Light and delicate like a lemon-white wine or as hearty and robust as a meaty Bolognese sauce, the flavors you enjoy in Italian foods are often wrapped up in the sauce. There are so many different variations on Italian sauces we thought you might like to know the main ingredients of the most popular ones.
To provide this information we took two routes. First, we made and ate a lot of pasta sauce. Second, we resorted to the Internet and did some searches, for example: the difference between marinara and spaghetti sauce.
The first path was extremely satisfying (full belly, warm contented feeling) while the Internet just served to confuse us even more than we would normally be.
People can’t even seem to agree on what marinara sauce means, although the best explanation is that it was a sauce developed for use on sailing ships and was quick to prepare. Since it had no meat and tomatoes are acidic it produced a sauce that didn’t spoil. Remember, they didn’t have refrigerators in the 17th century.
Most marinara recipes call for tomatoes, garlic, olive oil, pepper and, at the chef’s prerogative, basil and/or oregano. Spaghetti sauce can be made with or without meat, is usually thicker than marinara and usually contains more spices and flavor ingredients. Plus, it is usually cooked for a longer time to mellow and blend the flavors.
Meat sauce and Bolognese sauce are the same thing. A spaghetti sauce, obviously enough, with meat.
Pesto sauce is made by pureeing fresh basil, garlic, Parmesan cheese and (in one recipe we saw, walnuts) and then liquefying it with EVOO (oops…extra virgin olive oil).
It’s not my favorite sauce but the story behind puttanesca sauce is one of my most delightful memories. On a trip to Venezuela (long before Hugo Chavez took over), we were seated in a restaurant and watched the waiter prepare a dish for a table of Caracas businessmen. When he came to take our order I asked what the dish he had prepared was…it wasn’t on the menu. He looked at my wife, thought a moment, and then told us that it was spaghetti for ladies of the night.
Puttanesca is made from all the cheapest ingredients so when the “ladies of the night” would take a break from their duties at the bordello they would go to the nearby pasta restaurant and order the inexpensive dish. It’s got tomatoes, garlic, anchovy fillets, black olives, capers, red pepper flakes and olive oil.