Pasta lovers know that the sauce can make or break a dish. Whether it’s your favorite recipe from mom or one you found online, you can find yourself with a pasta sauce that’s a bit too runny. It can happen even when you follow the recipe step by step.
You don’t have to worry that your hard work is lost! Instead of tossing your pasta sauce, you can salvage it, and there are a plethora of ways to do it. You’ll find below thirteen different ways to thicken your pasta sauce so you can enjoy your dish. You can use some of these when you start making the pasta sauce, so you don’t have to worry about a thin sauce.
Some options will work for you if you have dietary concerns like vegan, low fat, or gluten-free. You don’t have to sacrifice your sauce’s quality because you have to be mindful of what you’re eating.
The methods outlined below provide you with ways to thicken your pasta sauce without losing any of the flavors you want.
1. Simmer Your Sauce (Reducing the sauce)
Sometimes the answer is that easy! If you leave your sauce to simmer for a more extended period, the extra liquid will evaporate. You want to make sure you leave the pot uncovered so that the reduction takes place.
Leaving the pot covered will increase the water content due to condensation. If you think there’s too much fluid and simmering it out will take too long, the options below may work better for you.
If you’re wondering what a roux is, it’s a mixture of butter or oil and flour. It’s a French classic and adds flavor, color, and depth to your pasta sauce. You can find a guide on how to make your own roux here.
You may want to use salt-free butter for this option so that you’re not adding too much sodium to your sauce. If you’re on a low-fat diet, adding butter to your sauce may not be the best option; keep reading for other low-fat options.
The mixture of cornstarch and water is called slurry, and it’s a great way to thicken your pasta sauce. Whisk one tablespoon of cornstarch to an equal amount of water and add it to your pasta sauce. You don’t want to leave the sauce simmering too long after adding the slurry and bringing it to a boil since you’ll risk the starch breaking down and the sauce becoming thin again.
Cornstarch is an excellent thickening option for people looking for gluten-free thickening options. Unlike flour, cornstarch doesn’t make your sauce cloudy. Cornstarch is pure starch, so it has twice the thickening power of flour. If you don’t have cornstarch on hand, you’ll have to double the amount of flour to get the same results.
4. Mashed Potatoes
Adding mashed potatoes to your pasta sauce is a quick and easy way to thicken your pasta sauce. If you don’t have cornstarch on hand, potatoes will do the trick since they do have starch. You can boil a potato, mash it, and add it to your sauce, or you can add butter and milk to it as you would an ordinary mashed potato dish before adding it to your sauce.
Mashed potatoes are an excellent gluten-free option for thickening your sauce that doesn’t require a lot of time if you have a microwave. If you’re looking to cut down on your carbohydrate intake, this is not the most suitable option.
5. Cook Your Pasta in the Sauce
This method not only ensures a thicker sauce, but it saves you time! For this option to work, you take al dente pasta and add it to your sauce so that it continues to cook with the sauce. You will want to drain your pasta fully before adding it to the sauce, so you’re not increasing the water content.
When added to the sauce, the pasta will soak up any unneeded water, and the starch from the pasta will thicken your sauce. Once you’re happy with the consistency of your sauce, your dish is ready to serve from the stove with whatever else you’re having with your meal, and you’ve used a method that ties all the flavors together beautifully.
6. Vegetable Puree
Adding a vegetable puree is a healthy way to thicken your pasta sauce. If you choose to add a vegetable puree to your sauce to reduce it, you want to be mindful of the vegetable you choose.
You want a vegetable with a subtle flavor, so it doesn’t entirely change the taste of your sauce. Vegetables like winter squash, celeriac, and potatoes are excellent pasta sauce thickeners.
You can boil or roast the vegetables and then puree them in a blender or food processor and then add to your sauce. Remember not to leave your sauce simmering for too long after adding the puree, or you’ll end up with the same runny sauce problem again.
7. Pasta Water
It may seem counterintuitive to add water to the sauce when the goal is to thicken it, but pasta water is a great way to add starch to your pasta sauce without needing to make a slurry or mashed potatoes since you’re boiling the pasta for the meal anyway!
This method is another excellent way to thicken your pasta that isn’t time-consuming. You have to remember to set some of the water aside before you drain the pasta.
