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Seven Traditional, Gourmet Italian Sauces for Pasta

By Edited Jun 22, 2015 2 4

Traditional Italian Pasta Sauces are Still the Best

Rainbow Pasta(103495)
When it comes to modern, gourmet Italian sauces for pasta recipes, there are as many variations as there are chefs. Italian sauces for pasta have been embraced by every culture and modified to suit their particular tastes. Each of these recipes incorporates the flavors of their respective nations and produces a delicious but untraditional pasta sauce.

Traditional Italian sauces for pasta, however, are still the yardstick by which all these newer sauces are measured. While the recipes for traditional or authentic pasta sauces are not set in stone, there is some agreement on how they should look and taste. By any account, each is worth a taste or an attempt in the kitchen.

Here are seven of the best Italian sauces for pasta that are fairly simple to make, truly authentic and incredibly delicious.


Pomorola - The Classic Italian Tomato Sauce

Classic Italian Tomato Sauce
The first record of a tomato-based pasta sauce is from an Italian cookbook dated 1790 although the use of tomato sauces in non pasta dishes is at least a century older.. The Italian people and their chefs are justifiably proud of this wonderful contribution to the culinary record of the world.

There are any number of variations on the traditional Italian tomato sauce but he basic sauce is always the same. It is a simple combination of  pureed tomatoes, garlic and a mirepoix sautéed in olive oil and then highlighted by the addition of bay leaves. This sauce can be served as is over pasta but most chefs prefer to add some basil, oregano and red wine for a more “Italian” taste.



Marinara - A Touch of the Sea

ravioli Marinara
Though the entirety of Italy is inextricably entwined with the sea, the southern half of the country has truly embraced the culinary abundance of the Mediterranean. One of the foremost creations from this area is the world renowned “Mariner’s Sauce,” more familiarly known as Marinara.

Its creation is attributed to the sailors of the southern Italian city of Naples after the introduction of the tomato by Spanish sailors. Authentic Italian marinara takes the traditional Italian tomato sauce and adds capers, olives and sometimes a variety of fresh seafood. It should not be confused with the red sauce or “gravy” known as marinara in the cities of the American northeast. Italian marinara dishes, especially those made with fish , crustaceans or mollusks pair well with a variety of lighter red wines such as Dolcetto or a Montepulciano.



For Hot and Fiery Fanatics - Arrabbiata Sauce

Arrabbiata Sauce for Pasta
Arrabbiata sauce is the fieriest of the traditional Italian sauces. It is a combination of the standards - garlic, tomatoes and olive oil - with the dried flakes of red chili peppers. “Arrabbiata” translates as “angry” and the sauce can, indeed, induce and angry digestive tract.

If you are looking for a hot and spicy alternative to the usual tomato sauce for pasta, try Sugo all’Arrabbiata. It is customarily served over penne, rigatoni or other cylinder shaped pastas. Naturally, dishes that incorporate this sauce should be accompanied by a robust wine like Chianti especially the Chianti Classico versions. (It’s even better if you can find a decent vintage in a straw covered bottle. Look for the rooster on the wine cork.)



Rich and Creamy - Bolognese Sauce

The people of Bologna have been serving one of the most famous meat-based sauces for pasta, Ragu all

Bolognese Sauce
a Bolognese, for over 100 years. The original, credited to Pellegrino Artusi in 1891, combines finely chopped onions, carrots, pancetta and veal sautéed in butter with some chicken or veal stock. The result is then finished with some cream.

Ragù alla Bolognese is traditionally served over taleteller or fettuccine and makes an unusually good, Italian inspired, substitute in any lasagna recipe for the usual French sauce, Béchamel. The bright fruity flavor of a Sangiovese is an excellent counterpoint to any dish containing this rich, earthy sauce.



Stolichnaya Vodka
A Modern Twist - Vodka Sauce

Considered the most  recently invented of the traditional Italian pasta sauces, Vodka sauce is still a favorite among  the young. The putative reason for the vodka in the recipe is to release the latent flavors of the tomato that are not otherwise available. Most Italian chefs are reticent on the subject and point to the inclusion of wine in many traditional recipes. In other words, it is considered a tawdry substitute for a proper Chianti and a mere marketing ploy.

Still, the recipe for Penne alla Vodka has enjoyed world wide success and can be found on the menus of Italian restaurants everywhere. It is a simple combination of tomatos, garlic, basil and vodka and finished with some heavy cream. The majority of the alcohol is evaporated before the dish is finished and should leave the natural taste of the other ingredients behind. It is typically served with a Bud Light.



A Sauce with Roman Roots - Amatriciano

Amatriciano Sauce
Unlike the other sauces already mentioned, Sugo all’Amatriciano has its roots in the cuisine of ancient Rome rather than modern Italy. Still, the addition of tomatoes to the traditional Roman dish of gricia has culminated in the dish as we know it now.

The Romans enjoyed gricia as a  mixture of dried pork jowl meat, guanciale, and pecorino cheese. More modern Italian chefs added tomatoes in the late 17th century to enhance the texture and flavor of the dish. Guanciale is still used in Italy, but pancetta is a widely available and suitable substitute.

The current fashion is to serve Bucatini all'Amatriciana. Bucatini is a large diameter, solid pasta similar to spaghetti and balances the solid flavors and texture of the pork, cheese and tomatoes of the sauce.  Medium bodied wines such as Barberas are excellent accompaniments to this fine sauce.



A Truly Worthy Addition - Carbonara Sauce

Pasta Carbonara
Pasta Carbonara is another dish that places its roots deep in the history of Italy and its capital, Rome. The Romans would often combine bacon & eggs with cheese and produce a rudimentary version of the modern carbonara sauce without the pasta.

Te modern dish starts with pancetta fried in olive oil and previously prepared pasta. When the both are  ready, the cooked pasta is introduced to pan to finish the cooking. Finally, a mixture of beaten eggs, Romano & Pecorino cheeses and  butter or cream is added to the pan.  It takes some skill to keep the ingredients, specifically the eggs, from curdling but the result is a creamy textured sauce that firmly clings to the pasta.

While the modern dish is comprised of pasta with a pork laced sauced, it is not technically considered a sauce as the pasta is incorporated as the dish is prepared. Nevertheless, the name “carbonara” has become synonymous with the sauce that graces this wonderful dish. The pasta used is typically fettuccine or pappardelle.



Jul 15, 2012 6:48am
Thanks for this.

I love Carbonara best
Jul 15, 2012 11:19am
Thanks for the comment atthed. Hard for me to find a favorite. I love them all.
Sep 6, 2012 7:35am
Hi Great Article--being half Italian you know I was raised on lots of pasta with sause homemade. I'll have to try some of the sauses that you talk about. 2 thumbs from me
Sep 6, 2012 7:31pm
A good article! I love pasta and all things Italian. If I had to choose my favorite, it would be bolognese sauce.
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