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10 Traditional Italian Sauces

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Feelin’ saucy? Good. Today we’re breaking down some traditional Italian sauces. The good ones of course. Ya know, ones you’ll find all over the Mortadella Head menu… We’ll start with the basics, then work our way down to the more robust of sauces.

(will need help ordering these)


  1. MARINARA – We’ve said it , and we’ll say it again: stick to the basics. Marinara is a quick sauce, seasoned only with garlic, crushed red pepper, and basil. It’s best when made with San Marzano tomatoes one of the best varieties for tomato sauces. Marinara can be left chunky so as to enjoy the taste of fresh tomatoes. 

  2. TOMATO – Tomato sauce, on the other hand, is a more complex affair. Pureed tomatoes are seasoned with onion, carrot, celery and a bay leaf and is left to simmer until thickened. You’ll get a sweet, rich sauce that’s just a bit different than marinara. 

  3. BOLOGNESE – Sometimes called “gravy”, this rich meat sauce is extremely versatile and full of flavor. But it’s so much more than just a meat sauce. A traditional bolognese must contain onions, celery, carrots, pancetta, ground beef, tomatoes, and white wine. Once you’ve had a true bolognese it will be one of your go-to recipes. Make enough to serve a crowd and never, ever forget plenty of freshly-grated Parmesan Reggiano.

  4. PESTO – While there are plenty of variations all over the internet, we prefer a classic pesto made with fresh basil, garlic, pine nuts, extra virgin olive oil, parmesan reggiano and sea salt. It’s a great sauce for pasta, but also a number of kitchen creations.

  5. PUTTANESCA – Originally thought to be “the poor man’s meal”, this simple dish makes use of ingredients that were inexpensive and abundant in Italy back in the day. To make it a puttanesca sauce, you’ll need these pantry essentials: olives, anchovies, garlic, tomatoes and capers. Don’t fear those anchovies; use them sparingly for just a hint of flavor.

  6. CARBONARA – Would you believe you can create a creamy, luscious sauce with just four ingredients? It’s true. The real Italian version uses only guanciale, eggs, pecorino cheese, and lots of black pepper. You can substitute guanciale for pancetta, but other than that, no changes to this classic!

  7. VODKA SAUCE – Red sauce, white sauce, pink sauce? Yes, pink sauce. There are many versions of vodka sauce, but the base is tomatoes, vodka, and heavy cream. Some recipes include butter, parmesan cheese, and fresh herbs. Don’t be concerned about the taste of vodka; it’s only there to enhance the flavors. And hello, it’s called vodka sauce. You have to include it!

  8. AMATRICIANA – In its purest form, amatriciana includes four main ingredients tomatoes, guanciale, pecorino cheese, and hot peppers. It’s a simple, yet rustic sauce that you’ll be craving often. Pro tip: Garlic is not used in this sauce. It’s one of the few Italian recipes without it! 

  9. ARRABIATA – Literally translating to “angry tomato”, an arrabiata sauce is — you guessed it — spicy. Thanks to the addition of lots of garlic and red pepper flakes, this one packs a lot of heat. Cook it low and slow and add as much pepper as you like. Have a glass of water nearby just in case.

  10. BECHAMELIt’s origins may be somewhat of a mystery, but the traditional version is created by whisking hot milk into a roux of flour and butter. If any of the sauces on this list require some patience, it’s this one. But we promise it’s worth the wait.


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