Pasta water has less impact than cornstarch in terms of the thickness added to the sauce, but it will bring the sauce together and give it a silky texture.
8. Egg Yolk
You might be thinking that adding an egg yolk to your sauce will result in visible, scrambled egg-type chunks, but that’s not the case if you temper your eggs. Tempering your egg yolks means adding some of your sauce to a bowl of beaten yolks while whisking the mixture. Once your mixture is blended well, you want to return it to the saucepot, keeping it on a simmer to avoid having the eggs curdle.
If you’re feeling adventurous, you can also use egg yolk in combination with your pasta water to take your sauce thickening efforts to another level. Using egg yolk is another excellent gluten-free option to increase the thickness of your pasta sauce.
9. Grated Cheese
Grated cheese is another excellent way to thicken your pasta sauce. You’ll want to use a soft or semi-soft cheese to add to your sauce. Although you may be a fan of Parmesan or Romano cheese, these are not the best cheeses to use as a thickener because of their salt content. You want to thicken your pasta sauce and maintain the flavor.
If Parmesan or Romano cheese is all you have on hand, you’ll want to keep your salt content low in the sauce to start, so the cheese’s addition doesn’t overpower the sauce.
If you love a rich sauce, you won’t think twice about using butter as a thickener for your pasta sauce. You won’t don’t want to leave your sauce on high heat or for too long after you add the butter since that will result in the butter breaking, adding more fluid, and defeating the purpose of adding the butter. Butter is also a great way to mellow out the flavors in your sauce if you find the taste too sharp.
You may want to use unsalted butter in your pasta sauce, so you’re not increasing your sodium intake when adding it to your sauce as a thickener.
Adding breadcrumbs to your pasta sauce is a great way to thicken your sauce without affecting its taste. This method is a quick way to reduce your pasta sauce without changing the flavor that you want. If you prefer a smoother consistency, then using breadcrumbs is not the thickening method you are looking for since the breadcrumbs will be noticeable in the finished product.
Thankfully gluten-free breadcrumbs are available, so breadcrumbs are still an option even if you don’t want gluten in your diet.
Using flour to thicken your sauce is probably the least popular way to reduce your pasta sauce. Some think that adding flour ruins the sauce’s taste and texture, mainly when using all-purpose flour. We should warn you that adding flour will make your pasta sauce cloudy, so you’ll want to use another thickener, such as cornstarch if the goal is to maintain the clarity of your sauce.
Using flour can alter the taste of your sauce, so if you want to maintain the flavor of your sauce and still need to thicken it, you can use flour as part of a slurry or a roux in order to achieve the thickness you want to achieve.
13. Tomato Paste and Heavy Cream
Tomato paste is another effective way to thicken your pasta sauce. We should warn you that adding the paste will affect your sauce’s flavor, so you might want to use another thickening agent if you don’t want to alter your sauce’s taste. If you’re making a dairy-based sauce, using a tomato paste isn’t recommended.
Heavy cream is an excellent way to thicken pasta sauces that aren’t tomato-based. Adding heavy cream to your pasta sauce gives it a richer taste and adds the sauce’s thickness. You can use this method of thickening your pasta sauce in a tomato-based sauce if you feel like adding tomato paste will alter the flavor too much, and you don’t mind reducing the acidity of the tomatoes in your sauce.
There are many ways to thicken your pasta sauce. Before choosing the method you’re going to use, you’ll want to think about the ultimate goal. Some options are more health-conscious than others. However, the choice is yours. You can enjoy a nice thick, rich pasta sauce, or you can experience a flavorful sauce that uses less fat to create thicker goodness.
Besides the methods listed above, you can also make a heartier pasta sauce with your protein choice: meat or a vegetarian option.
If your thickening option needs to be gluten-free, there are lots of thickening alternatives that you can use, including Arrowroot powder and Tapioca starch. Some of the options listed above are gluten-free as well, such as corn starch and vegetable puree. Regardless of your dietary considerations, there is a method to thicken your pasta sauces that will suit your needs.
Whether you want to add sausage or ground beef to your pasta sauce or their vegan alternatives, there are many different ways to create a heartier sauce that vegans and vegetarians can use in their meals. We’re warning you that there might not be any room for seconds or dessert, for that matter, when everyone enjoys your thick, hearty, and tasty pasta sauce. Bon appétit!