The $2 Trader Joe’s Pasta Sauce That Won Over My Picky Italian Family

published Oct 12, 2022
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Trader Joe's canvas bag on counter top filled with grocery items as well as some items surrounding bag on counter top.
Credit: Sarah Crowley

I’d love to be the person who always has homemade sauce on hand, but that’s just not my reality. That, my friends, is exactly what this sauce from Trader Joe’s is for and why you’ll find a jar of it in my pantry at any given time. While there are a lot of really good sauces to choose from (including chef-approved options!), Trader Joe’s Tomato Basil Marinara sauce earned the approval of my picky Italian family members, who are critical of most other jarred tomato sauces. And at less than $2 a jar, it’s become a staple for budget-friendly dinners in my house.

Credit: Jessica Prudenti-Montalvo

What’s So Great About Trader Joe’s Tomato Basil Marinara?

I snagged this jarred sauce from a TJ’s shelf late at night in a moment of dinner desperation, and it turned out to be a winner. Flecked with bits of basil, parsley, and oregano, it adds an herbaceous flair to a bowl of plain spaghetti and plays nicely as an ingredient in other recipes, like soup or lasagna.

It’s not bitter, nor is it too sweet, and the flavors of basil, garlic, and tomato come through in delicious harmony. The tomato flavor isn’t acidic, like some canned tomatoes can be, and mellows out even further as it cooks. The smooth consistency is punctuated by the occasional chunk of tomato, which is a welcome surprise. And it’s thick enough to coat pasta when tossed with pasta water, but not so thick that it’s clumpy.

Credit: Jessica Prudenti-Montalvo

What’s the Best Way to Use Trader Joe’s Tomato Basil Marinara Sauce?

Pasta! Pasta! Pasta! It’s great with any shape, but my family favors short-cut pastas, like shells or rotini, which cradle all of that tomato basil for a more saucy bite. Subbing it for homemade sauce also means I can use the time saved to jazz up my noodles with frozen peas, reheated leftover roasted veggies, or quick-cooking proteins like shrimp. It’s also a handy shortcut to a big bowl of spaghetti and meatballs.

Of course, pasta is just the tip of the iceberg for fast-and-delicious dinners. Mixed into ground beef with some black pepper and smoked paprika, it’s a tasty filling for tacos or empanadas. You can cook it down with sautéed veggies and crack some eggs into it for a pre-seasoned shakshuka base, and it’s a flavorful boost to soups and stews when substituted for canned tomatoes. My mother’s meatloaf recipe never called for ketchup on top of the meatloaf; instead she called for tomato sauce, and this marinara hits the mark as the perfect stand-in.

Find it in stores: Trader Joe’s Tomato Basil Marinara Sauce, $1.69 for 24 ounces

Let us know some of your favorite ways to doctor up a jar of tomato sauce in the comments.