Pasta is one of the world’s most popular and beloved foods, known for its various shapes and textures. While the popularity of pasta is well known, many people overlook one of the key elements of any great pasta dish, and that’s the sauce that accompanies it!
A great pasta sauce is what sets apart a good pasta night from a great one. There are also many different types of sauce, so there’s no need to worry about boredom even if you eat a lot of pasta.
While a lot of pasta sauces do rely on tomato, there are many other options, and even tomato-based sauces can be changed and tweaked by adding various different herbs and ingredients to bring out different flavors and textures.
In this article, we’re going to look at the best pasta sauces to help you bring a little pizzazz to your next pasta night.
Types of Italian Pasta Sauce
When looking at which sauce you want to use for pasta night there are many different options. A lot of sauces use tomato as a core ingredient, however there are some great alternatives when a different flavor is required, or if you’re not a huge fan of tomatoes!
While many of these sauces are from traditional Italian cuisine, there are sauces from other parts of the world that could work just as well.
Some sauces are quite simple while others are a little more elaborate, but they are all relatively simple recipes that will impress your guests immensely when compared to pre-prepared sauces.
Bolognese is one of the most popular and delicious pasta sauces and is known to be favored by people who like to incorporate meat into their pasta dishes.
Originating in Italy, this sauce is sometimes referred to as Ragu which is another popular meat focussed pasta sauce with roots in Italian cuisine.
Ingredients to Make Bolognese
- Olive oil
- Ground nutmeg
- Beef mince/ground meat
- White wine
When you have all your ingredients prepared, put some oil and butter in your saucepan and heat it until the butter is starting to melt. Then add in your chopped onions.
How you prepare your onions is really a matter of personal preference, some people like their onions chopped quite finely while others prefer large chunks of onion, so feel free to choose how finely you want them chopped.
Fry the onions until they start to become see-through and then add in the carrots and celery, letting these cook for a couple of minutes.
These will add a lot of flavor and aroma to your sauce without overpowering the other ingredients and make a great base in a lot of other sauces and soups.
You can now add in your ground meat, minced beef being the most popular choice for bolognese.
Fry the beef until it is nicely browned and season with salt and pepper. You can now turn up the heat to medium-high and add in your wine, allowing it to cook until the wine has totally boiled off.
After this you can add a small amount of milk, lowering the heat to medium and simmering. Add in some ground nutmeg as the milk simmers.
Once the milk is totally gone you can add in your tomatoes, reducing the heat to low and letting the sauce book for anywhere between 3 to 5 hours.
Once the sauce is ready you can serve it over your pasta and top it with hard cheese such as parmesan or manchego to add a little extra flavor.
The origin of puttanesca is unclear, however, the name of this sauce is a little saucy in and of itself! This is because puttana is the Italian word for ‘prostitute’ and there are some theories that this sauce originated in one of the famous bordellos in Naples.
However some say that ‘Puttan’ is a word used by Italians as a general profanity, and it may simply mean that someone threw a bunch of leftover ‘stuff’ together which is where this sauce originates from.
Regardless of its origins, suga alla puttanesca is one of the most famous and delicious pasta sauces that is fragrant and delicious.
Ingredients to Make Puttanesca
- Anchovies (optional)
- Chilli peppers
The idea behind puttanesca is to create a wonderfully fragrant dish, which is why there are many flavorful ingredients.
To make this dish, first, sautee your garlic and anchovies in olive oil. Then add your chopped chilli peppers, diced tomatoes, capers, olives, and some oregano along with a generous helping of salt and pepper.
Reduce the heat to the lowest and then allow the ingredients to reduce over several hours.
Serve over al dente spaghetti to be traditional, or other pasta if you prefer, and add a little parsley to the top just before serving.
Marinara is one of the most beloved sauces in the world and is particularly popular among Italian Americans, where it is believed to have originated from, inspired by the traditional Italian culinary culture.
The American version is quite different from the Italian version, however, which is thinner and is tied to seafood. The American version is much thicker and is less focused on being eaten with seafood.
Ingredients to Make Marinara Sauce
- Olive oil
- Chilli Flakes
This dish is very simple, which is one of the reasons for its popularity. However, it is very tasty too, meaning inexperienced cooks can build their confidence and impress without getting overwhelmed.
All you need to do is prepare your ingredients and place them in a pot to simmer. The onion need only be chopped in half, instead of being finely chopped, and the garlic too can remain chunky.
Allow the sauce to simmer for 45 minutes and then remove the onions with a ladle. You can now smash your garlic chunks or cloves and add them to the pot, mixing them well. Season with salt and add your red chilli flakes and this sauce is ready for serving!
