White spaghetti sauce is a creamy, pale-colored sauce used to top spaghetti and other pasta dishes. Unlike traditional tomato-based red sauces, white sauces get their creamy texture and color from ingredients like milk, cream, butter, flour, and cheese. The exact ingredients can vary widely between recipes, but some of the most common include:
Milk is one of the core ingredients used to make white spaghetti sauce. Whole milk, 2% milk, or heavy cream are all popular options. The milk gives the sauce a creamy, luxurious texture and helps thin out the sauce so it can properly coat the pasta. Using milk is what gives white sauce its distinct pale color rather than the bright red of marinara sauce.
Butter is also a key component of white sauce. Typically a few tablespoons of unsalted butter will be melted in the pan as the first step in making the sauce. As the butter melts, it creates a rich, fatty base that helps carry the flavors of the other ingredients. Butter also contributes to the velvety texture of the finished sauce.
Once the butter has melted, flour is whisked in to create a roux. This flour-butter roux helps thicken up the sauce so it nicely coats each strand of spaghetti. All-purpose flour or cornstarch are commonly used. The flour also absorbs moisture from the milk or cream to create a smooth, thick sauce.
Sprinkling in cheese is an optional but popular addition to white sauces. Common choices include mozzarella, Parmesan, provolone, ricotta, Romano, and fontina. The cheese can be whisked into the hot sauce so it melts and fully incorporates. Cheese boosts the creamy texture and adds a hit of savory, salty flavor.
For added flavor, garlic is often cooked into the sauce. Two or three cloves of minced or pressed garlic can be sautéed briefly in the melted butter before adding the flour and milk. This infuses the entire sauce with a bit of garlic flavor.
Similarly to garlic, many recipes call for cooking chopped onion in the buttery base. This adds an aromatic sweetness and another layer of flavor complexity. Yellow, white, or red onions all work well.
Herbs and Spices
Herbs and spices are great for seasoning a white sauce. Some options include:
- Bay leaf
- Black pepper
- Crushed red pepper
These can be added to taste at the end once the sauce is finished cooking. Herbs add freshness while spices complement the flavors.
For a grown-up twist, a splash of white wine can be added to the pan along with the aromatics. As the alcohol cooks off, it leaves behind a subtle depth and acidity.
Vegetable or Chicken Broth
Some white sauce recipes use broth as the liquid instead of or in addition to milk or cream. Vegetable, chicken, or beef broth all work. The broth adds a savory flavor boost.
Sautéed mushrooms are a popular mix-in for white sauces. Meaty mushrooms like cremini or portobello complement the richness of the sauce. They can be cooked in the base along with the aromatics then puréed into the finished sauce.
For a flavor twist, rehydrated sun-dried tomatoes can be chopped up and added to white sauce. They provide a subtle sweetness and a faint tomato background note.
Prosciutto or Bacon
Crisped up bits of prosciutto or bacon make a savory accent ingredient. The salty meat boosts the umami level and pairs wonderfully with the creamy sauce.
Fancy white sauces can be taken up a notch with seafood. Shrimp, lobster, crab, or scallops add luxurious richness and flavor. Just take care not to overcook them.
Chopped olives offer briny pops of flavor and texture contrast. Kalamata, green, or black olives are all nice additions.
A squeeze of lemon juice right before serving helps brighten up white sauces. The acidity cuts through the richness and adds freshness.
White spaghetti sauce is a creamy, indulgent alternative to tomato-based sauce. Its distinctive pale color and velvety texture come from ingredients like milk, cream, butter, and flour. Cheese, garlic, onions, herbs, and spices are commonly used to add layers of flavor. There are endless variations based on preferences. But a basic white sauce starts with making a butter and flour roux, whisking in dairy, and simmering until thickened. From there, cooks can customize with mix-ins ranging from mushrooms to seafood for a luxurious, restaurant-quality sauce.
White Sauce Variations
While the core ingredients remain largely the same, white sauce can vary widely based on the specific recipe. Some popular variations include:
Perhaps the most famous white pasta sauce, made with just butter, Parmesan, and cream or milk.
A French classic made with butter, flour, and milk. Often flavored with onions, nutmeg, and bay leaf.
Similar to Alfredo but with even more melted Parmesan for a cheesy flavor punch.
Blend of milk and melted cheddar with mustard for tang.
Features crumbled gorgonzola blue cheese for a pungent, funky flavor.
Fontina cheese gives this sauce a nutty, earthy quality.
Made by whisking tangy mascarpone into a béchamel base.
Includes crispy pancetta and whisked egg for richness.
Flavored with tomatoes, cream, and vodka for sweetness.
Chunks of buttery lobster meat make this sauce decadent.
Tips for Making White Spaghetti Sauce
Here are some helpful tips for getting perfect homemade white sauce for pasta every time:
- Cook the roux slowly over medium heat so the flour doesn’t burn.
- Whisk vigorously when adding milk to prevent lumps from forming.
