Pasta is generally served with some type of pasta sauce. The choice of sauce and pasta are usual based on consistency, texture, type of pasta, ease of eating and the flavor you would like to achieve.
Common pasta sauce recipes in Northern Italy include Pesto and Ragù Alla Bolognese, which usually adds meat to the sauce. In Central Italy, there are simple sauces such as tomato sauce, Amatriciana and Carbonara.
Southern Italian regions like their pasta sauce recipes to include spicy tomato, garlic, and olive oil which is used with pasta that is often paired with fresh vegetables or seafood.
Other varieties include:
- Puttanesca (lady of the night).
- Pasta Alla Norma - which has tomatoes, eggplant and fresh or baked cheese.
- Pasta Con le Sarde - with fresh sardines, pine nuts, fennel and olive oil and spaghetti Aglio.
- Olio e Peperoncino - which literally means garlic, olive oil and hot chili peppers.
Sauce Recipes Origins
Italian cuisine and sauce recipes have developed over the centuries and has been influenced by many cultures and neighboring countries. Although the country known today as Italy did not unite until the 19th century, their cuisine has traceable roots as far back as the 4th century BC.
Understanding Different Regions and Their Foods
In the North of Italy, fish, potatoes, rice, corn, sausages, pork and different types of cheeses are the most common ingredients. It's interesting to note that the tomato is essentially absent in most Northern Italian sauce recipes. Ligurian area ingredients are quite different due to the close proximity to the sea and can include several types of fish and seafood dishes, basil which is used in pesto sauce,olive oil and nuts.
In the Emilia-Romagna region, common ingredients include ham and sausage, various sorts of salami, truffles, Parmigiano Reggiano, and tomatoes in sauce recipes like Bolognese sauce or Ragu. Traditional central Italy cuisine uses ingredients such as tomatoes, many kinds of meat, fish, and Pecorino cheese.
Finally, in Southern Italy, tomatoes play a huge role in their cuisine including their sauce recipes. Whether used fresh or cooked, tomatoes are paired with assorted peppers, olives and olive oil, garlic, artichokes, ricotta cheese, eggplant, zucchini, certain types of fish like anchovies, sardines and tuna as well as capers are key ingredients in the local fare.
Red or Tomato Based Sauce Recipes
Tomato sauce is a general name used for any number of sauces where the primary sauce recipes ingredient is tomato. This sauce is served as part of the dish, rather than as a condiment. Tomato sauces are common for vegetables and meat dishes, but of course is best know as a key sauce for a variety of pasta dishes.
The majority of Italian sauces are red sauces such as:
- Siciliana from the Sicily region.
- Pescatora from the Naples area.
- Napoletana from the Naples area.
- Pizzaiola from the Naples area.
- Amatriciana and Arrabbiata from Rome.
- Ragù from the region of Bologna.
Tomatoes have a rich flavor, have a low liquid content and a very soft flesh which breaks down easily when included in tomato based sauce recipes. This makes the right composition to thicken into a sauce when they are cooked without the need to add a thickening agent like a roux. All of these qualities make them ideal for simple and appealing sauces.
The simplest tomato sauce recipes consist just of chopped tomato flesh (with the skins and seeds optionally if desired) that are cooked with a touch of olive oil and simmered until it matures in flavor and is seasoned with salt. Why not consider trying to make this simple tomato sauce recipe and experience an authentic tomato sauce on your next dish.
Additionally, if you want more flavor and texture to the tomato sauce you can add the following items...
Wine or flavored stock can be added for extra flavor if you wish to many sauce recipes. Items like garlic and onion are usually added to the sauce after being sauteed to remove any extra moisture. The sauteing is done before the tomato is added. Other seasonings and spices can include oregano, basil and parsley. Spicy red peppers or black pepper can be added to up the "heat" if desired. Chopped or ground meat is also a popular addition to create a tasty textured red meat sauce.
Italian varieties of tomato sauce recipes range from:
- Pasta Puttanesca Sauce - seasoned with anchovies, capers, garlic, chilli peppers and black olives.
- Bolognese Sauce - a predominantly minced or ground meat sauce which normally contains a small-to-moderate amount of tomato and onion.
