Mouthwatering Pasta Sauces for Every Occasion

Mouthwatering Pasta Sauces for Every Occasion

Learn How to Make Tomato, Meat, Pesto, and Alfredo sauces!
October 28, 2015
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When was the last time you made pasta for dinner? Is it one of your favorite foods or more of a go-to dish for those nights you don’t feel like doing much cooking?

There are many reasons to appreciate this classic Italian dish and give it a fresh look. Children and adults love pasta with equal fervor, making it a great family meal. It’s also an easy, inexpensive way to put a nutritious dinner on the table. And if you look beyond the jar, you can dress up your pasta with just a little additional effort.

Jar sauce is convenient and, depending on the brand, may be the rare store-bought food that doesn’t cost more than making it at home. However, most of the sauces you can buy at the store, especially the less-expensive options, add much more sugar and salt than is really necessary. Eat healthier by making your own sauce at home!

Read on to discover how to create four classic sauces (plus a twist on each one!) and get creative by adding your own choice of protein and veggies for a new meal every week!

Marinara Sauce

Adapted from Budget Bytes

This popular red sauce is the Italian version of gravy. Its proper name comes from marinaro, which is Italian for sailor. Marinara sauce originated in Naples, where it was the favorite meal for sailors when they returned from sea.

The taste of marinara sauce and any other tomato-based sauce you make is directly related to the quality of the canned tomatoes you buy. Most chefs swear by San Marzano tomatoes, which are a variety of plum tomato, not a brand. Again, look for sales and stock up then, but try to get San Marzanos if you can. This isn’t an area where you want to skimp if you want to have the best tasting sauce.

Marinara tastes great on its own with a little bit of parmesan cheese sprinkled on top. You can also add vegetables, such as eggplant or spinach, to the sauce for variety. The type of noodles you choose is another place to add some razzle dazzle to this basic sauce. Try making your own gnocchi or buy it handmade from the store. Ravioli filled with specialty cheeses and/or vegetables is another fun base for marinara sauce.

This recipe can be cooked on the stovetop or made in a slow cooker for added convenience. Either way, let it simmer as long as you can before serving. Begin by sautéing the onion and garlic. Then throw everything else into your pot or slow cooker. Simmer for at least one hour on the stove or at least eight hours in the slow cooker. If you think the sauce needs more liquid, you can pour in a half a cup or a cup of water. Add salt to taste at the end, and don’t forget to remove the bay leaves. Then ladle it over your favorite pasta and enjoy!

Twist: If you like red wine, try substituting a half a cup of your favorite vino for the brown sugar and vinegar. It will have the same counter effect on the acidity of the tomatoes without using the added sugar.

Marinara Sauce Recipe

Alfredo Sauce

Adapted from Saveur

Many people associate cream with Alfredo sauce, but the restaurant owner who invented it to help his wife regain her appetite after giving birth used only butter and cheese. Vegans or people who want to eat lighter can make a non-dairy version that’s every bit as delicious — and creamy.

Alfredo sauce is traditionally served over fettuccine. Try buying handmade pasta for a special twist, or try it with tomato- or spinach-flavored fettuccine. You can add chicken and/or a vegetable like broccoli to your Alfredo sauce for added nutrition.

Cook the pasta first. Slice the butter into thin strips and place it on a serving dish pre-warmed in the microwave. As you drain the pasta, save about three-fourths of a cup of water from the pot and set it aside. Pour the pasta over the butter, and top it with finely grated parmesan (the good stuff!). Toss everything together, adding the pasta water slowly as needed.

Twist: Cashew nuts can keep things vegan while still providing the creamy deliciousness of the original recipe. Start by cooking the onion in one cup of broth with salt and pepper. When the onion becomes translucent and soft, add the garlic and cook until the broth evaporates. Add the contents of the pan to a blender along with the rest of the ingredients. Blend until the sauce is smooth.

Alfredo Sauce Recipe


Adapted from Allrecipes and Epicurious

Ah, basil. If you haven’t tasted it straight from the garden (or the windowsill), you haven’t enjoyed the full flavor of this bewitching herb. Summer is a great time to enjoy the light taste of pesto sauce, and using homegrown basil is the best reason to make your own sauce. Don’t worry about leftovers — this sauce freezes easily so you can enjoy it all year.

Penne, gnocchi, and other small pastas make great partners for pesto sauce. You can also enjoy it on toast or as a marinade for chicken.

One of the best things about pesto is how easy it is to prepare — simply throw all the ingredients into a blender or food processor and add olive oil as everything mixes together.

Twist: If you don’t like basil or simply get tired of it, you can make a “red” pesto using sun-dried tomatoes.

Pesto Sauce Recipe

Meat Sauce

Adapted from Brown Eyed Baker

Think of a good meat sauce as marinara’s fraternal twin. They come from the same foundation, but meat sauce has extra, well, meat to it. That said, vegetarians can also enjoy this recipe by substituting their favorite veggie or protein. Carnivores can simplify the sauce or vary it by using only ground beef or a different kind of meat, such as Italian sausage.

Meat sauce is a hearty dish that’s perfect for colder weather when you want a meal that will really stick to your ribs. Enjoy it over spaghetti or rigatoni, or use it in your favorite lasagna recipe. As with standard marinara, this sauce will taste better the longer you let it simmer before serving.

Add the meat to a large pot with the olive oil and brown it, breaking the pieces into smaller chunks with a spoon. Once browned, add the onion and garlic and cook until the onions are tender. Add basil, salt, and pepper. Pour the red wine into the sauce and cook another minute. Lower the heat and add the remaining ingredients. Then let it simmer as long as possible, but at least two hours.

Twist: Spice things up by adding your favorite red pepper flakes to the recipe, or serve your meat sauce over zoodles for a healthy alternative.

Meat Sauce Recipe

With so many great recipes to choose from, you’ll never be at a loss as to what to make for dinner again. Whether it’s an ordinary Monday night or a special Saturday dinner, these eight ways to make four classic sauces provide taste and nutrition without requiring tons of work in the kitchen. Better yet, pasta sauce invites creativity. Mix it up by adding your favorite protein and veggies to any of these recipes.

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Mouthwatering Pasta Sauces for Every Occasion
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Adrienne is a healthy-living writer based in central Pennsylvania. You can see more of her work by visiting her blog Foodie Fitness, where she writes about two of her favorite things: delicious, good-for-you food and staying healthy.
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