When most people think about seasonings for spaghetti sauce, the herbs are usually the first things to come to mind. Basil and oregano are essential for spaghetti sauce, but spices are important as well. The list of spices that can show up in a spaghetti sauce recipe is varied. Some recipes can include more than six ingredients but usually, only three or four are necessary. Below, we will look at some of the most important ones. You can use these spices whether you are making a spaghetti sauce from scratch or simply want to add flavor to a pre-made one.
While black pepper is not normally associated with Italian cooking, it makes an excellent addition to a tomato-based pasta sauce. The light heat and mild piney notes deepen the flavor of the sauce. You should use black pepper sparingly as too much of it can make a pasta sauce bitter. If you are making a white pasta sauce such as an alfredo sauce, you can opt for white pepper instead.
Sweetness is one of the important flavor notes in a tomato-based pasta sauce. Brown sugar adds that sweetness along with a depth and richness that comes from its molasses content. Keep in mind that too much sweetness can make a spaghetti sauce cloying to the point of being unpalatable. You will want to use brown sugar in very small amounts. A teaspoon per quart should be adequate, but you may want to go slightly higher or lower depending on your preference.
Garlic is arguably the most important spice in spaghetti sauce after salt. Virtually every other herb or spice can be omitted but if you are unable to add garlic powder (or garlic in another form), you may actually want to try making another dish instead. Garlic brings the important aromatic and slightly sulfurous notes that define spaghetti sauce. Without it, all you have is tomato sauce. Garlic offers a lot of room for error in that you can add a lot of it without making your dish unpleasant to eat. You can also add it in multiple forms that range from dried types like dried garlic chunks and garlic powder to wet forms like minced garlic and fresh garlic.
Salt is one of the important spices in that it is often added to spaghetti sauce; however, it is not the most important. In fact, it is possible to have a perfectly enjoyable spaghetti sauce without salt as long as you use the other herbs and spices correctly. Still, salt can enhance the overall flavor profile by bringing other flavors to life. It is also important for getting other flavors to mesh with each other properly.
Note: if you are using a jarred or canned spaghetti sauce as a base for your own sauce, you may not need additional salt as the pre-made sauce will probably have some included.
Onion is another important savory note that helps to make your spaghetti sauce taste richer and meatier. It also pairs very well with garlic and with all of the herbs that you might include. You can add fresh minced onion or onion powder if you want a smoother sauce.
While black pepper will provide more than enough heat for many people, a dash or two of cayenne pepper can help to enhance the flavors of your other seasonings. Use in moderation to avoid making the dish too hot.