How many times has this happened to you: You’re in a nice Italian restaurant, sipping a weighty barolo while Pavaroti belts “La donna è mobile,” scanning an impressive list of pastas, and your mind goes blank. Which of these is tomato-based, you wonder. Which has vodka in it? If you’re like me, or you are me, that kind of thing happens all the time. But no more! Today I’m going to outline common pasta sauces, then I’m going to print this out and bring it with me any time I’m out for pasta.


A rich white sauce often paired with fettuccini to make fettuccini Alfredo. Made from half-and-half or cream with butter, parmesan cheese and pepper stirred in. Did I mention it’s rich? Just checked, and yes, I did.


A spicy sauce made from tomatoes, garlic and red chili peppers or red pepper flakes. Often paired with penne pasta and heartburn.


Originating in Bologna, Italy, this is a thick, meaty sauce made from ground meat, which may include beef, veal, lamb or pork, along with a bit of tomato and a few vegetables, including celery, onion and carrot. Also known as a ragu, and often served with a long, broad pasta such as tagliatelle or sometimes used in lasagna.


Another rich one. Made from olive oil, eggs, cheese, pancetta and black pepper. Great with spaghetti. And salad.


A classic Italian tomato sauce. When done right you should be able to close your eyes and conjure Tuscany. Made with tomatoes, garlic, onion, basil or parsley, and maybe some red pepper flakes. But just a few. There is a lot of debate about the difference between marinara and pomodoro sauces, because they are both tomato-based sauces with similar ingredients. Honestly, I couldn’t figure it out. If you know, please drop us a line.


A classic Italian tomato sauce. See marinara, above.


Often paired with spaghetti or linguini, this is a tomato-based sauce often with olives, garlic, capers and anchovies. Savory and lots of flavor.


Not every alcohol gets its own pasta sauce, but hey, that’s vodka. This is typically a pink color, and made by combining tomatoes, cream, vodka and herbs. It’s a classic, often paired with penne.

Did you know these different kinds of pasta sauces? Let us know any we’re missing in the comments.

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