Spaghetti Marinara confusion

Joined Jun 22, 2017
Hello guys,

I'm confused for real. Relatively new to cooking and decided to make Spaghetti Marinara.

I've always pictured in my mind for some reason that Marinara means rich tomato sauce, so I googled "Marinara sauce recipe". First one that popped up was tomatoes, garlic, onion, oregano, black pepper, salt, parsley and white wine, so I said to myself "Great! Sounds like good, easy to make Marinara sauce".

While the sauce is simmering, I decided to research different recipes for Spaghetti Marinara, so I saw that some didn't have wine, others swapped oregano for basil, or added celery to the sauteed onions and so on.

However in one video on YT I stumbled upon, that's where my confusion came from, had this professional chef make Spaghetti Marinara without any tomato sauce whatsoever! Instead he sauteed shellfish with garlic, olive oil, basil and chilli, and added the spaghetti right into the pan, and then served it.

NOW, how is it possible to have Spaghetti Marinara with shellfish and no tomato sauce and NO shellfish and tomato sauce ???

Please, could someone explain that, because I can't find a good source of info online for that distinction...


Staff member
Joined Mar 29, 2002
Marinara means something along the lines of Mariner in English. So you can see how a seafood dish could be called that.

With the tomato based variety, there are many variations probably as many as there are Italian grandmothers. It's usually on the quicker simple side of things, something you can make while the pasta water comes to a boil and the pasta cooks.
Joined Feb 8, 2009
The Marinara you made is right. It could be made with other herbs and with or without wine. The one made with seafood is Marinera.......
Joined Jun 22, 2017
But how can u have two totally different dishes with the same name, that's what boggles my mind o_O or am I missing something here ?
Joined Dec 18, 2010
Diversity in this, and many, recipe is... very diverse. Rather than getting confused by the intrnet I suggest picking one notable Italian chef and follow their approach to learn. For Italian there are several to consider: Hazan, Bastianich, Batali, and a few others that are both knowedable, comprehensive and willing to teach in their writings. But my go-to would be Marcella Hazan. If she says marinara has basil and not oregano I’d go to the bank with that. But don’t let anything keep you from adapting to your own personal or regional taste.
Joined Aug 21, 2004

both named Madison
Joined Jan 25, 2013
then to really confuse, the sauce most of us are used getting when we order pasta with meat sauce is Bolognese. when I cook and folks ask for a name, I say an Italian style meat sauce
Joined Jul 13, 2012
Marinara is not cooked a long time it's more of a fresh sauce.

Heck - I was watching Mike Colameco's show the other night and he was at a restaurant that serves an "Octopus Bolognese" that I want to make.
Joined Apr 25, 2011
I'm with the others that Marinara is a quick, light tomato sauce. I will also add it is primarily a vegetarian sauce. It is a more chunky Pomodoro sauce. I go with Basil over Oregano, but I guess either can work.

Italian tomato sauce that is served with pasta in most restaurants will be Bolognese or Ragu. That have meat or meat fat.

The next question is: Is it "sauce" or "gravy" (Ducks and runs out of room) :p
Joined Apr 3, 2008
The main reason that this is so confusing is that Italy differs greatly from region to region. What you find in one region doesn't exist in another. Try ordering pesto in Bologna, it doesn't exist there. Try ordering Bolognese in Naples. Nope. You want gnocchi? You'll have to go to Rome for that. And hardly anywhere will you find risotto on a menu unless you're in Milan or Venice. So of course, when Italian immigrants came to America things got a little confusing. Basically, just cook what you want, call it what you want, and it will all be good. No matter what you call it, someone will disagree.

For the record, I call my "marinara" just tomato sauce or sugo. And hands down you cannot beat Marcella Hazan's recipe for tomato sauce in both flavor and simplicity. Trust us.
Joined Jan 25, 2013
So of course, when Italian immigrants came to America things got a little confusing. Basically, just cook what you want, call it what you want, and it will all be good. No matter what you call it, someone will disagree..
raw ingredients are another piece. meat is cheap and plentiful in US, so sauces become heavy with meat.
Joined Feb 8, 2009
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