Pesto Pasta Sauce
Breaking away from the tomato dominated sauces, Pesto sauce is one of the most unique with its green hues and sharp, herby flavor. Pesto sauce is also quite easy to make and doesn’t require many ingredients making it another great choice for beginners.
Ingredients to Make Pesto
- Pine nuts
- Olive oil
- Parmesan cheese
To make this sauce, you’ll need a food processor or a mortar and pestle in order to combine the ingredients properly so make sure to check this before you start.
Once you’re ready, blend your garlic and pine nuts together into a fairly fine paste. Then add in washed basil leaves, crushing them into the paste with your mortar and pestle or allowing the food processor to fully combine them.
While the basil is being combined, drizzle a small amount of olive oil into the paste gradually, and then add parmesan to finish.
If you’ve ground everything properly the result will be a smooth and tasty sauce that has a stunning texture and a beautiful green color that will coat your pasta beautifully.
Ragu is one of the most ubiquitous Italian sauces (and varies by region) and Bolognese is considered one of the main variants of this sauce.
However, there are various styles of Ragu and in this particular recipe, we’re going to look at Ragu Alla Barese one of the other core Ragu variants that is a little lesser-known but is no less delicious.
Ingredients to Make Ragu Alla Barese
- Thin slices of meat (veal and horse meat are particularly popular for this dish)
- Pecorino Cheese (grated)
- Passata or tomato puree
- ½ glass of white wine
To make this dish, chop together the parsley, garlic, pepper, lardo, and pecorino to make a rough paste. Use a little of this paste in the middle of your meat slices, held in place with toothpicks.
Place your onion and some olive oil in a large pan, then add the meat rolls and lamb to the pan with a half glass of water. Cook this over a high heat and make sure to not allow the meat to burn or stick to the pan at any point.
Using a wooden spatula or spoon can really help here.
Add the wine to the pan and allow it to evaporate, then add your passata, using enough to cover the meat. Cook this over a long period on low heat and then season the sauce with salt and pepper a few minutes before serving.
You can then serve this dish immediately if you wish, or in a slightly different way by using the sauce over the pasta and serving the meat separately either as a side or additional course.
Salsa di Nochi
This pasta sauce is another one that doesn’t rely on tomatoes, using walnuts as the main ingredient.
Ingredients to Make Salsa di Nochi
- White bread
- Lemon Juice
- Olive oil
This is a very easy recipe and doesn’t require very much time at all. Simply dip your bread into the milk making sure it’s thoroughly soaked.
Then add the walnuts, parmesan, oil, and garlic making sure it’s all nicely blended. Season with salt and pepper and a little lemon juice to create a sauce that can be used with pasta or for dipping.
Funghi E Piselli
This dish is a great choice for vegetarians, however, some vegans may reject it due to the use of heavy cream. If in doubt make sure to check what your diners are comfortable with. The reason heavy cream is essential is that this is a dish defined by its rich and creamy texture.
Ingredients to Make Funghi E Piselli
- Heavy cream
- Snap peas
- Vegetable stock
- Pearl onions
- White wine
- Oil (grape seed is best)
- Lemon juice/zest
To start this dish simply fry your sliced mushrooms in the oil until they are browned, then add in your garlic. Snap your snap peas in half and blanch them for a minute in a separate pot and then also blanch your onions in a separate pot.
Then add the onions to the main pan of fried mushrooms and garlic.
Add the white wine and allow the mixture to reduce until it is almost totally dry, then adding in your heavy cream and vegetable stock. Allow the sauce to cook until it has reduced by around half and is thick but smooth.
You can now add in your blanched peas and the lemon zest/juice, allowing the sauce to simmer on a low heat.
This sauce is another traditional Italian option focused on using cured pork cheek and tomatoes as well as pecorino cheese and hails from Amatrice.
Ingredients to Make Amatriciana
- Guaniciale (cured pork cheeks)
- Basil Leaves
- Olive oil
This sauce is relatively easy to prepare. Simply blend your tomatoes to form a smooth puree (you can use a passata if you really need to but fresh tomatoes blended to make a much better flavor). Then set this puree aside and fry the pork cheeks in olive oil.
Once the meat has browned add in your pepper, garlic, and fry for a minute or two. You can now add in the tomato puree, basil leaves, and salt, allowing this mixture to reduce on a low heat for 15 minutes until it thickens and darkens in color.
It can then be served immediately over any pasta you like!
Alfredo is a rich and creamy sauce that is best served with chicken, however, this isn’t essential.
The recipe is very simple and only calls for a few ingredients also.
