The 4 most famous pasta sauces in Italy

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Most famous italian sauces

The 4 most popular pasta sauces in Italy 

Before discussing italian pasta sauces, I decided to interview two Italian chefs, who, in turn not only gave me valuable advice, but added that fundamental ingredient(s) to any pasta sauce is divided into the categories as follows : carrot, onion and celery – onion – or just garlic - and both agreed on my choices given hereunder.

1 - Bolognese Sauce

Well, topping my list is the authentic, and traditional Bolognese Sauce, commonly known as “Ragù alla Bolognese” or simply “Ragu”. Originating from Bologna, and mainly accompanies hand- made tagliatelle.

Ingredients are rather simple and preparation straightforward.
Genuinely cooked slowly, here ingredients include onion, carrot and celery all sautéed in extra virgin olive oil, with the addition of fresh beef mincemeat (I usually add pork sausagemeat to make it tastier), red wine, and after it has evaporated, add tinned tomatoes, and puree.

It is then simmered at length until a thick sauce is achieved. Some Italians  go even further and like to add chopped chunks of meat, which are then removed after cooking so that they can also be eaten as a second course.

Traditional Italian housewives used (and still do so) to prepare this pasta sauce with extra-virgin olive oil, a knob of butter, and lard (fatback). I even remember my grandmother using these ingredients, saying that it enhanced its flavour, resulting in a  culinary masterpiece!

The earliest written reports of Bolognese sauce dates back to the late 18th Century in Imola (part of Bologna). In 1891 the Italian chef Pellegrino Artusi first published a meat sauce recipe in his “Maccheroni alla Bolognese “ cookbook , after having spent considerable time in Bologna.

Furthermore, in 1982 this sauce has been registered by the “Italian Academy of Cuisine” as the “most authentic “ of its kind.

This pasta sauce (together with many other dishes) is usually chosen and cooked at the International Day of Italian Cuisines, (IDIC)  held on the 17th January. Here renown  and chosen professional International chefs are asked to cook and present a variety of Italian delicacies.

This sauce may be subject to variations, and a personal touch with a twist.

2 - Tomato Sauce

Secondly, with reference to a classical tomato sauce, an absolute must in Italian cuisine, considering the abundant amount of succulent, supple, fresh ripe tomatoes all cultivated around the country. Simple to make, and scrumptious to indulge into.

Here again we have onion, carrot and celery, all sautéed in extra-virgin olive oil. Fresh tomatoes are scalded, peeled and de-seeded to avoid bitterness. (I even add 1tsp of sugar to get rid of it, and works wonders every time). Seeing that its high in water content, it must be left to simmer until quantity is reduced. Another option is to add basil leaves.

Yes, it undoubtedly goes to say that this is a classical sauce, and accompanies spaghetti very well. Better when topped with parmesan cheese, and to finish off,  when any tasty sauce is left in your dish, just mop it up with a piece of bread! ( fare la scarpetta)

The use of tomato sauce with pasta appears for the first time in the Italian cookbook published in 1790 “L’Apicio Moderno “ accounted by the Italian chef Francesco Leonardi, a piece of history which still exists today in modern Italian cuisine.
Many other variations to this sauce may also exist.

3 - Genovese Pesto

Now let’s turn to my third choice dedicated to the Region of Genoa. Genovese Pesto originated from Genoa, the Ligurian capital in the north of Italy.

Ingredients traditionally consist of garlic, pine nuts, coarse rock salt, basil, and parmesan cheese. - for a stronger flavour, Sardinian pecorino cheese is used instead (goat’s milk) then blended together with extra-virgin olive oil- there is no need to cook it, just pour this sauce over the steaming pasta, like troffie. This dish can also be enriched with sliced potatoes and string beans, placed over the top.

The word pesto actually derives from the Genoese verb pestà (pestare in Italian), which means to pound. All ingredients were originally pounded in a marble mortar and wooden pestle,  became a creamy sauce and well loved amongst the Italians.

Eventhough a regional sauce, it has thrived in its popularity, both nationally and internationally, going beyond all expectations and boundaries.

It is thought to have been preceeded in ancient Roman times, as Roman soldiers used to eat a similar sauce with herbs, cheese, olive oil and  vi negar.

Basil was consequently introduced as a main ingredient by the Ligurians in the mid 19th Century.

This recipe has also been revised over the years.

4 - Amatriciana

Now lastly, another traditional pasta sauce is the Amatriciana, originating from Amatrice, a small town situated in the mountainous Province, Rieti, in the Lazio Region.

It’s one of the most popular pasta sauces in both Roman and Italian cuisine, (and consequently declared as Lazio’s Italian agrifood product).

Ingredients are simple: onions, sautéed in extra-virgin olive oil, guanciale (cured pork cheek) pecorino cheese, and tomato sauce.

Amatriciana derives from a recipe called Grecia. (without tomato) The Grici, whom modern Roman residents referred to as the bread sellers  that of other foodstuff.

The preparation itself reflected in the availability of local products, either at the nearby grocery shop, or to the local dwellers who were herding their flock in the mountainous areas.  The introduction of tomato sauce dates back to the late 18th Century.

The initial reference of pasta with tomato sauce can be found in chef Francesco Leonardi’s 1790 cookbook “L’Apicio Moderno”. 

Exquisite with Bucatini pasta (thick long hollow strands ), a divine experience indeed!

Whichever pasta sauce, you’re spoilt for choice!

by Adriana Tenan

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