Ask several people this question and you'll get several different answers. My answer is based on my background. I'm first born generation here in the states and grew up on my mom's and nonna's Italian cooking. My dad is from Campania and my mom is from Calabria. Growing up, we spent many summers with our relatives in Italy and I was schooled in southern Italy for a year. I think a lot of Italians consider the two sauces the same thing. I have a feeling that's what my mom would say if I asked her ("pomodoro" means tomato).
Marinara sauce is a meatless tomato sauce made with fresh tomatoes, olive oil, garlic and fresh (never dried) basil and salt, that's it. It simmers for only about 20 minutes. The texture is liquidy but with chunks of tomatoes. Since it simmers for a short period of time it retains a lot of it's bright red/orange color as opposed to a deeper red on sauces that simmer for hours. While some of the olive oil blends with the tomatoes, some of it does not. So the olive oil lends a shimmery orange color to the pasta and maybe even adds a tad velvety texture.
A pomodoro sauce, is a lot like the marinara sauce only it's thicker, but still liquidy. It feels a lot like minced tomatoes in your mouth rather than the chuncks you get with marinara sauce. It's cooked a little longer so it's darker in color but not much.
Most of this content is true...but you missed a very important detail. Marinara sauce is a from of the word mariner...it was originally prepared by Italian fisherman using tomatoes, garlic, basil hot peppers and fish heads. It was served over pasta as a communal meal following the return of the fleet. Today we prepare marinara sauce by substituting anchovies in place of fish heads. It is a very light but full flavored sauce used on pasta or light seafood preparations.
"Pomodoro" is the Italian word for "tomato". The basic ingredients in pomodoro sauce are tomatoes, garlic, olive oil, basil leaves, and salt, which makes a sweet and mellow sauce. This is the recipe most restaurants use. If you add red pepper flakes to pomodoro sauce, you'll have the spicy sauce known as Fra Diavolo (Italian for "brother devil").
Marinara is a tomato based sauce that will not spoil for a long time. Regularly stocked on tall ships by sea mariners, henceforth the name. The acidity level of the tomatoes minus any ingredients that could spoil gave the sauce it's shelf life. In simple terms Marinara is any tomato based sauce lightly seasoned (salt, pepper, basil, oregano, garlic, olive oil, and onions). No meat.
"Spaghetti" actually refers to the shape of the pasta, and in the US "marinara" refers to the sauce. You can use whatever sauce you want on spaghetti, but it's best suited to lighter sauces with not a lot of big chunks, like a simple drizzle of olive oil and crushed garlic, or a carbonara. "Spaghetti" is actually plural for "spaghetto" which translates to "twine" in Italian. In Italy you would say the type of pasta and then mention the sauce too. So the classic spaghetti dish we know in the US would be called "Spaghetti alla marinara".
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