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#959466 added November 11, 2020 at 11:42pm
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Italian-American Tomato Sauces
It's important to know the differences between the big three Italian-American tomato sauces: spaghetti, marinara, and pizza sauce. Truth be told, most of the tomato sauces we eat in America rarely come close to their real Italian ancestors. Having said that, lets dive headlong into those big three and explain the difference that have been told to me by "real" Italian-Americans (living near South Philly you tend to run into a few).

First, there really is no such thing as "spaghetti sauce." Spaghetti is the pasta that can be eaten with a huge range of sauces: Alfredo, Bolognese, marinara, a drizzle of olive oil, or just plain butter (my kids' favorite). And spaghetti and meatballs is an American dish, not an Italian one. What we are actually eating is an American variant of bolognese sauce, but there's no need to quibble over semantics. To us Americans, it's spaghetti sauce.

Also be forewarned, if you do talk to an Italian-American, remember that they don't call it tomato sauce, but tomato gravy. Since I'm not Italian-American, I'll stick to calling it sauce.


Marinara and spaghetti sauce tend to be thicker and chunkier because they are poured over pasta or used as a dipping sauce in the case of Marina sauce. Pizza sauce is thinner because its spread between dough and toppings.

Pizza sauce is again the odd one in this category because it's not cooked ahead of time. It's made to be cooked while the pizza is cooking. Marinara sauce is usually simmered just long enough for the flavors to blend. Its less bold in order to taste the individual flavors more and so as not to overwhelm the foods it's served over. Spaghetti sauce is simmered sometimes for long periods of time allowing the flavors to be well combined.

The final and most important differences are what goes into the sauce, including the spices. Marinara and pizza sauce are meatless which is the first thing that sets them apart from Spaghetti sauce.

Pizza sauce probably has the weakest flavor because it doesn't need to be particularly strong due of the toppings that go with pizza. It's saltier with a strong taste of tomatoes. A little garlic is usually the only spice used. You'll find many recipes that load up on spices, but that's not the way to make good pizza.

Marinara sauce is most often used to accent something—as a dipping sauce or with foods you want to highlight such as chicken, veal, seafood, and so on. It utilizes more aromatic herbs for a stronger taste.

Spaghetti sauce has deeper, bolder flavors that go best when served over just plain pasta. It uses larger quantities of the the most aromatic herbs such as oregano, basil, thyme, bay leaf, and so on.

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