16 Things To Add To Spaghetti When You Don’t Have Sauce

Fancy a quick bowl of spaghetti but don’t have any sauce to go with it? I know how you feel.

I have often been left scratching my head wondering what I can use from my store cupboard to make my meal a little bit tastier than just plain pasta. I’ve discovered a few ways to give your dish some extra flavor.

To make your spaghetti more interesting try garlic breadcrumbs, chili, fresh herbs, pesto, cream cheese, anchovies, tuna, fresh garlic, sun-dried tomatoes, olive tapenade, grated cheese, olive oil, bacon, vegetables, or canned tomatoes.

I’ve put together a list of 16 different things (sometimes a combination of ingredients) you can add to spaghetti when you don’t have any sauce. I’ve also added some recipes and ideas on how to use them to make a delicious pasta dish.

Garlic Breadcrumbs

I’ve seen this referred to as “poor man’s parmesan” which is a great description. It is a simple recipe that consists of frying garlic in some oil, then adding breadcrumbs until they get crispy, and seasoning with salt and pepper. You can add chili flakes, lemon zest, or anchovies to add some extra flavor.

Mix with the spaghetti strands and it has a great crunchy texture and savory flavor. See a recipe for spaghetti with garlic breadcrumbs.

Canned tomatoes

If you don’t have a sauce but you do have a can of tomatoes and some dried herbs, then you have all you need to make your own homemade version.

Just mix the tomatoes (juice and all) with some dried oregano, thyme, basil, etc. plus salt and pepper in a pan, bring to a boil, and let it simmer for a few minutes until thickened. 

Then just stir it through cooked spaghetti and grate some cheese over for a delicious meal. You can also make a sauce with fresh tomatoes, either peeled or unpeeled.


When you don’t have any pasta sauce, a jar of pesto is a great alternative. It’s packed full of basil and pine nut flavors and all you need to do is add it to some cooked pasta and stir through.

You can also make your own pesto from scratch and even freeze it so that you’ve always got some to hand when you need it.


Don’t be afraid to use bacon in your pasta dishes. Cook the bacon until crispy then add it to cooked spaghetti along with some garlic and olive oil for a simple but delicious meal.

You can also use pancetta, pepperoni, ham, or sausage for this instead, whatever you have hanging around in the fridge. They all make for a tasty dish and you can even try combining them with a can of tomatoes (see above) for a more hearty meal.

Grated cheese

Parmesan, pecorino, or any other hard cheese you have will all do the trick.

Simply grate the cheese over your favorite spaghetti or pasta dish along with a grind of black pepper for an extra cheesy kick.

This very simple dish actually has a name – ‘cacio e pepe’, and if you have a little more time you can follow this recipe for spaghetti with cheese and pepper to make it just a bit more special.

Garlic and Chili

Combining garlic with chili, parsley, and olive oil is what’s known as ‘spaghetti aglio e olio’. No two recipes for this classic dish are the same as every cook has their own favorite way of preparing it.

For a basic method try simply frying garlic and chili in olive oil until fragrant before adding to cooked spaghetti. Sprinkle on some parsley for a delicious meal.

Here’s another version I’ve found that is slightly different but looks very tasty, especially if you like lots of garlic!

Fresh Herbs

Sometimes simple is best and if you have some fresh herbs available like parsley, basil, oregano, thyme, or rosemary, these are all great options for adding extra flavor to your spaghetti dish without having to use any kind of sauce.

Just chop up some of these fresh herbs before stirring them into the cooked spaghetti together with a drizzle of olive oil and some grated cheese for the easiest of tasty dishes.

Cream Cheese

There’s actually nothing more comforting than a bowl of pasta in a good creamy, cheesy sauce and you can make it easily by just mixing in a tub of cream cheese to a pan of cooked spaghetti together with a little bit of seasoning.

I’ve found a recipe for easy cheesy spaghetti that goes into this in a little bit more detail and will I’m sure become a family favorite.

Anchovy Paste

A little bit of anchovy paste or oil can go a long way in terms of adding a real umami flavor to your spaghetti dish without the need for anything else, especially if you are not using any type of sauce. 

Simply cook the pasta and add the paste just before serving for maximum impact, making sure to mix it in thoroughly.

Cheese and tomatoes

Pasta with cheese and tomatoes is a classic Italian dish known as ‘pasta allo scarpariello’ and has quite a few variations like most pasta recipes.

Here is one simple version I’ve found from Giallo Zafferano that takes just 20 minutes to make and uses hard Italian cheese like Pecorino or Parmigiano together with fresh tomatoes plus some aromatics. Try it and you will not be disappointed.


From mushrooms to spinach and peppers, you can add pretty much any type of vegetable you have to hand for added flavor and nutrition.

It couldn’t really be simpler, just cook the vegetables using your favorite method before adding to your cooked spaghetti. You could try roasting, stir-frying or just boiling them, whatever takes your fancy.


If you don’t have any tomato-based sauce but have some cream and a little cheese in the fridge try using these instead.

A simple mix of cooked spaghetti, cream, and some grated cheese will make a deliciously creamy pasta dish. Try sprinkling with some spices or other chili flakes for an extra kick of flavor.

Olive Tapenade

This delicious condiment is made from olives, capers, and anchovies, making it a great addition to any spaghetti dish if you have some in the kitchen.

Just stir it through cooked spaghetti with a little bit of saved pasta water before serving for an extra hit of flavor.

You can make this from scratch if you have some basic ingredients available and I’ve found a fabulous spaghetti with chunky tapenade recipe if you would like to try your hand at this.


The humble tin of tuna is always a great standby in the kitchen and it goes really well with spaghetti. 

Just flake the drained tuna through cooked spaghetti before serving it for an easy, tasty, and nutritious meal. Simplicity itself!

I like tuna, chili, and garlic fried in olive oil on my spaghetti.

If you’re feeling a little more adventurous and also have some frozen peas in the freezer, try out this popular and delicious creamy tuna pasta recipe for an easy weeknight dinner.

Sun-Dried Tomatoes

If you have some of these hiding in your store cupboard they are a great addition to spaghetti and will add lots of concentrated flavor.

Simply take some of your sun-dried tomatoes and chop them up before adding them to cooked spaghetti along with some olive oil and seasoning for a really quick and easy, but tasty meal.

Make A Stir Fry

Did you know you can use spaghetti instead of egg noodles when making Asian dishes? I wrote a whole article on using spaghetti in your stir fries and noodle soups here!

Just cook the spaghetti fairly ‘al dente’ so it doesn’t fall apart in the wok. Fry garlic, onion, chili, and your favorite veggies or meat. Add the spaghetti last and a splash of soy sauce, mix up, and serve.


So there you have it. With the help of these 16 ideas, you can create a delicious spaghetti dish even when you don’t have any sauce on hand.

What’s great about these is that they are also very quick and easy to make, so you can enjoy a delicious meal without having to spend hours in the kitchen.

So next time you find yourself in this situation, try out one of these tasty alternatives instead. Just get creative and enjoy your meal.

Tom Hambly

Tom Hambly is the founder of Boss The Kitchen. With a background in cooking and building websites, he enjoys running this site to help other cooks improve. About Tom Hambly.

One thought on “16 Things To Add To Spaghetti When You Don’t Have Sauce

  1. I LOVE your endless creativity and capacity to think out of the recipe box!!!
    Very rich and inspiring…..

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