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11 Types of Pasta Sauce Everyone Needs to Know

When it comes to types of pasta sauce, there's way, way more than just marinara and Alfredo. Learn how to make and master each kind of sauce.

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The best marinara sauceTaste of Home

Marinara Sauce

Odds are that when you think pasta sauce, you’re thinking marinara. Marinara sauce is tomato-based and is seasoned with classic Italian flavors like basil, oregano and garlic. It’s an incredibly versatile sauce; use it to make lasagna or chicken parmesan, serve it with meatballs or even just use for dunking mozzarella sticks.

Making marinara from scratch is incredibly rewarding, but it can be an undertaking. If you’re in need of a shortcut, make sure you’re buying the best pasta sauce brands out there.

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Turkey sausage pizzaTaste of Home

Pizza Sauce

Yep, pizza sauce is different than marinara. That being said, the sauces are very similar in terms of ingredients. Pizza sauce is a bit thicker than pasta sauce and is created to be smooth and spreadable. You can make pizza sauce at home or buy a jar to use with our homemade pizza recipes.

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Alfredo Sauce

Alfredo sauce is incredibly rich and delicious. It starts with butter, cream and a bit of cheese. While it might seem like the sort of sauce that takes all day, you can actually make homemade Alfredo in about 20 minutes.

You’ll commonly see Alfredo sauce served with fettuccine and chicken, but that’s just the start. It can be used in baked pastas, appetizers and more.

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Pesto Sauce

We have the city of Genoa, Italy to thank for pesto. Originally known as pesto alla genovese, this pasta sauce is a combination of fresh herbs, pine nuts, olive oil and parmesan. It’s most commonly made with fresh basil, but you’ll find recipes that also use parsley or spinach. Occasionally other nuts and seeds—walnuts or sunflower seeds—may take the place of the pine nuts.

However you make it, this sauce tastes wonderfully fresh and is just as delicious served with pasta as it is used as a spread on sandwiches or salad dressing. And if you don’t have enough basil in your garden to make your own, try one of these brands approved by our Test Kitchen.

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Vodka Sauce

Vodka sauce is an Italian-American creation. It’s a blend of tomato sauce, cream and a bit of vodka. The vodka is used to draw out some tomato flavors that we might not otherwise taste. Once the sauce simmers, though, you won’t be able to detect the harshness of the vodka flavor (and no alcohol will remain).

This creamy sauce is a great option when you want something different than a regular marinara but don’t want all of the richness of a traditional Alfredo.

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Bolognese

Bolognese, sometimes called ragu bolognese or ragu, is a meat-based pasta sauce with roots in Bologna in northern Italy. This sauce starts with minced onion, celery and carrots and the cut of meat of your choice (typically beef). Wine and tomatoes are also added and then the sauce simmers for an extended time until the flavors are rich and the meat is tender.

Serve bolognese with the pasta of your choice, like linguine, pappardelle or penne.

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Puttanesca Sauce

If you want more flavor than a basic tomato sauce, try a puttanesca. This sauce starts with tomatoes, yes, but also includes olives, anchovies, capers and red pepper flakes. It’s a more robust sauce in terms of flavor and texture, so serve it simply over a pile of cappellini with perhaps a few sauteed shrimp.

And don’t be afraid of the anchovies in this recipe! Just like with Caesar dressing, the anchovies are there to add a bit of brininess and salt—not fishy flavor.

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Carbonara

A classic carbonara is made with bacon, egg yolks and plenty of Parmigiano-Reggiano. This pasta sauce has to be made fresh and right in the pan. You need to be quick so you don’t end up with scrambled eggs, but the result is creamy and satisfying.

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Arrabbiata Sauce

Another must-try tomato sauce is arrabbiata. This sauce starts with a base of garlic, tomatoes and olive oil but it really turns up the heat thanks to a generous dose of dried red chili peppers. Use this sauce with pasta of any kind—even baked pastas or zoodles.

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Red Clam Sauce

Clam Sauce

Clam sauce is essentially a classic Italian red sauce with the addition of clams. This difference adds some brininess and extra flavor to a basic sauce. To really appreciate the flavor of this sauce, serve it over your favorite pasta. It’s delicious all year round but would work especially well during a Feast of the Seven Fishes.

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Brown Butter Sauce

We all love basic buttered noodles once in a while, but you can easily upgrade this recipe by transforming plain ol’ butter into a brown butter sauce. All you have to do is brown butter. This helps deepen the flavor and release some nutty notes. Then add in any additional seasonings, like sage, black pepper or red pepper flakes—it’s all up to you!

Then toss this easy sauce with whatever pastas, produce and proteins you like, though this sauce really shines with filled pasta.

Lisa Kaminski
Lisa is an editor at Taste of Home where she gets to embrace her passion for baking. She pours this love of all things sweet (and sometimes savory) into Bakeable, Taste of Home's baking club. Lisa is also dedicated to finding and testing the best ingredients, kitchen gear and home products for our Test Kitchen-Preferred program. At home, you'll find her working on embroidery and other crafts.