14 Best Ways To Use Tomato Sauce Beyond Pasta

Tomato sauce is one of those pantry staples you never want to run out of. It works overtime to provide all the flavor you need to turn a simple starch into a tasty, satisfying meal. Pasta is a prime example, and the number of dangerously delicious pasta recipes that include tomato sauce is dizzying. From pasta alla norma to frutti di mare, tomato sauce and pasta go together like crackers and cheese. There are many different types of pasta sauce to choose from. On the simple end of the spectrum is passata, a puree of tomatoes and salt with perhaps a hint of basil or oregano. Then there are familiar favorites like marinara, which includes cubed tomatoes and garlic; arrabbiata, which includes hot chili flakes; and bolognese, which features ground meat, onions, and diced veggies.

Having at least one jar of your favorite tomato sauce in the pantry at any given time will pay dividends not only when it comes to making pasta, but whenever you want to add a bit more flavor to your savory recipes. We spoke with Jeanine Donofrio, the founder and recipe developer behind the food blog Love and Lemons, about her favorite ways to use tomato sauce and she had no shortage of examples. "Tomato sauce is such a versatile ingredient!" she gushed, adding that she uses it in everything from soups and sauces to pizza and shakshuka. Keep reading to learn about some of the best ways to incorporate tomato sauce into your cooking.

1. Chicken cacciatore

Chicken cacciatore is a hearty recipe that is both filling and healthy. Despite its intense flavor, Mashed recipe developer Erin Johnson insists that it is actually very simple to make. All it requires is bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs, veggies, herbs, red wine, and crushed tomatoes. Using tomato sauce instead of crushed tomatoes will provide even more deliciousness, so you might want to consider this substitute even if you have plenty of crushed tomatoes in your pantry. Chicken thighs are full of rich flavor, but you can also use bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts if you'd prefer a leaner dish. If you don't have any bone-in, skin-on meat, you can make boneless chicken cacciatore, though you'll need to compensate for the less flavorful meat by ramping up the other ingredients.

Chicken cacciatore is made by browning the meat in oil until the skin is crispy, sauteing the veggies, and then baking the ingredients in a flavorful tomato-based sauce until the chicken is so tender it starts to fall off the bone. Many recipes use red wine for the sauce, but you can also opt for red wine vinegar diluted with water if you'd prefer to avoid alcohol.

2. Ratatouille

When you want a filling, elegant main dish made with nothing but vegetables, look no further than ratatouille. As Jeanine Donofrio explained, "Ratatouille is a Provençal vegetable stew made with late summer vegetables like zucchini, eggplant, peppers, and tomatoes. It's one of my all-time favorite dishes because it's simple to make but insanely flavorful and fresh." It is often made with slices of fresh tomato (as in, tomatoes you've just picked from the garden), but as Donofrio noted, it doesn't have to be. 

"If you don't have fresh tomatoes on hand, you could use tomato sauce instead of them," she said. "Saute the other vegetables first, until they're tender. Then add the tomato sauce and simmer until the ratatouille thickens." In addition to swapping out fresh tomatoes in favor of tomato sauce, you can mix and match vegetables. The main thing is to celebrate freshness, so if you see peppers, summer squash, and potatoes that look particularly delicious and newly-harvested, skip the eggplant and use those instead.

3. Shakshuka

One of Jeanine Donofrio's favorite uses for tomato sauce is shakshuka, the North African and Middle Eastern dish made by simmering eggs in a flavorful tomato-based sauce. If you love poached eggs and wish you could eat them for dinner as well as breakfast, this is the perfect excuse. Alternatively, if you simply want to take your breakfast up a notch, shakshuka is the way to do it. The dish also has the benefit of being healthy and well-rounded, featuring a medley of vegetables and lots of protein.

Eggs, tomatoes, and red pepper make up the bulk of shakshuka, but the magic happens with the spices. Make sure you have all of them stocked in your spice cabinet before you start the recipe to ensure you can enjoy the flavor-packed, balanced dish in all its glory. Specifically, you need garlic, cumin, paprika (regular, smoked and sweet paprika all work), and red pepper flakes. Fresh cilantro adds a pop of color and freshness when you serve the dish, while feta infuses it with a sharp taste and creamy texture to complement the silky egg yolks and spicy tomato sauce.

4. Eggplant parmesan

For those evenings when you want Italian comfort food but are either tired of pasta or don't have any in your pantry, eggplant parmesan will come to the rescue. It's the vegetable dish that doesn't taste like vegetables, the cheesy indulgence that we can pretend (and perhaps legitimately consider) is healthy. The buttery, melt-in-your-mouth texture rivals the luxuriousness of pasta dishes, and it has the much-needed acidity of tomatoes to cut through all the richness. In short, there is no reason to miss pasta when you have eggplants in your fridge, and you might even prefer this variation.

Our recipe calls for breading eggplant rounds in flour, whisked eggs, and seasoned breadcrumbs, then baking and assembling them on a bed of tomato sauce before covering them in mozzarella and more sauce. You can use any type of tomato sauce for this purpose. A meaty bolognese will make the dish more filling and decadent, while arrabbiata will add an edge of heat. A simple jar of marinara, however, will allow the cheesy, breaded eggplant to shine, resulting in a balance of flavors and textures that equals pure bliss on a fork.

