The difference between what you think you know about the history of spaghetti sauce and the truth may surprise you. The spaghetti dish we’re used to couldn’t have existed in ancient Rome because tomatoes are native to South America and made their way to European markets in the 1500’s. Even so, it wasn’t until the 1600’s, when Naples fell under Spanish rule that the first evidence of a tomato sauce appeared in a cook book. It was most likely a marinara, Italy’s oldest known tomato sauce that originates from the Naples area. What’s more, it is believed that Italian peasants never consumed spaghetti with meatballs until Italy’s great migration between 1870 and 1970 when 26 million Italians migrated for better living conditions and to secure work.
While they’re not spaghetti sauces, we’d be remiss if we didn’t add this interesting side note: Alfredo and pasta primavera were introduced in 1914 and 1977 respectively. Pasta primavera was created in New York by a restauranteur that was improvising because he was out of other ingredients!
Ok, let’s get saucy. Whether it’s a cream, red, white, clear, or meat sauce, you’re bound to have an opinion about what makes a great sauce. For our purposes, we’re narrowing the list to include only the red sauces (I know they’re all delicious, calm down). Here’s a list of the traditional reds.
Arrabbiata – Italian for “angry”, this sauce is true to its name. It’s a zesty tomato-based red sauce that contains chilies, spicy pancetta and garlic.
Bologne – A red ragu (meat sauce) containing finely chopped pieces of meat, carrots, celery, onions, and a little wine. It is often made with cream giving it a lighter red color and delicious, mild and savory flavor. The origins of this sauce can be traced back to the Northern Italian city of Bologna.
Marinara – What is known as the classic Italian tomato sauce is a red sauce that is highly seasoned with onions, garlic and oregano. The sauce dates back to roughly 1692. The word marinara comes from an Italian word meaning “of the sea”. Traditional Italian marinara sauce is known for often containing seafood.
Neapolitan – A red ragu (meat sauce) sauce containing plenty of tomatoes, onion, garlic, herbs and spices. This sauce originates from the city of Naples where they prepare the sauce with whole pieces of meat cooked in it. The meat is removed when the sauce is done and served separately as the main course.
Puttanesca – One of the most interesting names for a sauce, the word can mean “whore’s spaghetti” or “garbage.” The origin of this sauce in unclear but some legends claim it was prepared for prostitutes while they waited for their next appointment. They would ask the cook to make “any kind of garbage” which might explain the excessive amount of ingredients used to prepare this sauce compared to other traditional sauces. Puttanesca is a red sauce that includes tomatoes, onions, anchovies, capers, black olives, garlic and oregano, simmered in olive oil.
While sauces vary from one country to the next, spaghetti is enjoyed around the world. While knowing the history of the famed sauce makes for interesting conversation while the sauce is cooking, we suggest you stop talking and enjoy every savory bite when the meal is served. Buon appetito!