It's one of the universal truths of life that everyone in America, no matter how deeply into home cooking and made-from-scratch dishes they may be, has used bottled pasta sauce at one time or another. Anyone who says differently is either misremembering or flat-out lying.
The problem is finding good bottled pasta sauce. Some of them contain a laundry list of unpronounceable ingredients; the vast majority contain sugar, presumably to make up for tomatoes that are not what they should be. Of those few sauces that remain, at least half don't actually taste good, which is why I was not expecting much from the Monte Bene garlic marinara sauce I bought at Mother's Market.
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I bought it because of the ingredients list, which is refreshingly short and whose first ingredient was the principal reason I bought it in the first place: "New Jersey Vine-Ripened Tomatoes."
I am, after all, a proud son of New Jersey, and it is a truth that ought to be universally acknowledged that there is no better tomato on this continent than the Jersey tomato, grown in clay-rich soil and allowed to ripen on the vine. A sauce that calls out its use of the pride of the Garden State had to come home for a taste test.
I wasn't disappointed. The sauce is great. It tastes exactly like the marinara sauce that is served in pizzerias and red-sauce, checkered-tablecloth Italian restaurants from Wyckoff to Wildwood. It clings to pasta; it spreads perfectly on pizza, and it served as the canonical dipping sauce for homemade calzones.
I don't remember the cost; it was $5 or so for the bottle, I think, but well-worth it. If you're going to substitute bottled sauce, it might as well be a good bottled sauce. This is cheaper and better than Rao's; pick up a bottle at any Henry's, Whole Foods or Mother's Market and try it.