- Simmer the sauce gently until nicely thickened, about 5-10 minutes.
- Add cheese gradually and stir constantly so it fully melts.
- Season with salt, pepper, nutmeg, and garlic powder to taste.
- If the sauce is too thick, thin it with a splash of milk or cream.
- If it’s too thin, mix in a bit more flour or cheese to thicken.
- Let the sauce cool slightly before tossing with cooked pasta.
- Reserve a bit of the starchy pasta water to help coat the noodles in sauce.
Taking it slowly and paying attention to the sauce’s consistency as you cook helps ensure you end up with a luscious, flavorful white spaghetti sauce every home cook will love.
Don’t have all the ingredients on hand for a particular white sauce recipe? Here are some possible substitutions:
|Heavy cream||Whole milk, half and half, or evaporated milk|
|Whole milk||2% milk or almond milk|
|Butter||Olive oil or vegetable oil|
|All-purpose flour||Cornstarch or rice flour|
|Parmesan cheese||Pecorino, asiago, or romano cheese|
|Chicken broth||Vegetable or beef broth|
Taste as you go and adjust seasoning as needed when substituting ingredients. The end result may be slightly different but can still be delicious.
Storage and Shelf Life
To maximize freshness and flavor, white sauces are best eaten right after cooking. However, leftover sauce can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for 3-4 days. To freeze, let the sauce cool completely then transfer to freezer bags or containers. Frozen sauce keeps for 2-3 months.
Here are some tips for storing and reheating leftover white sauce:
- Let sauce cool to room temperature before refrigerating to prevent curdling.
- Place a layer of plastic wrap directly on the surface to prevent a skin forming.
- Stir in a splash of milk or cream before reheating to thin it out.
- Reheat gently over medium-low heat while stirring constantly.
- Add a bit more cheese and seasonings to boost the flavor.
- Frozen sauce should be thawed overnight in the fridge before reheating.
With proper storage techniques, leftover white spaghetti sauce can taste freshly made for several days after cooking.
White sauce is delicious tossed with all different types of pasta beyond just spaghetti. Here are some serving ideas:
- Fettuccine Alfredo – Toss with fettuccine and Parmesan cheese.
- Gnocchi – Coat potato gnocchi with a garlicky béchamel.
- Baked Ziti – Mix with ricotta, mozzarella, and ziti then bake.
- Lasagna – Use as the filling and sauce in vegetable or meat lasagnas.
- Mac and Cheese – For a grown-up, creamy mac and cheese.
- Penne Rigate – Spoon carbonara-style sauce over penne rigate.
- Spaghetti and Meatballs – Ladle over spaghetti and meatballs for a creamy take.
- Pasta Bake – Combine with cooked pasta, veggies, and cheese and bake until bubbly.
Let your imagination run wild when using up a batch of homemade white sauce! The flavors pair wonderfully with all kinds of pasta, proteins, vegetables, and cheeses.
Is white spaghetti sauce healthy?
White sauces are typically higher in calories and fat compared to tomato-based sauces due to ingredients like butter, cream, and cheese. However, they can be lightened up by using reduced-fat dairy, going easy on butter, limiting salt, and loading up on veggies. Made thoughtfully, white sauces can be part of a balanced diet.
Is white or red sauce better?
This comes down to personal preference! Red and white sauces have different flavors and uses. Red sauce has bright, tomatoey flavor. White sauce is rich, creamy, and complements delicate flavors. In general, white sauce pairs best with more delicate pastas and ingredients while red sauce stands up to heartier pastas and meats.
Is white sauce just béchamel sauce?
Béchamel is probably the best known white sauce, made from a milk-butter-flour base. But white sauce is a broad category that includes any pale-colored, creamy sauce used for pasta, including Alfredo, carbonara, Parmesan, and vodka sauce. All these sauces share common traits but vary based on specific ingredients.
What pasta goes with white sauce?
White sauce pairs best with long, thinner pastas that can soak up the creamy sauce. Great options include spaghetti, linguine, fettuccine, tagliatelle, pappardelle, and angel hair. Short pastas like penne, farfalle, and shells also complement the richness of white sauces nicely.
How long does white sauce last in the fridge?
An airtight container of refrigerated white sauce keeps well for 3-4 days. Be sure to let the sauce cool fully before refrigerating. Place plastic wrap directly on the surface and don’t let it extend past the rim of the container. Look for any signs of curdling, mold, or off-odors before reheating.
White spaghetti sauce is a delicious, decadent alternative to traditional red sauce. At its most basic, it consists of a seasoned milk-butter-flour roux that creates a rich, creamy coating for pasta. But the possibilities are endless when it comes to customizing white sauce with cheese, vegetables, herbs, and other mix-ins. Mastering a high-quality white sauce opens up a world of comforting, restaurant-worthy pasta dishes that can be enjoyed as indulgent special-occasion fare or customized to be family-friendly and weeknight-easy.