5. Sloppy joes

Sloppy joes might sound like a slapdash concoction for easy-to-please meat lovers, but there is an alchemy to the recipe. Sure, it's relatively quick to make, but that doesn't mean it tastes that way. With its sweet and sour sauce, buttery ground meat, and fluffy buns, it is a masterclass in texture and flavor pairings. Our recipe takes only 30 minutes to make and will wow you with its intense taste. Although the ingredients list is long, you likely have most if not all of it in your pantry and fridge already. You'll need ground beef, onions, bell pepper, garlic, tomato sauce, ketchup, brown sugar, Worcestershire sauce, mustard, onion powder, garlic powder, and buns.

If you're running short on time, you could even swap the ground beef for bolognese sauce, though the result will be significantly more liquidy and less meaty. If you don't have burger buns, any type of bread can be used to sop up the delicious sauce. Make sure to serve the sloppy joes immediately to prevent the buns from becoming soggy. If you need to make them ahead, just store the sauce separately and wait to assemble them until just before serving.

6. Chili

Chili is a versatile comfort food that can be just as nutritious or indulgent as you want it to be. Whether you're making a nutritious vegetarian version or a meaty cheese-topped one, there is a chili recipe to suit every preference and occasion. Jeanine Donofrio noted that tomato sauce is particularly handy if you're making soups and stews in the winter when tomatoes are out of season. Instead of settling for fresh tomatoes that have been shipped thousands of miles or were grown indoors, just grab a jar of tomato sauce made with juicy tomatoes packed in peak season and marvel at the superior results.

The hardest part about making chili is choosing what kind you want to make. For a healthy vegetarian option that is still filling and packed with protein, try our three-bean chili recipe. Made with a mixture of kidney, pinto, and black beans, it has a creamy texture and vibrant flavor. For a veggie-packed version that incorporates grain, our healthy freekeh chili recipe offers a unique spin on a familiar formula. Freekeh is roasted green wheat and is valued for its nutritional profile and meaty texture. For a more traditional option, you can't go wrong with slow cooker chili. Set aside 10 minutes in the morning to prep the ingredients and fill the cooker and you'll have a hearty dinner ready by the late afternoon.

7. Moussaka

Looking for a rich, filling meal that hits the same notes as lasagna? Moussaka is the Greek eggplant and mashed potato casserole that will leave you and your dinner companions wishing for more. It is full of deliciously decadent ingredients like ground beef or lamb, cheese, and mashed potatoes, but the mixture of spices and aromatics takes it to the next level and distinguishes it from a classic shepherd's pie. The traditional flavor profile includes everything from mint and cinnamon to garlic and nutmeg. Whether you want to treat yourself to a show-stopping dinner that will leave you with mouthwatering leftovers or make a dinner to impress your friends, moussaka fits the bill.

Make sure to leave plenty of time for this recipe. It takes about an hour and 25 minutes to prepare and 45 minutes to cook, but trust us, every minute of the process translates directly into flavor and texture and is, without question, worth it. It's made by layering baked eggplant, tomato-based meat sauce, and a creamy bechamel or mashed potato topping into a casserole dish and baking until it's browned and fragrant. Although many recipes call for crushed tomatoes, a simple tomato passata will work just as well.

8. Pizza

If you're looking for the most crowd-pleasing way to use up a jar of tomato sauce without involving pasta, you'd be hard-pressed to find anything as universally appealing as pizza. It might be a daunting prospect at first, but our Neapolitan pizza recipe is beginner-friendly. All you need is a handful of ingredients and some patience while you wait for the dough to rise. If you're pressed for time, however, you can purchase premade pizza dough at most supermarkets.

Neapolitan pizza is a celebration of simplicity, boasting nothing but red sauce, mozzarella, and Parmesan. If you want to add some flavor without straying too far from the classic recipe, opt for marinara sauce instead of plain passata. The hints of garlic and basil in marinara will considerably elevate the flavor. If you want to make your own pizza dough but don't have hours of free time before dinner, you can prepare it one or even two days in advance. By the time the cooking part comes around, all you have to do is wait for the oven to preheat, roll out the dough, top it with sauce and cheese, and cook it for seven minutes.

9. Meatloaf

Meatloaf is old-fashioned, but that doesn't mean you can't bring it into the 21st century with a few tweaks. You could get complicated by overhauling the whole recipe, or, you could keep things simple by whipping up a quick glaze or sauce. Even just a few ingredients can change the entire flavor of the dish, taking it from a bland, uninspired meal of yesteryear to a delicious main course to please dinner companions of all ages. 

Our sweet and sour meatloaf recipe provides the ideal blueprint, calling for a glaze made of tomato sauce, sugar, vinegar, and yellow mustard. It takes only a few minutes to whip together and is the perfect way to occupy yourself while the meatloaf is in the oven. To allow the glaze to seep into the meatloaf and infuse it with flavor, take the dish out of the oven 10 to 20 minutes before it's done cooking. Then, spread the glaze on top and finish baking the meatloaf for the remaining period.

