An Ode to Rao’s

“Ahhhhh I just shattered the Rao’s!” I yelled out, staring in shock at the sea of red tomato sauce pooling on the floor. 

“Don’t move!” my roommate said as she ran over. “I’m a pro at cleaning broken glass.”

I grabbed some paper towels to soak up the sauce as she carefully gathered the pieces. 

“Oh, there’s still some left in the cracked jar!” I exclaimed. “We definitely have to save that.”

She looked at me like I was crazy as I scooped every bit of precious sauce clinging to the sides of the glass. She didn’t share my obsession with Rao’s, clearly. 

Rao’s Homemade Marinara Sauce is the single best pasta sauce that exists on this Earth. It’s made with hand-picked plum tomatoes from Southern Italy. They are simmered in pure olive oil then flavored with garlic and onions. Basil, oregano, and pinches of salt and pepper compose the final touch, resulting in a mixture so delicious that you won’t even mind the $8 price tag.

Photo Courtesy of Food Navigator.

Despite my tight college-student grocery budget, I still fit in this perfect pasta sauce week after week. I think the story of why this pasta sauce feels so close to my heart begins in a warm kitchen in a blue Victorian home about 30 miles north of my BC kitchen.

Ever since I can remember, pasta with cold tomato sauce—yes, cold—has been my very favorite comfort food. The rest of my family prefers to heat sauce up prior to serving.

“But the pasta is already warm! The sauce doesn’t need to be warm too,” I would complain, staring up at my mother as she stirred the sauce on the stove. 

“You can put your Ragu back in the fridge,” she’d say, giving in. “I’ll just heat the Prego.”

Throughout my childhood, we had two different pasta sauces stocked up at all times. I insisted on only eating Ragu, but my mom was a strong supporter of Prego. She thought Ragu was too sweet, too kid-friendly. I thought Prego tasted too healthy, too adult. So, we purchased two sauces on each and every Shaw’s trip; polarized sauce preferences became essential personality components.  

One day, I remember seeing the word “cheese” printed on the Ragu ingredients list and almost dropping the jar in surprise. Another essential part of my personality: I hate cheese. In fact, you could almost say I’m afraid of it. I was disgusted to learn that I had unknowingly been eating it and never consumed a drop of Ragu again.

 Somewhere along the way, a friend introduced me to Rao’s.

“It’s healthier,” she said, “better for you if you’re going to eat pasta as much as you do.”

I was hooked from my very first bite. Enthusiastic about my new discovery, I announced to my mom that I would be switching my sauce brand. 

We are the sort of family that takes pasta seriously and never dips under 20 or so boxes in the pantry. After my sauce conversion, my mom swapped all the Ragu for Rao’s on the shelves. Since I was a picky child, she was happy to buy food that I expressed interest in.

Many years beyond my Ragu days, my mom still swears by Prego. But for me, Rao’s has become an essential part of our pasta-cooking tradition. Instead of looking up at my mom now while she’s stirring her sauce, I stand side-by-side with her to prepare the pasta. She warms her Prego, and I pour out my beloved, chilled Rao’s. 

Photo Courtesy of Serious Eats.

Rao’s was born from an Italian family restaurant and eventually became a packaged sauce. I like that—a sauce that has a story. Certainly, it’s a central part of my story, or I wouldn’t have been so heartbroken to see it spilled on the floor. I’m still in the process of converting both my roommates and my family, but I know they’ll get there someday. Life’s too short to eat mediocre pasta sauce. 

Cover Photo Courtesy of What’s Gabby Cooking.

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