"Photo Glossary" of Traditional Seasonings and a Look at Our Own Family Preferences

Traditional Sauce Seasoning

Creating a signature sauce recipe is a highly personal art without hard-and-fast rules. Read about Teresa and Giovanna's Preferred Sauce Seasonings or explore our "Photo Glossary" of Italian Sauce Seasonings (below).

Teresa & Giovanna’s Preferred Sauce Seasonings

Based on their own family recipes, Giovanna Cortopassi (Dino’s wife) and Teresa Cortopassi (Dino’s mother and Tom’s grandmother) prefer to use these Italian seasonings for the various types of red sauces listed below. They emphasize, however, that these are only their own personal preferences, and encourage you to find your own favorite flavors. Of course, the final test of any signature sauce recipe should be the tastebuds of your guests.

Click on the seasoning name to see a photo and brief description or browse our "Photo Glossary" shown below.

Seasoning Tomato Sauce Types
Pizza Sauce Marinara (no meat) Red Sauce With Meat
Italian Parsley  
Salvia (sage)  

"Photo Glossary" of Italian Sauce Seasonings


Italian term for describing aromatic herbs, like rosemary, thyme, basil, and others, which help define the character of "la vera cucina." Aromatic herbs should be added late in the cooking process to preserve delicate aroma volatiles.

Basil – Basilico:

Basil’s sweet aroma naturally mellows and sweetens tomato sauces. Flavor tip: In preparing fresh basil leaves, remove any stems or flowers, which can impart a bitter taste to the sauce.

Capers – Capperi:

Preserved in salt or vinegar, capers are unopened flower buds of a wild shrub which clings to stone walls throughout Italy. Featured in many of the same rustic sauces as olives, capers can add a piquant “bite” and an unexpected burst of flavor to the sauce.

Carrots – Carote:

Adding fresh carrots (whole or puréed) to red sauces is a time-tested way to naturally sweeten them without the addition of sugar. When whole carrots are used, they are generally removed from the sauce before serving.

Extra-Virgin Olive Oil – Olio di Oliva Extravirgine:

Olive oil richens sauce texture and complements tomatoes with “olive” flavor of varying intensity, depending on the character of the particular oil used. Flavor tip: Sautéing seasonings in olive oil before adding the infused oil to the tomatoes helps rapidly distribute their essence throughout the sauce, without exposing the tomatoes to flavor-reducing heat in cooking.

Fennel – Finocchio:

Fennel seeds (finocchiella) add a mild “licorice” flavor, often associated with some styles of sweet Italian sausage. In some signature pizza sauce recipes, these yellowish seeds add a distinctive “zing.”

Garlic and Onion – Aglio e Cipolla:

Garlic and onion are foundational flavors in many tomato sauces. Flavor tip: Because garlic becomes bitter if overheated, first caramelize the onions in olive oil over a medium-high heat, before turning down the flame and adding garlic for a brief sauté.

Hard Cheeses – Grana:

A sprinkle of “grana” (grated hard cheeses such as Parmigiano, Grana Padano, Romano, or Asiago) before serving can further richen and add flavor complexity to a finished red sauce.

Marjoram – Maggiorana:

Marjoram leaves are known for their peppery aroma and are best enjoyed in their fresh form. Botanically, marjoram is a close cousin of (and a distinctive substitute for) oregano.

Olives – Olive:

Olive flavor also naturally complements tomato flavor. Added whole or in pieces, olives can richen sauce texture and are frequently featured in rustic trattoria-style sauces, including "alla cacciatora" and "alla boscaiola."

Oregano – Origano:

Because of its sharp character, oregano is generally used in tomato sauces which accompany meat or in pizza sauces. Flavor tip: Greek oregano tastes mellower and less pungent than the Mexican version.

Parsley – Prezzemolo:

Compared to its curly leafed cousin, flat-leafed Italian parsley is considered superior for its distinctive flavor.

Rosemary – Rosmarino:

Rosemary can be added in cooking as a whole twig (and later removed) or finely chopped. Its pungent, tea-like aroma and strong, piney flavor make it a particularly good choice in sauces accompanying meats.

Sage – Salvia:

Salvia’s long, velvety leaves have a pungent aroma and slightly bitter, warm flavor, and salvia often accompanies rosemary. Thought to have medicinal properties, salvia’s name comes from the Latin salvere, meaning “to heal.”

Salt and Pepper – Sale e Pepe:

Added by the pinch “to taste,” sea salt and freshly ground black pepper stimulate the palate, while helping to enliven sauce flavor.

Sweet and Hot Peppers – Peperoni e Peperoncini:

Fresh or dried, peppers can add flavor complexity to red sauces. Peperoni, or sweet peppers, are often roasted first to soften their texture and mellow their sweetness. Peperoncini, or red chilies, provide “heat” to traditional red sauces like arrabiatta, whose name literally means “fiery” or “enraged.”

Thyme – Timo:

Thyme’s silvery grey, green leaves offer a pungent, slightly lemony flavor, appropriate for sauces accompanying meat.

Wine – Vino:

The complex, delicate flavors of wine naturally complement the complex, delicate flavors of the tomato. Flavor tip: Because of its important contribution to sauce flavor, evaluate wine for “cooking” like wine for the table … based on its overall “drinkability.”