Special Report

Best Pasta Sauces That Don’t Have Tomatoes

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Cacio e pepe

As with another Roman pasta sauce, aglio e olio, the name is the recipe: cheese and pepper. The cheese is pecorino romano (some recipes add some parmesan, too), the pepper is black and preferably freshly ground. Add a little olive oil and you’re done.

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Con cima di rapa

Considered the emblematic dish of the southern region of Puglia, in the heel of the Italian boot, this straightforward dish of broccoli rabe with olive oil, garlic, red pepper flakes, and pecorino cheese is traditionally served with orecchiette, or “little ears” — small shell-shaped pasta that holds the chopped vegetable nicely.

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Con prosciutto e piselli

The Italian region of Emilia-Romagna is famous for its pasta dishes, its dairy products (including parmesan cheese), and its prosciutto. This typical recipe from the area ignores olive oil in favor of butter, then stirs in parmesan and prosciutto, as well as bright green peas. It is usually served with garganelli, short tubular shapes similar to penne.

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Con le sarde

The estimable food writer Paula Wolfert, a specialist in Mediterranean cuisines, wrote about the unique Sicilian pasta con sarde — with sardines — in the New York Times in 1985, and for a while it seemed as if the dish was suddenly on every Italian restaurant menu in Manhattan. Legend ascribes the creation of the dish to Arab cooks working for the Byzantine admiral Euphemius when he landed in Sicily. Its principal ingredients are sardines, anchovies, and fennel, all typically Sicilian. Though some recipes add a bit of tomato paste, the classic version adds only currants, pine nuts, onions, and olive oil, with a pinch of crumbled saffron.

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This famous green sauce is often made in a food processor or blender for convenience, or sometimes, less conveniently, the ingredients are chopped into a rough purée with a knife or mezzaluna (a “half-moon” knife, crescent-shaped with a handle on each end). Traditionally, however, it is crushed or beaten (“pestare” in Italian) into a paste with a mortar and pestle — hence its name. Though there are variations using other herbs, the classic pesto, a specialty of Genoa and vicinity, is made with young, sweet Genoese basil, parmesan and/or pecorino cheese, pine nuts, garlic, and olive oil.