Typical Italian recipes are not a mile long, and do not require extensive trips to markets that don’t exist in most American towns. True Italian cuisine is all about a few quality ingredients, orchestrated to taste, look and smell perfectly balanced, pleasing to all the senses. There are different ways to make tomato sauce, depending on how it is to be used, and that’s why I bring you 10 different tomato sauce recipes for different pastas.
Tomato Sauce is Like the Little Black Dress
If you were to look into my closet, you would see a lot of black dresses. Some are very simple and some have a little more pizazz. There are two black dresses I wear all the time changing them up with my many pairs of boots. There are a few black dresses that I might only wear once a year, and there’s the asymmetrical black dress that is very flattering and perfect all year round.
It’s the same with my tomato sauces. I have a few basic sauces I make all the time, and then I have a few that I only make once or twice a year. Outside of my basic two-hour tomato sauce that I use for dishes like manicotti and lasagna, most of my dishes take less than 45 minutes to make. Some are fancier than others. All are delicious, and the same way a dress is suited to the occasion, the sauce is suited to the dish.
What Tomato Sauce Means to Me
I learned about tomato sauce from many women in my family. My great grandmother was from Naples, a fabulous cook, whom to this day can’t be touched. The interesting thing about the Italian immigrants that migrated here for prosperity, escaping meager times in Italy in the early 1900’s, was that they didn’t bring a culture of food poverty.
No matter what circumstances prompted them to leave their families (not easy for Italians) and come across the world, they most likely didn’t leave hungry or without recipes. They knew how to eat nose to tail, never wasting a single part of the animal, and they knew how to stretch the most meager staples into a feast.
My trips to Italy confirmed the culinary magic this small country possesses, as I truly believe their food is the best the world has ever seen.
They have perfected simple.
They have preserved their culinary traditions.
Different Types of Pasta
Before you read this, understand that there are always exceptions to everything, but I share my general rules on what pasta is most appropriate for a sauce, and I only discuss the most common and familiar pastas.
Pasta is easily divided into two categories, factory-made and homemade. These are completely different, not only in texture but in ingredients. I prefer high quality factory made pasta most of the time, made with semolina flour and water, yielding a bite with heft.
Homemade pasta made here is often more delicate, usually made with eggs, water, and wheat flour.
Factory pastas are usually either some kind of spaghetti or macaroni (outside of lasagna type noodles or cannelloni).
There are several sizes of spaghetti from angel hair to bucatini (long rod with hollow center). Linguine is a flat spaghetti-like pasta that is made in long strands also.
While many types can be interchanged with different sauces, a good rule of thumb is the chunkier the sauce, the heftier the pasta, whether it be thicker macaronies (like a rigatoni or penne). A medium sized spaghetti is better with carbonara and olive oil sauces.
Fettuccini or papparadelle (a broad flat pasta noodle) do well to accept heavier sauces like bolognese.
There are many many types of macaroni with penne, ziti, and rigatoni being the most common, and even these can come in different sizes. Baked pasta casseroles are most often made with ziti or penne.
My Favorite Tomato Sauce Dishes
Hopefully these dishes will have you singing and dancing. Most of them take less than 45 minutes to make.
I learned to do fast because my grandmother owned and operated a beauty salon. She was used to working fast on her feet and cooking within a limited time frame. Her style was fast, easy, sassy.
Serve with penne pasta, bucatini, linguine, thick spaghetti, or for low-carb use, spaghetti squash.
One the other hand, my Aunt Rita, also my godmother, had a signature dish, stuffed shells filled with ricotta cheese. This required a tomato sauce that took longer to make and a little bit more fuss. The sauce should be smooth, not chunky. This was just her style, which I would call slow and nurturing. Use large stuffed shells, manicotti or extra large rigatoni.
This tomato sauce is smooth, perfect for the stuffed shells above, or lasagna.
Tomato Sauce For Breakfast/Brunch
If you want tomato sauce for breakfast, this tomato sauce made with fresh tomatoes is served with poached eggs. This may seem odd, but trust me, it’s delicious.
Twenty Minute Fast Tomato Sauce for Eggs in Purgatory Eggs in purgatory is the Italian version of shakshuka.
Crespelles (Crepes) with Prosciutto, Mozzarella and Tomato Sauce, a Marcella Hazan recipe.
Classics that take less than 45 minutes
A big favorite in our house is is spicy tomato sauce with shrimp that takes only 20 minutes and is perfect for a party served with garlic toast or chunky bread.
Or try this fast 20 minute spicy sauce for fish with Baked Filet of Sole. Made spicy with added capers for flavor, if you haven’t tried this kind of baked fish, you’re in for a surprise.
Spicy Eggplant Sauce – a real tasty treat done fast.
Try something unique with eggplants with this with spaghetti, gnocchi, penne, ziti.
Marcella Hazan practically broke the internet with her legendary onion butter tomato sauce, simply made with canned San Marzano tomatoes, onion and butter. Absolutely delicious and perfect for an array of pastas, and especially good on gnocchi. I also like this on a penne pasta or a hefty macaroni.
Bucatini is an extra large hollow spaghetti that has a good bite to it. It’s my husband’s favorite and is great with chunkier sauces.
One of my go to extra special sauces is this 45 minute sauce, which makes the pasta dish from Rome, Pasta all’ Amatriciana. It’s made with pancetta, red pepper flakes, tomatoes and an extra thick spaghetti, bucatini. I’ve eaten this in Rome and this recipe from Marcella Hazan nails it. I’ve made this several times. Make sure you cook the pasta al dente.
Spaghetti and Meatballs is classic and beloved all over the world. I think a smooth sauce is best but a little bit of chunkiness is okay. The video in this post is hilarious. I like medium to thick spaghetti with the meatballs, and stay away from thin or angel hair. That kind of pasta is not “pasta” enough to carry the meatballs.
Vodka Tomato Sauce for Penne Alla Vodka. Naturally, you want to use penne pasta, with this vodka infused tomato sauce.
Veal Sugo (a Veal Tomato Sauce with White Wine) is probably something you have never heard of, but I’m putting it here in case you want to experiment with something new. This thick sauce is best with a papparaelle, a rigatoni, a penne pasta or thick spaghetti like bucatini (below).
Tomato Sauce with Wine – How to do it Right
Wine adds a layer of flavor and some acid to tomato sauce. However, there are a few tips to get this right.
- Use decent wine you would drink. This also means never ever use something called “cooking wine.” The quality of the wine you cook with affects the quality of the dish.
- Use dry white wine over red wine. White wine matches the brightness of tomatoes better. Sometimes red can be overpowering.
- Make sure to cook the wine down. Adding wine will mean you need to cook the sauce long enough to cook off the alcohol.
- Add wine to any sauce you like, but only if you truly believe it needs it. I like wine added to sauces that I’m also serving with meat, or seafood.
A Word on Bolognese
Bolognese is not really a tomato sauce. Bolognese sauce is more meat sauce than tomato sauce and is layered with tomatoes milk and wine. I have several recipes for bolognese, which is most often eaten with a pappardelle pasta, rigatoni or bucatini as viewed below.
You can see how I have varied the bolognese sauce in summer and fall.
Now that you have several ways to make tomato sauce, make sure you cook your pasta like an Italian.…al dente, because pasta is still always the star of the dish.