Let’s face it, one of the best things about being Italian is the food. Not only do we of Roman ancestry love food, but most nationalities enjoy many of our favorite Italian dishes. It’s no secret that most every Italian meal is served with pasta, either as the main course or as a side dish. Today I thought I’d share a little information about the part of that pasta dish that gives it all its delicious flavor, the sauce.
No doubt there are dozens of different Italian sauces, and as you will recall from my sister's Shout Out last week, different sauces are best for different pasta shapes and textures. The same holds true for the meats being served, as each type of sauce tends to best complement a certain type of meat or seafood. The following is an extensive but by no means exhaustive list of Italian sauces, and if you see something that piques your interest I encourage you to give it a try. Recipes are available on our website and other locations on the internet. Let your search engine do the work for you.
Acciughe-- sauce of anchovies flavored with garlic, oil and parsley. Admittedly, this will never be a chart topper as most folks are not big fans of anchovies. However, if you enjoy them this makes a delicious pasta sauce. Served over spaghetti on Good Friday and on Christmas Eve, this has traditionally been a popular sauce when meat was removed from the meal.
Aglio e olio-- garlic, olive oil and parsley. The perfect sauce for when you're rushed for time: As soon as your pasta finishes cooking, you will be too. Who said all pasta sauce is tomato-based?
Alfredo-- butter, cream and freshly grated cheese, usually served with fettucine. The roots of this delicious dish extend deep into Italian history, though that hasn't hindered its immense popularity among people the world over. After all, who can resist fresh pasta tossed in rich butter, cream and cheese?
Amatricana-- sauce of fresh tomatoes, chopped bacon, onion and garlic, served with grated Pecorino Romano cheese. Named for the town of Amatrice, about an hour east of Rome, considered by many Italians to be birthplace of the best cooks on the peninsula. Bucatini all’amatriciana has a different flavor profile than most Italian pasta. In its purest, most classic form, the sauce has only four ingredients: cured pork, tomatoes, cheese, and hot peppers. Because of the recipe’s poor origins (this was the dish of shepherds, not statesmen), there is traditionally no onion, no garlic, no herbs.
Bolognese-- rich meat sauce flavored with chicken livers, wine, vegetables and nutmeg. Served with butter and grated cheese; sometimes cream is added to the sauce. Also called ragu in parts of Italy other than Bologna.
Burro-- butter and grated Parmesan cheese. Here is something that may come as a surprise to you: There is no such thing as Alfredo sauce in Italy. The true “white” sauce in Italy is known as pasta bianco (“pasta in white”) in the southern regions, and pasta al burro (“pasta with butter”) in the north. An Italian white sauce has nothing in it but cheese, butter, and maybe a little pepper or parsley. Light and delicious and super-fast and easy to make!
Cacciatore-- meat and vegetable sauce flavored with juniper. This thick and chunky tomato sauce is loaded with vegetables and great with meats and pastas.
Carbonara-- It's basically just bacon & eggs. It originally comes from the Apennine hills of central Italy near Rome and was a shepherd's favorite. As they meandered in the pastures with their flocks, they carried bacon, made cheese as they went and only used eggs if they were lucky enough to have some.
Frutti di mare-- is a popular multi-seafood dish along the coast of Italy. Frutti di Mare literally means “Fruit of the Sea” and can include all types of seafood, including mussels, clams, prawns and other shellfish.
Funghi e piselli-- sauce of mushrooms, bacon and fresh green peas. The sweet taste of peas blends perfectly with the strong taste of the Porcini mushrooms. Serve with spaghetti or any kind of short ridged pasta such as ‘fusilli’, ‘rigatoni’ or ‘penne rigate’.
Marinara-- sauce of fresh tomatoes, olive oil, garlic and basil. One of the beat known to Americans as a good meatless tomato-based sauce, Marinara was first created in Naples. The story goes that Neapolitan ships invented marinara sauce in the mid-16th century after Spaniards introduced the tomato (a New World fruit) to Europe. The original recipe did not contain seafood, so it was resistant to spoilage due to the high acid content of tomatoes. This made it ideal for lengthy sea voyages hundreds of years before refrigeration methods were invented.
Noci-- pounded walnuts and pine nuts with oil, garlic and chopped parsley. This sauce is easy to make and the walnuts give it a robust aroma and unique taste.
Pesto-- oil, grated cheese, pine nuts, basil and garlic pounded into a paste. Oiginating in Genoa in the Liguria region of northern Italy, pesto alla genovese consists of crushed garlic, basil, and European pine nuts blended with olive oil, Parmigiano-Reggiano, and Fiore Sardo (cheese made from sheep's milk).
Pomidoro - Translated as “golden apple”, the name came from the first tomatoes to arrive in Italy from the New World, which were all yellow! A pomodoro sauce is a lot like the marinara sauce only it's thicker, but still liquid. It feels a lot like minced tomatoes in your mouth rather than the chunks. Since it simmers for a short period of time it retains a lot of its bright red/orange color as opposed to the deeper red of sauces that simmer for hours. While some of the olive oil blends with the tomatoes, some of it does not. So the olive oil lends a shimmery orange color to the pasta and maybe even adds a slightly velvety texture.
Tartufata-- truffle sauce flavored with Marsala or white wine and garlic. It's a delicious savory condiment that is made with onions and truffles. Not the sweet candy truffles, but the earthy, brown mushrooms that are so prized for gourmet meals.
Vongole-- clam sauce with onions, tomatoes, olive oil and garlic. This is a simple sauce made with clams, garlic, olive oil, peppers and a bit of parsley. In its purest state it contains no tomatoes, cream or cheese.
Vodka- Don’t worry if you are a non-drinker, the alcohol evaporates in the process of preparing the sauce. It’s a simple and tasty sauce made with tomato sauce, vodka, and heavy cooking cream. It is usually added to penne pasta or rigatoni.