The Story Behind 5 Classic Italian Pasta Sauces

Get to know five delectably authentic sauces and take your pasta sauce game to the next level.


With regional specialties and recipes passed from generation to generation, in Italy, pasta sauce is a storied and serious business. Whether it’s a made-in-a-flash oil-based sauce or a long-simmering ragù, authentic Italian sauces are made from scratch using the finest ingredients.

  1. Marinara

Originating in Naples, marinara (“sailor-style”) is a classic Italian sugo (tomato-based sauce). Simple and sophisticated at the same time, marinara is made with only a few ingredients – tomatoes (Pomodoro S. Marzano dell’Agro Sarnese-Nocerino PDO), onions, garlic, herbs and Italian extra virgin olive oil. It is cooked vigorously and quickly to retain the zest and brightness of the tomatoes.

  1. Carbonara

Luxuriously creamy-tasting and incredibly fast to make, carbonara – a Roman dish that roughly translates to “charcoal makers’ style” – is the ultimate rustic sauce made using eggs, Pecorino Romano PDO, Italian extra virgin olive oil, guanciale and salt and pepper to taste. The creaminess is achieved without any cream at all – the secret being to toss all the cooked ingredients together with the cheese, raw egg, hot cooked pasta and reserved pasta water until a creamy sauce coats the pasta.

  1. Ragù alla Bolognese

Italy’s most famous meat sauce comes in the form of ragù alla Bolognese, from Bologna. Dating back to the 18th century, this rich and hearty slow-cooked sauce typically includes minced beef, pancetta, sautéed vegetables and wine. Insider tip: ragù alla Bolognese is traditionally served with a flat, ribbon-like egg pasta such as tagliatelle or fettuccine, not spaghetti.

  1. Pesto alla Genovese

The distinct, vibrant green colour of this sauce is a completely natural result of fresh, young basil leaves. Originating in Genoa, Liguria, the term “pesto” comes from the Genoese verb pestâ, which means to pound or crush – referring to its original method or preparation. Commonly known as pesto alla Genovese, this sauce is a blend of basil, crushed garlic, coarse salt, pine nuts, grated Pecorino Sardo PDO, Parmigiano-Reggiano PDO and Italian extra virgin olive oil. This delicious mix is used to flavour everything from pasta to seafood to sandwiches. 

  1. Aglio, Olio e Peperoncino

Quite literally translated into “garlic, oil and chili pepper” aglio, olio e peperoncino is one of the simplest and most essential Italian pasta sauces. Stemming from Naples, aglio, olio e peperoncino is typically accompanied with spaghetti and finely chopped parsley to garnish – no cheese needed. Instead, starchy pasta water is used to help emulsify and thicken the sauce.

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