Happy National Spaghetti Day! Growing up in the Philippines, there was hardly any party that didn’t include spaghetti. And there were many bastardized versions of the dish like adding sliced hotdogs and using banana catsup instead of tomato sauce. All kids seem to love spaghetti, probably because it’s fun to slurp up the noodles and because there’s no way around getting messy. My kids are no exception. However, my son prefers plain spaghetti, no sauce, just toss with butter, garlic, and Parmesan. As a grown-up, he still prefers it that way. My daughter, on the other hand, is more adventurous and has tried different variations. One thing they both agree on as kids was they didn’t like canned spaghetti. I don’t either!
Here in the United States, we usually see spaghetti served with Bolognese or Carbonara sauce but in Italy, there is a wide variety of sauces. Spaghetti is a blank canvas and you can make any combination of sauce and toppings. But I’ll list variety of spaghetti, some familiar, some new, which are sure to please different palates.
Acciughe – is a sauce of anchovies, garlic, oil and parsley made by quickly sautéing ingredients. Perfect for last minute dinners.
Aglio e olio – is one of the most basic pasta sauces that uses garlic and olive oil with optional red pepper flakes and flat-leaf Italian parsley
Alfredo – typically used with fettucine but works well with any pasta including spaghetti. It is a sauce rich with heavy cream, butter, freshly grated Parmesan cheese and ground black pepper. Truly a comfort food that is smooth and hearty.
Al Limone – (lemon sauce) classic Neapolitan sauce, summery flavor with basil and Parmigiano cheese. This is one of my favorites.
Amatriciana – a modern Roman sauce, prepared with guanciale (cured pork cheek) and grated Pecorino cheese and tomato. It is one of the best known sauces in Italian cuisine.
Arrabbiata – (“angry” in Italian). This spicy sauce is made with garlic, tomatoes, and red chili peppers cooked in olive oil. It marries well with Pecorino Romano cheese.
Bolognese – It’s not surprising that the sauce that originated from Bologna is rich and meaty. After all, Bologna has been called “la grassa” (the fat) since the Middle Ages. But it is not a reference to fatty food but the abundance, variety and high quality of cuisine. This sauce is made with ground beef or pork, and pancetta (bacon that is salt-cured and spiced with black pepper or other spices). It begins with a soffritto of onion, celery and carrot to which red wine and fresh tomato or tomato concentrate is added, then simmered until thick.
Burro con Formaggino – or burro e Parmigiano. This is a minimalist sauce. Reserve a little of the pasta water and mix with drained pasta, Parmigiano, formaggino (Italian cream cheese) and butter. The hot pasta will melt all the ingredients. Then toss and mix well. Can’t be any easier than that. Another way of doing this by melting the butter and cheese in a large sauté pan by adding some cooking liquid from the pasta, then toss the cooked pasta in the sauce.
Cacio e pepe – Simply put, this is a cheese and pepper sauce. It is Roman in origin. Some cooking liquid left on the pasta helps melt the grated Pecorino Romano cheese and binds it and the pepper to the pasta. This preparation works well with thin spaghetti like vermicelli.
Carbonara – the sauce’s name is derived from carbonaro (charcoal burner) and it is believed that the dish was first made for Italian charcoal workers. Like the previous cheesy sauces, it originated in Rome. Carbonara is made with eggs, cheese (preferably Pecorino- or Parmigiano-Romano), bacon (guanciale or pancetta) and black pepper. I have seen cream and garlic used in carbonara but these two ingredients are not used in Italian versions. It sometimes accompanied with green peas before it is poured over hot pasta.
Checca – is an uncooked tomato sauce. It uses fresh tomatoes, basil, fresh mozzarella, olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper. Typically a summer dish.
Fra Diavolo (“Brother Devil”) – another spicy sauce. It could be tomato-based with chili peppers or no tomato but with cayenne or some other pepper. This sauce is used for both pasta and seafood.
