Popular classic sauces of Italian Cuisine, ouritalianjourney.com

It’s sauce – not gravy!

When I think of Italian food, I think of a beautiful Marinara sauce over my favorite spaghetti with a sprinkle of fresh cheese whether it be Pecorino or Parmigiano Reggiano. Add a nice loaf of bread and you have a meal fit for a king. Of course, I also like a nice lasagna or pasta with Ragu or Bolognese. In fact, just about any sauce with pasta or stuffed pasta is good with me. But I’d be remiss if I left out reminding you to enjoy it with a nice local wine with your favorite dish.

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Did You Know?

Now here comes the shocker. Did you know that there is no such thing as Italian food? That’s right, there is no official Italian food. You see before Italy became united it was 20 different states or regions – each with its own rules and regulations. More importantly, each had its own unique foods, specialties, and ingredients.

North vs. South

 Just like in the United States the Northerners and Southerners look at each other and their foods differently. The Italians in the north see southern Italians as lazy and loud and the Italians in the south see northern Italians as polenta-eaters and obsessed with their jobs.

As for their food differences, Northern Italian food includes more butter, cheeses, cured meats, rice,  egg pasta, and stuffed baked foods while Southern Italian cuisine is Mediterranean based with tomatoes, olive oil, vegetables, and meats. Like pasta, there are many different sauces in Italy. Each region has its own specialty or a variation of another’s sauce.

Popular Classic Sauces in Italian Cuisine, ouritalianjourney.com

So here are the top ten sauces you may or may not be familiar with. I’ve personally tried all of them during our travels in Italy. I have enjoyed each of them but my heart still belongs to a simple Marinara. As you can see, all of these sauces are made with a few simple ingredients and a lot of Italian love.

Marinara  This comes from Roma and is made with pancetta or bacon, hard cheese, eggs, and pepper.
BologneseAlso known as “ragu,” this is a meat sauce made with very little tomato sauce. Typical ingredients are meat, carrots, celery, stock, and wine.
CarbonaraThis comes from Roma and made with pancetta or bacon, hard cheese, eggs, and pepper.
Amatriciana A traditional sauce made with guanciale (pork cheek), pecorino cheese, tomato, and onion.
Pesto Also known as Pesto alla Genovese, it is made with crushed garlic, pine nuts, coarse salt, basil leaves, and cheese (Pecorino or Parmigiano Reggiano).
Cacio Pepe Another from Roma made from pepper, cheese (usually pecorino) – that’s it.
Arrabbiata A spicy sauce from southern Italy made from tomatoes, garlic, olive oil, and dried red chili peppers.
Bechamel This sauce is basically used as a binder used in baked pasta dishes like lasagna made with butter, flour, milk, nutmeg, and salt.
VodkaYes… there is vodka in this sauce along with a smooth tomato sauce, Italian herbs, and heavy cream.
Bigoil Slasa This simple sauce comes from Venice and contains just two ingredients – onions and anchovies.


“Vieni a tavola e mangia” (Come to the table and eat)

Popular Classic Sauces of Italian Cuisine, ouritalianjourney.com


  1. Hi Ilene! I like your first line…it’s sauces…..not gravy! You can’t tell this Italian girl who grew up in an Italian neighborhood in the Bronx that it’s not gravy! We always called it gravy and still do! It was always Sunday gravy (never Sunday sauce) with meatballs (combined with beef, veal & pork), hot and sweet sausage, braciole & pigskin. We also would have a quick Marinara sauce during the week with just garlic or onion sautèed in olive oil and basil and that’s it and if making pizza it would be the same Marinara sauce but with oregano not basil. You can’t change my history…LOL!!!

    1. We appreciate your comment and completely understand the differences in families. According to Gary’s Sicilian family, it was always sauce. Gravy was always “brown.” Thanks for the comment! Buon Appetite!

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