Pasta and sauce, the staple of rushed weeknight suppers, can be incredibly cheap and simple to prepare. Or not, if you splurge on the sauce. Although price is not always a reflection of quality, with regards to these five tomato gravies, the quality ingredients and balanced textures actually warrant paying up to $10 (!) for a jar.
5. Mario Batali Alfredo Sauce. The best alfredo sauce is the one you make using butter and cream on your own stovetop. The second best is the one made with butter and cream on Mario Batali's "stovetop," i.e., a totally "green" production plant. This dairy-rich sauce laden with parmigiano-reggiano tastes as if it were made in very small batches...which makes it easier to pass as your grandmother's recipe at dinner parties.
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4. Rao's Tomato Basil. "Clean" is the first word that comes to mind when you taste this tomato sauce redolent of Italian gardens in high summer. Bloody fresh tomatoes and pungent basil are laced with just a bit of olive oil to create a pure botanical flavor that enlivens simple string noodles such as cappellini or fettuccine. This story continues on the next page.
3. Gia Russa Alla Vodka Sauce. Gia Russa's vodka sauce is intoxicating, and not because of its booze element (which is mild) but rather due to the generous amounts of whipping cream, butter and sweet plum tomatoes. As you might have inferred from the ingredient list, this sauce has the potential to overpower if paired with something equally rich. Stick to simple penne, spaghetti or rigatoni.
2. Mom's Spicy Arrabbiata Sauce. All of "Mom's" sauces receive rave reviews from pasta aficionados, but I have a special fondness for the arrabiata because of its strong anchovy flavor and hearty mushroom chunks. Those who find the spice just a bit too bold are well-advised to add some tempering parmesan cheese (and feel free to get the cheap kind to balance out your expenditure).
1. Cucina Antica Tuscany Pumpkin. Yes, yes, we all know I have a strong pumpkin bias. I promise you that even if you don't have an orange squash fetish, you'll love this sauce for its vibrant tones of cinnamon, parsley, garlic and rosemary. It's especially fitting for stuffed pasta such as cheese tortellini, though my favorite (unsurprisingly) is to use it to dress sage pumpkin ravioli.