Ingredients to Make Alfredo
- Heavy cream
- Cream cheese
- Parmesan Cheese
- Italian seasoning
To make this sauce, simply add your whipping cream, butter and cream cheese into a saucepan, whisking it until everything has melted together.
Add in your salt and pepper as well as the garlic and italian seasoning, continuing to whisk these in until the sauce has smoothed out and no discernible ingredients are visible. Grate your parmesan over the top of this sauce and then cook until the sauce thickens.
This is another lovely option for vegans that is very simple and has a lot of flavor as well as the many nutritional benefits that beans provide.
Ingredients to Make Bean Bolognese
- Vegetable stock
- Bay leaves
- Olive Oil
Take your onions, carrots and celery and fry them in a little olive oil, then add the garlic and tomato paste when the onions start to turn translucent. Stir this for roughly 2 minutes and then add your wind, allowing the mixture to simmer on a high heat.
You can now add your rosemary, passata/tomatoes, bay leaves and vegetable stock, allowing it to simmer on a low heat for 10 to 15 minutes. Add the beans and allow them to cook for 5 minutes and then the sauce is ready to serve.
Frutti Di Mare
Frutti Di Mare is one of the more elaborate recipes however it is well worth it for seafood lovers who want to try something a little more ambitious.
Ingredients to Make Frutti Di Mare
- Anchovy fillets
- Olive oil
- Tomato juice
- Tomato puree
- Red pepper flakes
- White White
- Clam juice
While the ingredients list is a little longer it follows many of the principles of sauce making in the other recipes we’ve looked at.
First fry onions and garlic in oil until the onion starts to turn see-through. Season this with salt and pepper and then add in your anchovies and tomato paste and cook this until the color of the mixture becomes darker.
Then add in your tomatoes, tomato juice, pepper flakes, basil and salt, bringing the heat up to start boiling your ingredients. Allow everything to simmer on a low heat until things start to thicken, then add in your clam juice and white wine.
Keep the sauce boiling and add in the clams, cooking them until they open and then taking them out of the mix, allowing them to wait in a separate container.
Add in the mussels and cook them until they open, separating them from the mixture and placing them with the clams when they’re ready.
You can now add your shrimps and scallops to the main mixture, removing the pot from the heat and covering it. Once the shrimp and scallops are cooked they can be removed and placed in a separate bowl from the clams.
If you’re making your pasta alongside the sauce, add some of the starchy water to the sauce and allow the mix to simmer and thicken, then add the shrimps and scallops back to the sauce and cook.
When the pasta is ready you can top it with the finished sauce and then place your open shellfish on top of the sauce for a striking professional looking presentation.
Pomodoro sauce is a very quick and easy-to-make sauce using limited ingredients and is a great choice for budget-conscious chefs.
Ingredients to Make Pasta Pomodoro Sauce
- Red pepper flakes
- Tomato puree (you can make your own from fresh tomatoes if you prefer)
- Olive oil
As always you want to begin by frying your onions in olive oil until they become translucent and then add in your garlic and stir in some red pepper flakes.
After cooking for a minute you can now add your puree or passata and turn up the heat to medium-high, seasoning the sauce with some salt as it begins to reduce.
As the sauce thickens you may stir it to prevent any sticking to the sides and then once it’s thickened a good amount, remove the sauce from the heat and add your basil.
If the sauce is too thick you can add in some of your pasta water and make it a little thinner, however, this isn’t always necessary if you’ve stopped cooking at the right moment.
Bechamel is another creamy sauce that works well with chicken or mushrooms and is itself almost a sort of cream-turned sauce.
Ingredients to Make Bechamel
- White wine
- Olive oil
Fry up your chicken, mushrooms, and broccoli in some oil and then set them aside on very, very low heat or off the heat entirely. Always make sure the chicken is properly sealed before adding your vegetables, as you don’t want any of the raw chicken touching the vegetables.
In a separate pan melt some butter and mix in some flour to create a roux, whisking until you have a smooth paste. Add the pan to the heat and pour in small portions of your milk to add to the paste and thinning out the paste to create a smoother texture.
Continue stirring to prevent the sauce from becoming too thick and now add the white wine, continuing to stir.
You can now take your sauce and pour it over the cooked chicken and vegetables, mixing everything together and adding your cheese. This mixture can now be added to your pasta and topped with some more cheese before serving.
A home-cooked pasta dish is the way to many people’s hearts, so we hope you’re able to try and make one of the sauces featured in our list. These Italian pasta sauces are sure to wow your company on your next pasta night. With so many options there’s sure to be a pasta sauce that you’ll love.
Did we leave your favorite pasta sauce out of the list? Leave us a comment with your favorite pasta sauce and recipe!
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