Italian Cooking: The Secret Is in the Sauce

Light and delicate like a lemon-white wine or as hearty and robust as a meaty Bolognese sauce, the flavors you enjoy in Italian foods are often wrapped up in the sauce. There are so many different variations on Italian sauces here's a basic rundown on some of the main ingredients of the most popular ones.

First, we made and ate a lot of pasta sauce. Second, we resorted to the Internet and did some searches, for example: the difference between marinara and spaghetti sauce.

The first path was extremely satisfying (full belly, warm contented feeling) while the Internet just served to confuse us even more than we would normally be.

People can't even seem to agree on what marinara sauce means, although the best explanation is that it is a sauce developed for use on sailing ships that was quick to prepare. Since it had no meat and tomatoes are acidic it produced a sauce that didn't spoil. After all, they didn't have refrigerators in the 17th century.

Most marinara recipes call for tomatoes, garlic, olive oil, pepper and, at the chef's prerogative, basil and/or oregano. Spaghetti sauce can be made with or without meat, is usually thicker than marinara and usually contains more spices and flavor ingredients. Plus, it is usually cooked for a longer time to mellow and blend the flavors.

Meat sauce and Bolognese sauce are the same thing; a spaghetti sauce, obviously enough, with meat.

Pesto sauce is made by pureeing fresh basil, garlic, Parmesan cheese and (in one recipe we saw, walnuts) and then liquefying it with extra virgin olive oil.

Puttanesca is made from all the cheapest ingredients so when the "ladies of the night" would take a break from their duties at the bordello they would go to the nearby pasta restaurant and order this inexpensive dish. It's got tomatoes, garlic, anchovy fillets, black olives, capers, red pepper flakes and olive oil.

Another popular sauce is Alfredo, a creamy blend of butter and either milk, heavy cream or cream cheese, garlic, grated Parmesan or Guyere cheese and pepper.

Whatever your favorite sauce, remember the best way to enjoy pasta is to cook it al dente and then finish it off by tossing it in the pan with the heated sauce. Whatever you do, don't rinse the pasta first, it is actually the starch that helps the sauce cling to the noodles or shells and enhances the dish.

Too often the average person hears the name of a food and has no idea what the differences are between one dish and another. As a self-taught amateur chef and semi-foodie I think it helps to give people a better understanding of what goes into making a particular dish.

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