10. Spanish or Mexican rice

Rice is a dinnertime staple that many of us incorporate into our meals on a weekly basis. It's an excellent base ingredient for stir-fries and an ideal starchy side dish to balance out meat and legumes, but it can also be a bit boring on its own. That's where Spanish rice comes in, a recipe that Jeanine Donofrio identified as one of her favorite uses for tomato sauce. Colorful, moist, and full of flavor, it's the perfect way to brighten up a routine meal with little effort.

There are many ways to make Spanish rice (and Mexican rice). First off, some form of tomato is a must. You could use fresh tomatoes and let the rest of the ingredients provide the majority of the flavor, or hit two birds with one stone and use tomato sauce. In fact, if you want to keep things as simple as possible, cook the rice in marinara and water and you'll have delicious results. For maximum flavor, however, a combination of tomato sauce, garlic, and chili peppers or chili flakes is all you need. Garnish the dish with fresh cilantro and serve it alongside your protein of choice.

11. Menemen

If you're a fan of shakshuka, you need to try menemen. The Turkish tomato-based egg dish is similar to its North African and Middle Eastern cousin, but with some key differences. Both are made by cooking eggs in tomato sauce with onions and peppers, but whereas shakshuka involves poaching the eggs in the other ingredients, menemen often involves scrambling the eggs. Another distinction is that menemen focuses on bright, fresh flavors rather than warming spices. Where shakshuka is defined by its aromatic mixture of cumin, paprika, and chili, menemen highlights the vegetables by including only a dash of red pepper flakes and perhaps a scant amount of dried oregano. Some recipes don't even use onions.

To make menemen, saute the peppers and onion (if using) before adding the tomato sauce. Given how mild the dish is, it's best to stick to a sauce with minimal flavor. You could even use plain passata, though a mild marinara will provide a hint of complexity. Once the mixture is heated, add whisked eggs. At this stage, you might prefer to push the tomato sauce to one side so the eggs don't become part of the liquid, though in some versions, they are meant to be seamlessly incorporated. Once the eggs are set, you can take the pan off the heat and serve the dish with warm slices of bread.

12. Calzones

Italian cuisine is often reduced to pasta dishes, but as any enthusiast knows, it goes much further than that. From deliciously fresh salads to decadent tiramisu, Italian cuisine is vast, varied, and has something for every dietary and flavor preference. Calzones, for example, are often eclipsed by pizza due to their similarities, but they bring their own set of delicious credentials to the table.

Calzones are folded pizzas, with a half-moon shape similar to empanadas. They are filled with cheese (usually ricotta, parmesan, and mozzarella), as well as cured meat and vegetables. Unlike their doughy cousins stromboli, which are long cylinders of filled dough, calzones are not filled with tomato sauce, but it's practically mandatory to include some form of sauce for dipping. Our recipe calls for combining tomato sauce, tomato paste, oregano, basil, garlic powder, onion powder, pepper, salt, sugar to make a dipping sauce, but you could also simplify things by using a jar of your favorite marinara or arrabbiata sauce.

13. Meatball subs

A classic meatball sub is a deliciously messy affair, dripping with sauce and melted cheese and refusing to contain its meaty filling. Homemade, it's even better. Nothing beats freshly made pork and beef meatballs or the flavor of a sandwich served right out of the oven. However, making meatball subs takes time, especially when you're mixing, shaping, and baking the meatballs from scratch and creating the tomato sauce. Our homemade meatball sub recipe takes about 35 minutes to make, but you can cut down on the hands-on time by swapping the freshly-made sauce with a jar of your favorite tomato sauce.

To make the meatballs, you need ground pork, ground beef, thyme, oregano, an egg, breadcrumbs, and Parmesan cheese. Mix these ingredients, shape the mixture into balls, and bake them for about 15 minutes. Grab a jar of arrabbiata, marinara, or puttanesca sauce if you're feeling fancy, and let the baked meatballs simmer in the liquid for about five minutes. Assemble the subs on hoagie rolls, topping the meatballs and sauce with thick slices of mozzarella. Place the loaded subs in the oven until the cheese has melted and the bread is crispy, and prepare to be blown away by the results.

14. Chana masala

Chana masala is a healthy vegetarian dish hailing from Northern India. Made with chickpeas and a combination of vibrant spices, it is full of flavor and substantial enough to serve as a main dish. As Jeanine Donofrio told us, "Traditional chana masala is often made with fresh tomatoes, but I like to use canned tomatoes in the winter. Tomato sauce would work too." In addition to chickpeas and tomatoes, our recipe includes a jalapeño, garlic, fresh ginger, coriander, cumin, garam masala, and turmeric.

When swapping tomato sauce for fresh tomatoes, Donofrio has a few tips to ensure the result is equally tasty. "[Tomato sauce] has a more assertive flavor than fresh tomatoes," she explained, "so make sure to simmer the chana masala long enough to let the 'canned' tomato taste mellow. A pinch of sugar can also help balance an acidic tomato sauce. Lastly, a squeeze of fresh lemon juice and a handful of cilantro will add bright, fresh flavor."