9 Versions of Tomato Sauce All Home Cooks Should Know

Tomato Vodka Sauce
Photo: CJ Lund

Pasta with tomato sauce is one of the heartiest and most heartwarming meals in any home cook's repertoire. It's perfect for serving a crowd or for whipping up on a quiet evening home with a loved one. But perhaps one of the best parts about pasta with tomato sauce is how many different tasty forms the sauce can take. Here, we break down the most common red sauce variations and show how to add them to your dinner rotation.

01 of 10

Sugo di Pomodoro

A saucepan filled with bright red tomato sauce and a sprig of fresh basil
Sugo di Pomodoro (Authentic Italian Tomato Sauce). Buckwheat Queen

If you think about a standard, simple, smooth tomato sauce, chances are you're thinking about pomodoro (Italian for tomato) sauce. Sugo di Pomodoro typically features minced or crushed tomatoes, olive oil, garlic, basil, and salt. This version takes just five minutes to prep and only 25 minutes to simmer until it's ready to use with your favorite pasta.

02 of 10


Chunky Marinara Sauce

Made with the same basic ingredients as pomodoro sauce, marinara differentiates itself in the form of the tomatoes, which are diced or chopped instead of minced or crushed. It also doesn't require as much simmering time, so marinara sauce tends to be thinner and chunkier, with the tomato pieces offering bursts of bright, fresh, garlicky tomato flavor with every bite.

03 of 10


How to Make Bolognese Sauce

Do you add ground meat to your tomato sauce? If so, you're making a version of Bolognese. A good Bolognese sauce features browned ground beef (sometimes with some ground pork, bacon, or pancetta mixed in), finely chopped onions, carrots, and celery, wine (red or white), milk, tomato paste, and herbs. Typically simmered for two or three hours, Bolognese sauce should be thick, meaty, and chunky. Be sure to serve yours with a wide pasta like tagliatelle, pappardelle, or mezzi rigatoni so there's more noodle for the sauce to ride on its way to your mouth.

04 of 10


Tomato Vodka Sauce
CJ Lund

Most commonly seen on restaurant menus as "penne alla vodka," vodka sauce is a creamy, sweet, tomato-based sauce. Its pale, almost orange-y color comes from the addition of heavy cream and Parmesan cheese to a mixture of butter, onions, garlic, crushed tomatoes, and vodka. Why add vodka? Simmering it with the other ingredients essentially unlocks the subtle sweetness hidden in the tomato, making this sauce one of the most decadent you'll find.

05 of 10


Arrabbiata Sauce

The spiciest of all the tomato sauces on this list, arrabbiata means angry in Italian — and this sauce will give you a powerful kick. The heat comes from crushed red pepper flakes, which are added to your basic sauce ingredients: crushed tomatoes, olive oil, garlic, basil, and onions. You'll usually see between ½ and 1 teaspoon of crushed red pepper used, but it's easy to modify the spiciness of your arrabbiata sauce based on your personal preference.

06 of 10


Pantry Puttanesca
Allrecipes Magazine

The transformation of marinara sauce to puttanesca sauce is characterized by the addition of three key ingredients: anchovy fillets, Kalamata olives, and capers. Simmering these add-ins with diced tomatoes, garlic, olive oil, and red pepper flakes gives puttanesca sauce a uniquely strong, savory flavor and hearty texture.

07 of 10



Salty and meaty, authentic pasta all'amatriciana features guanciale — Italian salt-cured pork cheeks — added to a relatively simple pomodoro sauce base. If you can't find guanciale you can substitute pancetta or bacon, which will both supply the salty, savory pork flavor that characterizes amatriciana sauce.

08 of 10

Alla Norma

Pasta alla Norma (Eggplant Pasta)

Pasta alla norma is hearty, chunky, and meat-free, with eggplant that's been cubed and baked or sautéed making up the body of the sauce. Once the eggplant is cooked, it's added to a pot with garlic, olive oil, crushed tomatoes, and basil, and many versions add ricotta just before serving to make the dish creamy and indulgent.

09 of 10

Fresh Garden Tomato Sauce


Here it is, pure and simple: a recipe that showcases summer tomatoes. Chef John's simple sauce can be ready to eat in under 30 minutes.

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More Inspiration

a bowl of tomato sauce on spaghetti, garnished with a fresh basil sprig
Buckwheat Queen

Our Complete Collection of Tomato Sauce Recipes

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