Frutti di mare – (“fruit of the sea”) is a dish that can include all types of seafood like mussels, clams, scallops, squid, and shrimp. Of course it is popular in coastal Italy. The sauce is made by sautéing garlic followed by shellfish and white wine. It can be cooked with fresh tomatoes or tomato sauce, fish stock and clam juice.
Funghi e piselli – is a sauce made of sautéing mushroom slices, peas, and cubed bacon in oil. Pasta is boiled until almost cooked and drained; then cream and grated Parmesan cheese is and cooked until al dente and mixed with sauce and freshly ground pepper. (Recipe is in Italian but can be translated by Google).
Genovese – There is actually two kinds of Genovese pasta sauces. One is a rich, onion-based pasta sauce from the region of Campagnia. It is prepared by sautéing either beef, veal, or pork in a large number of onions with minced carrots and celery and seasoned with garlic, marjoram, and bacon, prosciutto or lard. This sauce requires a long preparation to soften and flavor the onions, at least two to as much as ten hours. Served with tomatoes and topped with Parmesan or Provolone cheese. The other Genovese sauce is Neapolitan and vegetarian, traditionally made with pesto, potatoes and green beans and is super quick to make. So one takes an extra-long time and the other does not. Go figure.
Marinara – (“mariner’s style”) sauce of fresh tomatoes, olive oil, garlic and basil. It originated in Naples and can include capers, olives, spices and a dash of wine. It is widely used in Italian-American cuisine.
Napoletana – one of the two most famous meat sauces. Made with a soffrito, meat, and tomato sauce. The major difference is how the meat is used as well as amount of tomato in the sauce. In Naples, red wine is preferred, butter is replaced by lard or olive oil and lots of basil. It may also be enriched with raisins, pine nuts and involtini (small bites of food rolled in a thin wrapper of meat or veggies). There is a relative abundance of tomato sauce in flavor compared to Bolognese.
Noci – is a walnut sauce made with pounded walnuts and pine nuts with oil, garlic and chopped parsley. The recipe link is for linguine but this can also be used for spaghetti. When the pasta is dressed right, this dish can be eaten even at room temperature.
Pesto – from pestara (to pound or crush). Originated in Genoa. It is made with olive oil, Parmigiano-Reggiano and pecorino sardo (sheep’s milk cheese), pine nuts, basil, and garlic pounded into a paste. It is traditionally prepared in a marble mortar with a wooden pestle. The garlic and pine nuts are reduced to a cream before basil leaves and coarse garlic are added and ground to a creamy consistency after which cheese in incorporated with olive oil.
Pomodoro – (“golden apple”). It’s a basic tomato sauce which got its name because the first tomatoes to arrive in Italy were yellow. This also happens to be Audrey Hepburn’s favorite Italian dish.
Puttanesca – (literally translates to “in the style of prostitutes”). It is a very fragrant sauce which combines tomatoes, onions, black olives, anchovies, capers, garlic, and oregano simmered with olive oil. According to legend, the aromatic fragrance was used by Neapolitan prostitutes to lure customers. Although this has no basis in fact, the sauce is sure to bring anybody to the table.
Tartufata – is a truffle sauce flavored with Marsala or white wine and garlic. It is made with Italian summer black truffles combined with countryside mushrooms, cooked in olive oil with a touch of garlic and lightly seasoned with salt and pepper.
Umbria – is a sauce made of pounded anchovies, oil, and garlic, flavored with tomatoes and truffles. The recipe link is for Spaghetti in Black Truffle Sauce which is typically Umbrian. This dish is served as a decadent first course.
Vognole – is a sauce made with minced clams, olive oil, garlic, lemon juice, and parsley, sometimes with a thin tomato sauce. Variations could include whole clams and hot pepper flakes.
Researching these spaghetti sauces has certainly broadened my knowledge of the varieties I could be trying instead of the usual red sauce. I may not be having spaghetti today (just had some two days ago) but I’ll be keeping these choices in mind for the future!