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Marinara

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This kid-friendly recipe is healthy and hearty, and it will taste even better in the summer thanks to the super fresh vegetables used. 

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Stella Rosa, of the wine fame, also makes a decent marinara. The Stella Marinara, according to the bottle, doesn't actually contain any wine (though, puzzlingly, the same product is listed on the Ralphs website as containing red wine).

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This is a funny entry from Trader Joe's, a.k.a. the place we go to for frozen food and tiny cups of free coffee. This marinara wins a couple of points because of value — a jar, while small (18 oz., instead of the typical 24 or 25), costs only $1.39. And the taste is not bad, if a little herb-heavy. What's interesting is that while many jarred marinaras commit the sin of being too sweet, this one is nearly too salty.

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It takes a cool hand to be one of history's biggest movie stars and have your own food business. But Paul Newman wasn't just interested in the color of money. There's an absence of malice in his wading into pizza, dressings and sauces, and the funds raised for charity prove he's no hustler.

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This sauce is a little too sweet and has a long, citric finish, like orange juice that's been out a day too long. It hits even sweeter when eaten with pasta. The packaging, with a cute hourglass-shaped bottle, is attractive, however.

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Barilla is a huge player in U.S. pasta consumption as well as in Europe, where it's carved out nearly 17% of the market — more than twice any other single brand. It stands to reason that it would make sauce, as well.

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Simple Truth is a Kroger brand and makes a better marinara than Kroger's fancy brand, Private Selection. I didn't include Private Selection, as they're both from Kroger, but here's a little bonus ranking: Private Selection marinara tastes like sugary tomato paste and is non buono.

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Mezzetta, a California-based company that coined the slogan "Don't Forgetta Mezzetta," makes an excellent sauce, in addition to jarred olives and preserved veggies. This one has a bright, strong tomato flavor and is quite onion-forward (I like that but not everyone will). It has a smooth texture and slightly smoky flavor, and it avoids one of the most common pitfalls that afflict jarred marinaras — not being oily enough. This has plenty of that good olive oil flavor.

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Silver Palate is a name you may know from Sheila Lukins and Julee Rosso's 1982 cookbook or their Upper West Side shop that preceded it. The user-friendly book, with charming illustrations by Lukins, could be found in almost every kitchen I remember growing up in suburban Chicago. "It was the 'it' cookbook," says my mom.

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Victoria ticks off the biggest and most important checkbox when judging marinara: Does it taste more or less how a simple homemade sauce tastes? This does, and then some. Victoria tastes of tomatoes and olive oil; it's not too sweet and has a fantastic texture — superior to that of Rao's, which I'd say is ever so slightly too thick.

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As with cooking a good piece of Wagyu beef, sometimes all you need to do is not mess it up. Whole Foods did a good job here — they didn't mess it up. This has good tomato flavor, is not too sweet and has a fairly loose texture. There are some seeds and skin here, which makes for an active eating experience. Fun fact: Jeff Bezos personally prepares and taste-tests every batch of Whole Foods marinara! (Editor's note: This is false.)

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It's the Costco house brand. And while they may sell only the finest in jeans, dress shirts (one lasted me almost 15 years, true story!) and 72-pound wheels of Parmigiano Reggiano, the marinara doesn't quite live up to that majesty.

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I don't love strong herbiness in my marinara, but if you do, this is a good option. Lots of onions and the herbs are noticeable but don't overpower. This sauce isn't too sweet and there's a nice, almost smoky, cooked-down tomato flavor.

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Pizza pinwheels are a perfect option if you're struggling with dinner ideas and want to put something on the table fast.

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