I’m about to make a ringing endorsement for Rao’s pasta sauce with such passion and conviction that I wouldn’t blame you one bit if you thought I was a paid shill for the company. Let me get this out of the way right at the start: I am in no way affiliated with Rao’s. They don’t pay me, they’ve never sent me anything free to sample. Their magical sauce originates from their legendary restaurant in East Harlem, where I cannot even get a reservation. And yet, I’m here to tell you that there is no better jarred pasta sauce on the planet, and using it in your pasta dishes will make you a better cook, your family will love you more, and it’s quite likely you’ll become a better person in general.
Rao’s is described as “premium” pasta sauce, and for good reason: it costs about twice as much, maybe even more, than many mass-market marinaras at the supermarket. But it’s worth every penny. Let me try to explain the difference in concrete terms, which is kind of hard, like describing exactly what makes a rainbow cause you to feel whatever it is you feel when you glimpse one.
To begin, the taste. Rao’s is exquisitely balanced. Just enough tart acidity, just enough natural sweetness, just enough tomato umami, just enough savory saltiness. Balance is such a critical factor that’s too often overlooked in food, a fact well articulated by Malcolm Gladwell in his 2004 New Yorker piece on the dominance of Heinz ketchup, which, as he notes in detail, has perfect balance. Consider your current favorite jarred pasta sauce. Chances are, if you give it a taste test (and are really being honest with yourself), you’ll notice it’s probably a little too sweet. Maybe a little too salty, but probably oversweet, since the American palate (and hence American mass market food producers) skew a little to the sugary side of things.
Then, the texture. Some jarred sauces are pureed to within an inch of their sad lives and end up nearly as smooth as ketchup. Others tout their “chunkiness,” which usually amounts to unwieldy hunks of tomato or overstewed veggies, probably meant to convey a more homemade experience but really just fouling up your pasta experience, making it more of a noodly casserole than anything else. Rao’s, again, strikes the perfect balance of puree and chunk, complementing the pasta rather than distracting from it.
I should be ashamed to admit this, but I have an astonishingly low bar for personal shame, and so I’ll tell you: Late at night, when I’m feeling just a little hungry but don’t need or want a full-blown snack or something that requires assembly, I will down a large spoonful or two of Rao’s. I don’t glug it straight out of the jar, I’m not a savage, but I’m just saying that even a cold spoonful straight from the fridge satisfies my every late-night craving, every time.
Used for its intended purpose, heated to coat pasta, it works wonders. I’m sure many of you make world-class homemade pasta sauces, but Rao’s can pass as homemade 99 out of 100 times. Beyond saucing pasta, I use it to make vegetarian chicken parm with Boca patties and fresh mozzarella melted on top until it’s lightly blistered. Heaven.
Rao’s is top-shelf stuff, and it’ll lift your pasta game to pro level. Some items are worth the splurge; Rao’s is most definitely a luxury ingredient your pantry deserves.
Watch Tim use Rao’s to make a super simple spaghetti: