In Italian cooking, sauces aren't just for pasta. Queen of the cuisine Lidia Bastianich shares eight standout styles that dress up beef, seafood, chicken and vegetables. (And you'll want to eat every one of them with pasta, too.)
Lidia Bastianich smiling at table with pasta
Photography by Misha Gravenor
| Credit: Photography by Misha Gravenor

"People sometimes think sauce needs to be complex. In Italy, it's made with whatever's available: fresh, local ingredients, of course, or things from the cupboard in winter months. Even when you think you have nothing in the house, you can make a great homemade sauce."  -- Lidia Bastinanich

Lidia’s Sauce Recipes

Marinara may be top tomato here in America, but chef and TV host Lidia Bastianich says there are a slew of lesser-known Italian sauces just as tasty: "Traditionally they're made with regional peak-season produce that has a lot of natural flavor. When you break them down with heat or in a blender, vegetables kind of make their own sauce, releasing their liquids as they turn tender." 

The same magic happens with beans and legumes, herbs and garlic, and even nuts. With her favorite sous chefs at her side -- her mother, Erminia; daughter Tanya; niece Estelle; and Estelle's husband, Gus -- Lidia stirs up six scrumptious versions starring simple, seasonal ingredients, and shares her sauciest tips. Take our word for it: You're gonna want a spoon.

Get Saucy with Garlic

Preparing the Garlic

"Dishes in Italy don't taste as strongly of garlic as they do in Italian-American cooking," Lidia says. "In this recipe, the cloves are cooked thoroughly, so the sharp enzymes are neutralized and you get a sweet taste and velvety texture."

creamy garlic sauce with broccoli
Credit: Photography by Misha Gravenor

CREAMY GARLIC SAUCE WITH BROCCOLI Serve this sauce with vegetables like broccoli, or sneak a bit into just about anything: mashed potatoes, soup or a big bowl of fresh tagliatelle.

What to Drink! Donnafugata Anthilia 2010 With plenty of fruity, floral flavor, this Sicilian white is a friendly finish to the rich cream sauce.

Play with Pesto

making pesto in the kitchen
Credit: Photography by Misha Gravenor

"The name of this sauce comes from the verb pestare, which means 'to mash,' " Lidia says. "Every region in Italy has different ingredients in its pesto, depending on what grows nearby. This one is from Sicily, where they grow some of the best almonds around."

What's that, Lidia? "To get a good sear, cook the chicken on medium-high heat in a cast-iron pan, then lower the heat and cover the pan to keep in the steam and tenderize the meat."

almond pesto trapanese over seared chicken
Credit: Photography by Misha Gravenor

ALMOND PESTO TRAPANESE OVER SEARED CHICKEN Serve this sauce with vegetables like broccoli, or sneak a bit into just about anything: mashed potatoes, soup or a big bowl of fresh tagliatelle. 

What to Drink! Bastianich Rosato di Refosco 2010 This Friulian rose has a fresh strawberry flavor that balances the toastiness of the nuts.

Use Beans as a Base

Lidia using food processor for herbs and chickpeas
Credit: Photography by Misha Gravenor

"Up and down the Italian peninsula, dried legumes are used as a platform for other foods and flavors," Lidia says. This hearty puree is made with chickpeas, fresh basil and pine nuts, which are classic to the Liguria region.

chickpea puree with poached shrimp
Credit: Photography by Misha Gravenor

CHICKPEA PUREE WITH POACHED SHRIMP Go nutty with whichever nut swap-ins you like such as almonds and walnuts. "Toast them to release their flavors," Lidia adds. 

What to drink! Argiolas Costamolino Vermentino di Sardegna 2010 Bright hints of citrus, fresh pear and herbs in this Sardinian white are a great match for the sweet shrimp and the creamy chickpeas.

Pull From Your Pantry

man tasting sauce from spoon woman is holding
Credit: Photography by Misha Gravenor

"There are many variations of cupboard sauces in Italy," Lidia says. "This one's made with jarred capers and olives, but you can use whatever you have: cured artichokes, sun-dried tomatoes, anchovies or a can of beans. It's ideal for the cold months, when you don't have as many fresh vegetables."

What's that, Lidia? "You must taste sauces as you go. The vegetables vary, so you may need different amounts of salt each time you make a recipe. The more you can develop your taste apparatus, the better off you are as a cook." 

olive and caper sauce with fusilli
Credit: Photography by Misha Gravenor

OLIVE & CAPER SAUCE WITH FUSILLI Serve it with any pasta that has nooks and crannies (like ziti or rigatoni), or spoon it on as a pizza topping. 

What to drink! Santi Solane Vapolicella Classico Superiore Ripasso 2009 The spicy notes in this northern Italian red stand up to the salty olives and capers. 

Infuse With Oil

Lidia infusing chicken with oil and herbs
Credit: Photography by Misha Gravenor

"All countries in the Mediterranean seem to have a rendition of this sauce, a condiment made with olive oil, herbs and lemon (or other acid) that's traditionally served with seafood," Lidia says. In the Italian version, the oil is first infused with garlic and herbs.

salmoriglio sauce with striped bass
Credit: Photography by Misha Gravenor

SALMORIGLIO SAUCE WITH STRIPED BASS "The better the olive oil quality, the better the dish," Lidia says. 

What to drink! Bastianich Adriatico Friulano 2010 Bring an earthiness to the bright, lemony fish with this medium-boded white from Friuli.

Let the Sauce Make Itself

women toasting wine in kitchen
Credit: Photography by Misha Gravenor

"Everything cooks together in harmony when you make a braise," Lidia says. "In this veal shank version, the meat, carrots, and a beautiful sauce made with cloves and the orange peel exchange flavors as they simmer."

braised vegetable sauce with osso buco
Credit: Photography by Misha Gravenor

BRAISED VEGETABLE SAUCE WITH OSSO BUCO Push the vegetables through a strainer at the end to thicken the sauce.

What to drink! La Mozza Morellino di Scansano I Perazzi 2009 This spicy red from Tuscany is a tasty contrast to the mellow veal and sweet carrots.

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