The Difference Between Pomodoro, Marinara, And Arrabbiata Tomato Sauce

Tomato sauce seems to have so many different names that restaurants use. Pomodoro, marinara, or arrabbiata; there are some subtle variations in the origins and ingredients used.

Pomodoro sauce is a quick tomato sauce that can contain garlic and herbs. Arrabbiata is a tomato sauce with chili. Marinara is common in Italian-American food but not commonly found in Italy apart from in Naples or as a pizza topping.

A lot claim that marinara doesn’t exist in Italy, but I found some firm evidence that it originated in Naples. The American version can be quite different although both agree that garlic is a must.

Let’s explore these tasty sauces so the next time you’re in an Italian restaurant or cooking up some pasta or pizza at home, you can make a more informed decision about which sauce to choose.

Where They Originally Came From

A pomodoro sauce originated in Italy in the 1800s, perhaps in Naples. The arrabbiata sauce comes from the central Lazio region, perhaps from Rome.

These two definitely came from Italy and are still very common there, while the marinara sauce may have originated from Naples, Italy but is more common in American-Italian cuisine.

Some people claim that marinara doesn’t come from Italy at all, but I think that could just be regionality at play as there are some links to Naples for sure.

Here is an example of an Italian website recipe for pasta alla marinara and another Italian website recipe for sugo alla marinara (you can translate them in Google Chrome to read about it!).

Italy is a very regional place when it comes to food. Most Italians don’t use marinara for pasta sauce but know it as a tomato and garlic pizza.

“Alla marinara” can also mean many different dishes in Italy with no hint of tomato – cozze alla marinara (mussels in white wine sauce) or risotto alla marinara (seafood risotto).

The term translates to “sailors style” or “the way the sailors do”. So I think it’s likely the marinara simply means dishes that were “cooked by the sea”.

One theory for the tomato sauce is that it was the ingredients the sailors could take on long sea voyages.

Where They Are Popular

In Italy, “salsa di pomodoro” is widely used across the whole country whereas “sugo all’arrabbiata” is more popular in the central region of Italy, specifically the area around Rome where it might have originated.

Marinara as a pasta sauce is only found around Naples (pasta alla marinara). It seems the tomato marinara only traveled to other parts of Italy as a pizza with tomato sauce.

In the USA, marinara is a popular sauce for Italian food and is used as a general term. You can find it on pasta with meatballs or buy a tub of it to dip your crusts in at a pizza delivery chain. It’s used as the base of other dishes such as penne arrabbiata.

All these sauces, or at least some version of them, are popular across the world, particularly in western civilizations.

How To Make These Delicious Pasta Sauces

As we know, all these sauces are based on tomatoes, but there are some key differences in the ingredients used, which gives each one its own distinctive flavor.

For all 3 sauces, I will say this – use the best tomatoes you can buy. Italian whole plum tomatoes are great, with the best being San Marzano from the Campania region.

Pomodoro Sauce (Sugo di Pomodoro)

The Pomodoro sauce is probably the most simple of all three being made with just tomatoes, garlic, olive oil, salt, and fresh basil if you have it.

This combination gives it a lovely rich tomato taste that goes great with pasta, pizza, or chicken. It is usually smooth in texture and has a deep red color.

A basic Pomodoro sauce recipe is as follows:

Ingredients:

  • 28oz (2x 400g) can of Italian tomatoes
  • 2 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 1 sprig of basil (optional)
  • 1 large pinch of salt

Instructions:

  1. Heat the oil in a saucepan over medium heat.
  2. Add the garlic, and cook for several minutes until fragrant
  3. Crush the tomatoes with your hands or a potato mash and add to the pan
  4. Add the basil and salt and stir everything together.
  5. Cover and simmer over low heat for around 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Tip: For a smoother Pomodoro sauce, blend with an immersion blender in the saucepan once it’s cooked.

That’s it! A simple and delicious Sugo di Pomodoro (Italian for Tomato Sauce)

Serve directly with your favorite pasta and refrigerate any leftovers in an airtight container for up to 5 days.

Marinara Sauce (Sugo alla Marinara)

Marinara sauce is similar to Pomodoro, but this one includes onions and oregano. These ingredients are quite common in Italian-American recipes. In reality, you can add whatever herbs you like.

It gets its name from the Italian word for “sailor”.

According to legend, when Italian women saw their husband’s fishing boats heading toward shore, they would start preparing “il sugo” (the sauce). By the time the men arrived home, the meal would be ready.

Ingredients:

  • 28oz (2x 400g) can of Italian tomatoes
  • 1 small onion, peeled and diced
  • 2 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon of dried oregano
  • 1 large pinch of salt

Instructions:

  1. Heat the oil in a saucepan over medium heat.
  2. Add the onion, and cook until soft and translucent (around 5 minutes).
  3. Add the garlic for a minute or two.
  4. Crush the tomatoes with your hands and add them to the pan
  5. Add the salt and oregano
  6. Simmer for around 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Arrabbiata Sauce (Sugo all’Arrabbiata)

Arrabiata sauce is a traditional Italian pasta sauce made with tomatoes, garlic, and a spicy kick from chili peppers or red pepper flakes.

The name of the sauce comes from the Italian word “arrabbiata,” which means “angry.” This sauce is frequently made with fresh tomatoes, but canned tomatoes can also be used.

Here’s my simple arrabbiata sauce recipe to try:

  • 28oz (2x 400g) can of Italian tomatoes
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes or 1-2 red chili chopped
  • A handful of parsley chopped
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
  1. Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium heat.
  2. Add the garlic and chili, and cook until fragrant, about 2 minutes.
  3. Crush the tomatoes with your hand and add to the pan.
  4. Simmer for 20 minutes or until the sauce has thickened slightly.
  5. Add the chopped parsley.
  6. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Toss this sauce with penne for the traditional penne alla arrabbiata. You can use other pasta shapes also though.

The Difference Between Bolognese And Ragu

Bolognese and ragu are both traditional Italian sauces that are typically used on pasta. They are both meat-based sauces, however, there are some key differences between the two.

Ragu is the general Italian name for any type of meat sauce and can have many variations. It is often made with ground beef, pork, or lamb, and is cooked with tomatoes, onions, garlic, and red wine.

The sauce is typically simmered for several hours to allow the flavors to develop.

Ragu alla Bolognese, on the other hand, is a sauce that originated in the city of Bologna and is actually a type of ragu.

It is made with ground beef or pork with other ingredients including tomatoes, onions, garlic, milk, and wine, but this time traditionally white rather than red. It’s simmered for a long time to soften the meat and develop flavor.

Spaghetti bolognese found outside of Italy is a dish that is popular around the world but has drifted apart from its Italian roots. This type of bolognese is cooked quickly with some meat, tomatoes, and herbs and often lacks the depth of the traditional ragu.

It’s also served with spaghetti which the Italians don’t do – they opt for flat pasta like tagliatelle to hold onto the sauce better.

Conclusion

Hopefully, you now know the difference between pomodoro, marinara, and arrabbiata sauces.

It all comes down to your personal preferences. If you like your pasta sauce to be simple but with a rich tomato flavor, pomodoro or marinara is the way to go – you can add the herbs you like. If you like your pasta sauce with a little bit of a kick, arrabbiata is definitely the way to go.

Now that you know the basics, it’s time to get cooking!

Tom Hambly

Tom Hambly is the founder of Crust Kingdom. As a self-taught cook, he has been perfecting making pizzas at home for over a decade. Now he runs this site to help millions of people make pizza every year. About Tom Hambly.

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