Italian Red Sauce Recipe

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Red Sauce Italian Cooking 

Rigatoni alla vodka, eggplant rollatini, chicken francese, and heaping trays of lasagna bolognese — all these dishes take me back to moments eating on red-and-white checkered tablecloths as a house manager named Gino yelled something like, “Save room for dessert!”

While I’ve had plenty of great Italian food, it wasn’t until my first trip to Italy that I realized just how Americanized the food back home really was. Even the pizza in Italy was different. I guess this makes sense when I consider how Italian immigrants who came to America likely modified or invented recipes to cater to what people could afford and the ingredients available at the time. The Italian American, big family-style food I was used to was deemed as Red Sauce Italian by food magazine Bon Appétit

As an Italian American myself, I try my best to hone my Red Sauce Italian cooking skills, though I can’t quite capture the authentic tastes from Italy. Still, it’s a part of my culture I enjoy sharing whenever I can. 

Serve It With the Right Foods

Red Sauce Italian food is great because it’s basically the same couple of ingredients mixed in different ways. Dishes are usually served with a tomato-based red sauce, cream-based white sauce, garlic and oil mixture, or some kind of wine-infused reduction, like marsala. None of these require a lot of effort to prepare, and you can season them to your own liking with dried basil, oregano, or pepper.

Then, take your pick of protein: breaded or grilled chicken cutlets, veal pounded nice and thin, or the most common choice — shellfish, and especially clams. Vegetarians can easily re-create most dishes with eggplant or zucchini.

Pasta, of course, cannot be left out, and thankfully it’s totally acceptable to use generic boxed pasta. Penne, spaghetti, linguine, and rigatoni are the typical faves, but fusilli and farfalle will work also if you feel like being a little fancy.

Meat/veg + pasta + sauce = the formula for your Red Sauce Italian meal. 

Cheese is optional, but it always enhances the dish. Slices of mozzarella and provolone work best with chicken. Finely grated Parmigiano Romano, like the kind from Locatelli, goes on everything.

Bread is always served (hooray for double carbs!). If you’re lucky enough to have an Italian bakery in your neighborhood, a loaf of semolina is perfect. Really though, any kind of crusty bread is great. You’ll want to have it on hand to sop up all that leftover sauce.

Pair It With Wine 

Red wine just feels right with Red Sauce Italian dishes, even dishes that are on the lighter side. Chianti pairs well, providing a robust flavor and a comforting warmth. If you’re feeling a white wine, something dry like chardonnay offers a crisp taste with dishes like seafood and more mellow pasta. You can also refer to Basil and Grape’s guide to pairing wines with Italian food for further inspiration.

There are lots of Italian grape varietals and wine regions, but to be honest, Red Sauce Italian is all about comforting simplicity. An inexpensive table wine may be just be the thing as these dishes are meant to be eaten casually and easily. 

Replicate the Atmosphere 

Kitchens in Italian households are huge because they aren’t just for cooking. They are places for the family to gather, catch up, play games, learn from each other, and more. Then, of course, they are a place to eat together. 

Outside the home, “Family style” isn’t just a cute phrase to charge a lot of money for one massive shared plate at Carmine’s. Rather, it’s the heart of Red Sauce Italian cooking, especially since most of us come from really large families with dozens of cousins running around, aunts who like to pinch cheeks, and uncles who will slip kids dollar bills for good luck. 

Plate your main dishes on big platters and serve the pasta in a large bowl. Everyone scoops out as much as they want, and there are always extras to send people home with. You can add some sauteed veggies on the side, such as broccoli with garlic, or spinach softened in a light lemon broth. 

Put on a little Frank Sinatra, and get ready to eat well. Sit around the table and enjoy the meal, conversation, and closeness. Re-creating the perfect Red Sauce Italian meal is definitely possible — no Italian heritage required.


  • 1 can, of crushed tomatoes
  • 1 onion, halved
  • 1 clove garlic, , sliced
  • 4 tbsp. butter
  • ¼ tsp. salt
  • chicken


  1. Place all of the ingredients in a saucepan. 
  2. Bring to a boil, then simmer for at least one hour. The longer you let it simmer, the stronger the flavor will be as the ingredients break down. 
  3. Remove the onion, garlic, and basil before serving. That’s it! Fresh sauce can be refrigerated for up to three days. Freezing sauce is advisable, as it can last between six months to a year.

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Tags: International Cuisine

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Written By

Katka Lapelosová

Katka is a writer from New York City, currently living in Belgrade, Serbia. See Full Bio

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