- Arrabiata Sauce - a spicy tomato based sauce.
- Pomodoro Sauce - a smooth, thicker tomato sauce.
- Marinara Sauce - a strong tomato flavored sauce.
- Primavera Sauce - a basic tomato sauce with lots of diced vegetables used for flavor and texture.
Bechamel or White Sauce Recipes
Creamy Alfredo sauce has its origins in the history of fettuccine Alfredo. The story is that Alfredo di Lelio, an Italian restaurateur, invented fettuccine Alfredo to appeal to the disappearing appetite of his wife. However, when Hollywood movie stars Mary Pickford & Douglas Fairbanks tasted and fell in love with this dish in Rome in the late 1920s, they brought the recipe home, and it spread in popularity in North America. Americans added cream to the butter and Parmesan mixture, and thus was born "fettuccine Alfredo - American style".
Alfredo sauce can be served with pasta and vegetables as a vegetarian dish; with chicken, bacon or seafood or in any creative combination that a chef can dream up. Any kind of creamy sauce flavored with Parmesan cheese might be termed Alfredo sauce by some, yet authentic creamy Alfredo sauce is made differently. Rather than starting with a roux of butter & flour and adding milk, original Alfredo sauce is made with butter, cream, a touch of nutmeg and parmesan cheese.
Most popular Italian sauces are intended for pasta and there are a wide variety of them, because each one comes from a different region of Italy. When Italians cook pasta al forno (baked pasta) they often add Besciamella (Béchamel sauce) to the basic sauce, only to give mildness to the recipe. In recent times white sauces, with cream, are growing in popularity. Carbonara sauce is a creamy white sauce with bacon, black pepper and egg. Many variations exists so it is easy to find one that pleases everyone.
A rose sauce can be created by blending a red sauce and a white sauce. This is an excellent way to soften the bold flavor of a tomato sauce while upping the flavor in a potentially plain white sauce.
Pesto Sauce Recipes
Pesto is a sauce originating from Genoa in the Liguria region of northern Italy. The name comes from the word "Pesta" which means to pound or crush. This same Latin root through Old French also gave rise to the English word pestle. Basil, the main ingredient in traditional pesto, likely came from North Africa originally. It was first domesticated in India but the Italians really fell in love with this sweet, flavorful herb. The Ligurians around Genoa area adapted the dish to create Pesto by using a combination of basil, crushed garlic, grated hard cheese (Parmigiano-reggiano, Pecorino, etc.), and pine nuts with a little olive oil to form Pesto.
Historically, pesto is prepared in a marble mortar with a wooden pestle. The basil leaves are washed, dried, placed in the mortar with garlic and coarse salt, and crushed to a creamy consistency. The pine nuts are added and crushed together with the other ingredients. When the nuts are well-incorporated into the "paste", grated cheese and then olive oil are added and mixed.
Today, food processors and kitchen blenders can be used to make pesto easily and quickly. This eliminates alot of the work that was initially required to make fresh Pesto. In an air tight jar or container, pesto can last in the refrigerator up to a week, and can also be frozen for later use.
Pesto is commonly available in supermarkets in either green or red varieties. The red varieties are usually made with sun-dried tomatoes or red bell peppers. Think of the opportunities for not only taste but visual dish interest with the use of these colorful pesto varieties in your sauce recipes.
Pesto sauce recipes can also be customized using different nut and herb combination's. A popular, but not traditional green pesto can be made with walnuts instead of pine nuts and arugula instead of basil. Original pesto is now called pesto alla genovese or pesto genovese in both English and Italian in order to help differentiate the original basil based pesto from the new alternatives emerging.
Interesting Note: Pesto did not become popular in North America until the 1980s and 1990s.
- Pesto alla Siciliana - sometimes called simply pesto rosso (red pesto) is a sauce from Sicily similar to Pesto Genovese but with the addition of tomato and almonds instead of pine nuts, and less basil.
- Pesto alla Calabrese - a sauce from Calabria consisting of roasted or grilled bell peppers, black pepper and more which gives this pesto a distinctively spicy taste.
No matter which sauce you choose, the Italian cooking approach of using the freshest ingredients and seasonings allow for lots of flavor to naturally blend giving an unforgettable sauce experience.