While Italian cooks may cringe at the thought, shop-bought pasta sauces come in handy to get a meal on the table in a hurry.
Besides using them with pastas, you can add them to casseroles or use them as a pizza topping.
Marinara sauces, for example, are a convenient way to add flavour to tomato-based dishes as they already have a lot more flavour than a tin of tomatoes.
But pasta sauces come in a variety of flavours – some of which are spicier and more flavoursome.
To cut through the acidity of a tomato-based sauce and give it a smooth, rounded flavour, add a dollop of cream or a pat of butter while simmering it. Also add fresh herbs just before serving to give your dish a lift.
Simmering the jarred or bottled sauce will concentrate and improve the flavour.
If the sauce is very thick, add a few spoonfuls of the pasta cooking liquid to thin it down.
8 chicken pieces
salt and pepper
30ml olive oil
5ml chopped garlic
1 red onion, chopped
1 red and green pepper, sliced
200g button mushrooms, sliced
2ml dried chilli flakes
200ml white wine
400g jar of piquanté pepper and olive sauce
60ml chopped fresh parsley
60g black olives, pitted
Season the chicken and coat in the flour.
Heat the oil in a heavy-based pot until hot. Brown the chicken on both sides. Transfer to a plate.
Add the garlic, onion and peppers to the pot and sauté for about a minute.
Stir in the mushrooms and cook for another minute. Season with salt, pepper and chilli flakes.
Add the wine and simmer long enough to reduce the wine by half. Pour in the sauce.
Return the chicken to the pot, skin-side up, cover with lid and cook on low for 30 minutes.
Add the parsleyand olives and cook, uncovered, for another 10 minutes.
ROASTED SWEET POTATO PIZZA
750ml cake flour
10g sachet of instant yeast
45ml olive oil
300-400ml warm water
500g orange sweet potatoes,peeled and diced
125g streaky bacon, diced
250g mushrooms, sliced
125ml tomato and basil pasta sauce
500ml grated mozzarella cheese
125g cherry tomatoes, halved
fresh rocket to serve
DOUGH: Combine the flour, salt, sugar and yeast in a bowl and mix well.
Add the olive oil and enough water to make a dough that is soft but not sticky. Knead well until smooth.
Put the dough in an oiled plastic bag and leave to rise for 30 minutes.
Remove the dough from the bag and knead gently. Divide into four portions.
Roll out each piece of dough into a disc about the size of a dinner plate.
Place discs on greased baking trays.
TOPPING: Place the sweet potato in a roasting tray. Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Cook at 180°C for20-30 minutes until soft.
Fry the bacon until crisp, remove and set aside.
Add the mushrooms to the pan and fry in the bacon fat until cooked.
Spread each disc witha layer of pasta sauce. Sprinkle with mozzarella cheese and scatter over the sweet potato, mushroom, bacon and tomatoes.
Bake at 200°C for 10-15 minutes until the base is golden brown and the cheese has melted. Remove and serve topped with some fresh rocket.
SPICY BEEF PASTA BAKE
1 onion, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, crushed
250g streaky bacon, coarsely chopped
1 red chilli, seeded and finely chopped
500g beef mince
400g tomato and jalapeno chilli sauce
125ml beef stock
125ml chopped fresh basil
250g farfalle pasta
250g cherry tomatoes
100g mozzarella, torn
60ml grated Parmesan
Preheat oven to 180°C.
Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic, bacon and chilli. Cook for 5 minutes until the onion is soft.
Add the mince and cook until browned, stirring with a wooden spoon to break up any lumps.
Stir in the pasta sauce, beef stock and half the basil. Cook for 15 minutes or until the sauce thickens slightly. Season with salt and pepper.
Meanwhile, cook the pasta until al dente in a large pot of salted, boiling water according to the instructions on the packet.
Drain and transfer to the mince. Stir well.
Add the cherry tomatoes.
Spoon into an ovenproof baking dish. Dot with torn mozzarella, sprinkle with Parmesan and bake for 15-20 minutes until golden.
Garnish with the remaining basil.
SAUSAGE AND PEPPERS STEW
60ml olive oil
400g red pepper chicken sausage
1 green pepper, cut into strips
1 red pepper, cut into strips
1 yellow pepper, cut into strips
1 red onion, sliced
2 fennel bulbs, sliced
2 garlic cloves, crushed
400g jar of green pepper and garlic pasta sauce
Heat half the oil in a frying pan and fry the sausages until lightly browned, turning occasionally.
Remove from pan and cool slightly.
Cut each sausage into three pieces.
Heat the remaining oil in a large non-stick pot and fry the peppers, onion, fennel and garlic for 5 minutes.
Add the sauce.
Return the sausages to the pot, bring to a simmer and cook, uncovered, for 10-15 minutes, until the sauce has thickened and the sausages are cooked through.
Season with salt and pepper and serve.
SAUCY BRINJAL ROLLS
2-3 brinjals, cut into 5mm-thick slices lengthwise
1 onion, chopped
300g spinach, cooked and chopped
250g ricotta cheese
125ml grated Parmesan cheese
60ml shredded basil
pinch of grated nutmeg
400g jar of tomato and basil pasta sauce
extra Parmesan for sprinkling
Brush the brinjals with olive oil and cook until soft on a griddle pan preferably, or under the grill.
Drain on paper towel.
FILLING: Heat the oil and fry the onion and garlic until soft.
Add the spinach and fry for a few minutes. Remove from the heat and cool. Combine with the ricotta, Parmesan, basil and season well with salt, pepper and nutmeg.
Place a teaspoonful of filling at the base of each brinjal slice and roll up to enclose the filling.
Cover the base of an ovenproof dish with the sauce and place the brinjals rolls seam-side down on the sauce. Sprinkle with Parmesan and bake at 180°C for 25-30 minutes until rolls are heated through and the cheese is golden.
Angela Day, The Star