce separately and then pouring it on top of the pasta, this could be making the jarred sauce taste worse. It unevenly distributes the sauce, making some pasta dry, and makes the sometimes cloying taste of jarred sauce very obvious.
Instead, mix the pasta directly into the sauce. Cook it until it is barely al dente, then finish cooking the noodles right in the sauce.
This way, the pasta absorbs the sauce better than it would if you just poured it over the bowl once everything is cooked. It also creates a more cohesive dish.
Add Something Other Than Pasta
You don’t have to rely on your jarred Alfredo sauce alone to give your dish some flavor. Add some extra ingredients to your pasta to pump up the dish and mask the artificial taste of jarred sauce.
Try adding some protein to your Alfredo pasta dishes, such as shrimp or chicken. Not only will this make the meal healthier and more filling, but it will also thicken out the sauce and add robust flavors.
If you want to make the dish healthy, add some vegetables, such as steamed broccoli. Jarred Alfredo sauce is delicious but it is often very heavy and fatty, so vegetables can cut through that thick feeling.
Change How You Use Jarred Sauce
Jarred Alfredo sauce can add an extra dimension of flavor to many dishes, not just pasta. Here are a few serving suggestions that could make dinner a bit more exciting.
Alfredo Sauce on Pizza: Don’t have tomato sauce at home but still want pizza? Top the dough with alfredo sauce, cheese, and other toppings of your choice such as chicken for a white pie. This is perfect for picky eaters who refuse tomatoes.
Add it to Casseroles: Many casseroles use canned soup such as cream of mushroom. You can replace that with Alfredo sauce for a cheesy, creamy dish.
Use it When Cooking Proteins: Skip the pasta altogether and use jarred Alfredo to create a creamy sauce for your protein of choice. Chicken tetrazzini is one popular dish that can become even tastier with Alfredo sauce.
Make Lasagna: Instead of coating short pasta in Alfredo sauce, use it in place of bechamel in a lasagna. This will make it possible to enjoy this family favorite even on weekdays.
How to Make Your Own Alfredo Sauce
If you are tired of jarred pasta sauces, you can make your own Alfredo sauce in the time that it takes your pasta to cook. This will give you more control over the ingredients and the final taste will be closer to your preferences.
To make Alfredo sauce, first, saute garlic in a pan of melted butter. Then, add in heavy cream while whisking the sauce to thicken.
Finally, add in grated parmesan cheese and seasonings to taste. For best results, grate your own cheese instead of buying pre-shredded cheese.
These guidelines can help you whip up your own sauce in a very short time. For a more precise recipe, check here.
Sometimes, jarred Alfredo sauce is the fastest, best option for feeding yourself and your family. However, that does not mean that you have to eat boring pasta.
There are some excellent jarred sauces on the market, and you can choose the best for your family by analyzing the ingredients. Most quality sauces will proudly advertise that they use real butter, cream, and cheese as opposed to artificial substitutes.
As you are heating the sauce, add extra seasonings to bring up the flavor. Stick to traditional salt and pepper, kick up the heat with a little cayenne, or try something new with a white wine deglaze or a squeeze of lemon juice.
Alfredo sauce, whether homemade or store-bought, can be very versatile. Make full use of its flavorings by adding extra ingredients to your pasta dish or even trying it out on other meals, not just pasta.
Finally, if you ever feel up to the challenge, try making your own Alfredo sauce. All you need is butter, garlic, heavy cream, and parmesan cheese to make a creamy, comforting sauce that you can then flavor any way you want.
Sarah is the founder of Baking Kneads, LLC, a blog sharing guides, tips, and recipes for those learning how to bake. Growing up as the daughter of a baker, she spent much of her childhood learning the basics in a local bakery.