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Types of Pasta Sauce: Top 10 Popular Pasta Sauces You Can Make At Home!

December 09, 2020 6 min read

Types of Pasta Sauce: Top 10 Popular Pasta Sauces You Can Make At Home!

Before we go into some details, take this quiz to find out which pasta sauce you should try next:



You might think that Italian cuisine is all about the pasta, but the different types of pasta sauce you prepare for your dish are just as important!

Believe it or not, the list of pasta sauces is just as long as the different types of pasta you can prepare at home with your pasta maker. There’s a classic ragu to go with your spaghetti noodles, or how about a carbonara sauce for your fettuccine? There’s white pasta sauce, red sauce pasta, light pasta sauce, and heavy pasta sauce. There’s pesto sauce, pasta marinara, alfredo, and so many more unique pasta sauces to try!

As well as preparing homemade pasta shapes, you can also turn your hand to cooking up these different kinds of pasta sauce too. After all, there’s little that can match homemade pasta drenched in homemade pasta sauce!

To inspire your next Italian cooking session, here are our favorite types of pasta sauce you can make at home.

The Best Types of Pasta Sauce to Make at Home

As I’m sure you’ve noticed, there are so many interesting pasta sauces that you could spend a lifetime trying to cook them all! 

Most types of Italian pasta sauce fall into one of several distinct categories. There are tomato-based sauces, such as the classic spaghetti sauce or marinara; there are heavier, cream-based sauces; there are wine-based sauces; and there are oil-based sauces like pesto or aglio e olio. 

There are a lot of different pasta sauce types to try, but you have to start somewhere! Here are 10 of our favorites. 

1) Bolognese

Bolognese is a classic Italian pasta sauce recipe that’s most commonly paired with long pasta noodles such as tagliatelle, spaghetti, or fettuccine. Originating from the Italian city of Bologna, bolognese is a meat-based spaghetti sauce that’s traditionally heavy on the meat and light on the tomatoes. 

Bolognese has become incredibly popular outside of Italy, but in the USA, it’s more of a tomato-based sauce. Ground beef is cooked, then mixed into a tomato sauce before being combined with long pasta noodles. 

2) Ragu 

Ragu is another traditional Italian sauce that, like bolognese, is also meat-based. Ragus are traditionally thick on the meat and have just a small amount of tomato sauce added to them for flavor. 

Bolognese is technically a type of ragu, and you will find countless ragu recipes that not only include beef but also contain veal, chicken, pork, and even horsemeat. As a thick sauce, ragu is best served with long noodles and is the meatiest spaghetti sauce you could try cooking at home!

3) Marinara 

One of the most popular types of sauce for pasta is marinara pasta sauce. However, this tomato-based sauce has its origins in Italian-American communities in the USA, rather than in Italy itself. 

That doesn’t stop it from being delicious, and with a base of tomatoes, garlic, and Italian herbs and seasonings, it’s easy to make marinara pasta sauce from scratch. Marinara works deliciously well with meatballs, but it’s also found a place in lasagnas, casseroles, and even sandwiches!

As a tomato-based sauce, marinara sauce isn’t to be confused with another classic pasta dish, spaghetti marinara. Spaghetti marinara is a tasty seafood-based pasta dish!

4) Pesto 

Pesto is a fantastic healthy pasta sauce that’s traditionally prepared with a distinctive base of basil. You mix in pine nuts, a little olive oil, and plenty of cheese (usually Parmigiano-Reggiano), alongside a few herbs and spices.

The basil gives pesto sauce that famous green color, and as it’s such a light sauce, pesto can simply be stirred into your pasta once cooked, rather than having to be simmered on the side.

Pesto is an easy spaghetti sauce that can be blended together when you have the correct ingredients, and it makes for a delicious tomato sauce substitute when you’re bored of the ragus and the marinara.

5) Aglio e olio

Aglio e olio is another no tomato pasta sauce that’s super easy to prepare at home. In fact, you only need two ingredients for this light sauce and some spaghetti to go with it.

Aglio e olio translates as garlic and oil, and this simple base is often made more complex with some parmesan and chili. If you’re light on ingredients at home, then this is the best spaghetti sauce you can prepare with limited time and resources.

It’s simple, but it’s delicious!

6) Alfredo

Alfredo is neither light nor tomato-based, as it’s prepared using a heavy base of thick cream, butter, and cheese. This isn’t one for the calorie counters out there, but it is the best sauce for lovers of rich, wholesome flavors. 

Alfredo is best served with thick, long pasta noodles, with fettuccine being the most popular. The sauce is often combined with white meat or seafood, particularly chicken or shrimp. Alfredo goes down particularly well with a glass of white wine on the weekend!

7) Carbonara

Carbonara sauce is a classic staple of Italian cuisine, and it’s one of the best pasta sauce alternatives you can learn to cook if you need a break from tomato-based sauces.

Like alfredo sauce, carbonara is also cream-based and contains a decadently large quantity of grated cheese. The main difference, however, is the addition of egg to the recipe, which allows the sauce to cling to the pasta as you cook it together. 

Carbonara, in its most basic form, often only involves egg and cheese and a little cream, while the US version usually goes all out to make a super-thick, rich sauce. Carbonara is cooked together with long thick pasta noodles, and the most common addition to the dish is bacon or pork. 

8) Cacio e pepe

Cacio e pepe is a fantastically easy, yet remarkably delicious pasta sauce that you can easily prepare at home. Cacio e pepe is simply cheese and black pepper, two ingredients that you likely already have in your kitchen.

Cheese and pepper are mixed together, then added to long spaghetti noodles that are fresh out of the pan. The cheese melts into the spaghetti to produce a delightful sauce that takes no time at all to cook! 

Alongside the cheese and pepper sauce, you can serve your spaghetti noodles with complimentary ingredients such as ham, mushrooms, or shrimp. 

9) Funghi e piselli 

Funghi e piselli is a lesser-known Italian sauce, but a sauce that is both light and surprisingly healthy too. You’ll need garlic, onions, peas, and mushrooms for this lovely sauce, and all you have to do is sauté the ingredients together in a pan.

At the same, prepare your favorite short pasta, such as rigatoni or fusilli, cooking the shapes until they are al dente. Coat your pasta in the funghi e piselli sauce, then sprinkle with a little parmesan to finish. 

It’s the sort of dish you can prepare easily from scratch, and it’s only going to take you half an hour to get ready. Perfect if you’re looking for a quick, healthy lunch. 

10) Vegan pasta sauces

Many different types of pasta sauce can be made to suit a vegan diet these days. A basic tomato sauce, or Pomodoro, mixed with garlic and herbs is the simplest tomato-based sauce that’s totally vegan. 

For a ragu or a bolognese, you can exchange the ground meat for vegan substitutes such as Quorn or seasoned tofu. Creamy, thick sauces such as alfredo or carbonara are more difficult to prepare without dairy products, but there are lots of vegan alternatives you can find in the store to replace cream and cheese ingredients. 

What Are Your Favorite Types of Pasta Sauce? 

With so many different types of pasta sauce, it’s no surprise that picking a favorite sauce can be a challenge. Don’t worry yourself too much, though, because many of the sauces in this article are fairly easy to cook up at home!

And whether you prefer a bolognese or a carbonara, there’s nothing quite like a homemade pasta sauce mixed in with homemade pasta noodles! Why not bookmark our guide to refer back to the many pasta sauce types you can try, so you can make your favorites later?

Want to make your own homemade pasta, but don't know where to start? Begin with downloading our FREE pasta-making guide:


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