The secret to great spaghetti? Start with Trader Joe’s jarred pasta sauce and finish by dumping half your spice rack in.

When I was growing up, my dad had four recipes that he was proud of—his over-easy eggs, his cheesesteaks, his fried chicken, and his pasta with meat sauce. His secret ingredient to his pasta was the cheapest meat sauce he could find, Hunt’s Meat Flavored Pasta Sauce. (Hold on. Did they just say Meat Flavored?)

While I’m now slightly afraid of that pasta sauce, I can’t help but agree with my dad that the secret to tasty meat sauce can often be found in a jar. In this edition of Cooking With Bwog, I’ll be doctoring some Trader Joe’s marinara to make a delicious spaghetti with meat sauce that serves four people. (Or let’s be honest, you alone in your dorm room for four meals.)


  • Half of a yellow onion, chopped
  • Two cloves of garlic, minced
  • Olive oil
  • Half a pound of ground beef
    • Note: I used ground sirloin because it was on sale, but any ground beef works
  • 8 ounces of spaghetti
  • 12 oz, or half a jar, of jarred pasta sauce
    • Note: I used the Trader Joe’s Tomato Basil Marinara because it was cheap, but any jarred marinara works!
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Seasonings: dried basil, garlic powder, dried oregano, paprika, crushed red pepper, coriander, etc
    • Note: You can use any combo of these spices that you want, but the most important two are dried basil and garlic powder.
  • Parmesan cheese for serving (optional)


  1. In a large stockpot over medium heat, add olive oil and cook chopped onion, and garlic for 2-3 minutes, or until slightly golden and fragrant.
  2. Add the ground beef and cook until the beef is browned, about 5-7 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  3. Once the beef is browned, cook the spaghetti according to package instructions in generously salted water. Meanwhile, add salt and freshly ground pepper to your browned beef to taste.
  4. While the water comes to a boil and the spaghetti cooks, add your jarred pasta sauce of choice and bring your stockpot down to a low-medium heat. Mix the sauce with the beef, onions, and garlic.
  5. Once the pasta sauce has warmed up, add your spices of choice to taste.
    1. Note: I don’t really do measurements when adding these spices. Just incrementally add your spices and continuously taste to see how the flavor is doing. You should be imagining yourself as Remy in that scene in Ratatouille where he’s adding all the spices to Linguini’s soup.
    2. My favorite three spices to use in pasta sauce are garlic powder, dried basil, and paprika. Just experiment and find out what you like! If you don’t have any spices, these three are a great place to start because they’re versatile to be used in many types of recipes.
    3. You can also add salt and freshly ground black pepper to your sauce to taste.
  6. Meanwhile, check in on your noodles. After a few minutes of boiling, try to taste one every minute to check if the noodles are ready to be taken out. You want this spaghetti to be al dente, so the noodles should have a bit of chew to them without being neither crunchy nor too gentle.
  7. Once your noodles have reached al dente, drain the spaghetti in a colander while reserving a 1/2 cup of pasta water for the sauce. Using this later helps the sauce better adhere to your noodles.
  8. Directly after draining, add your noodles and your reserved pasta water to your sauce, stirring with a spatula or tongs. Taste and add salt, pepper, spices, or more pasta water as needed to reach your desired consistency.
  9. Serve with grated parmesan on top and more freshly ground pepper. Enjoy!

Note: this image is my heated-up leftovers. Your fresh spaghetti with meat sauce will look much more photogenic.

Delicious spaghetti via Author