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A family-friendly pasta pomodoro recipe. Make this classic Italian pasta sauce with tomatoes, olive oil and basil in less than 30 minutes.
Pasta pomodoro is such an easy pasta recipe! It needs to be in your file if it isn’t already.
This Italian dish is perfect to make as a weeknight meal or really anytime you need a pasta fix.
The five-ingredient sauce (plus salt and pepper) comes together in less than 30 minutes.
Whenever I make this combination of sauce and pasta happiness ensues — my kids never get tired of it, and thank goodness the adults don’t either.
Instead relying on jars of premade pasta sauce, try making this sauce. Pomodoro sauce can be frozen for up to 2 months.
I love to pair the saucy pasta with a hearty Tuscan kale salad and go straight to my happy place.
What is pasta al pomodoro?
The simple translation of pasta al pomodoro? Pasta with tomato!
Pomodoro sauce is a light and fresh sauce made with simple ingredients.
It’s as uncomplicated as could be, basically made with simmered tomatoes, olive oil and garlic.
Add pasta and grated Parmesan cheese to that bright, fresh-tasting sauce and you have yourself the Italian dish known as pasta pomodoro.
The difference between pomodoro and marinara sauce
Pomodoro and marinara are one in the same — they are both simple tomato-based sauces.
Quick backstory: Tomatoes were introduced to Italy by Spanish explorers in the 16th century.
Those early varieties were actually more yellow-colored than red, so they were given the name “golden apple” – pomo d’oro in Italian.
Tomato sauces are the ones people tend to associate with Italian food. Especially after many southern Italians (like my ancestors) emigrated from their country in the 19th century.
POMODORO IS THE ITALIAN WORD FOR TOMATO
The Best tomatoes for pomodoro sauce
Classic pomodoro sauce really depends on the tomatoes (duh). Allow me to break down the choices to make your life easier.
Unless it’s peak summer time and tomatoes are ripe and delicious, canned tomatoes preserved in cans or jars are what I use to make sauce. There’s no denying their convenience and they taste really good!
I suggest keeping two types of canned tomatoes to in your pantry. That way you’ll always be ready to make pomodoro or marinara sauce:
Crushed tomatoes: This is my first choice of canned tomato to use for quick, simple sauces like pomodoro and marinara. They often have excess liquid and seeds removed, so they don’t need to cook down as long as whole tomatoes.
Whole peeled plum tomatoes: These are usually plum or “Roma” type tomatoes packed in their own juice or with puree. To prepare them, tear them into pieces with your hands or if you prefer a smoother texture, pulse in a food processor .
Whole canned tomatoes contain a little more liquid than crushed tomatoes, which just means they tend to be the best choice for long-cooked sauces. But they will absolutely work in this recipe.
FYI – The best canned tomatoes don’t need to be labeled ‘San Marzano’ or even grown in Italy for that matter.
Authentic Italian San Marzano tomatoes are labeled with DOP certification. That means they are grown in a specific region in Italy — the area south of Naples at the base of Mount Vesuvius.
While those are certainly delicious tomatoes, they are also harder to find and more expensive than other types of canned tomatoes.
I’ve cooked and sampled canned tomatoes for many years, and I can say my favorite brands are often grown in California. When you shop, buy cans that are not lined with BPA. When you open them at home, look for the tomatoes to be evenly bright red in color without any hard yellow spots.
There’s nothing better than really sweet, fresh diced tomatoes and fresh basil with pasta. Or, let’s face it, simply devoured with olive oil and salt!
If you’re able to get your hands on fresh ones, make some sauce! The pure, sweet taste of tomato will shine in pomodoro sauce.
You’ll need 3 pounds of fresh tomatoes for this sauce. Dip them in boiling water for 30 seconds and slip the skins off. Chop them and proceed with the recipe.
Pomodoro sauce variations
I’ve kept this recipe as minimal as possible. But of course, you can season it up just they way you like it.
- Try adding a pinch of crushed red pepper along with the onion and olive oil.
- Swirl in 1 or 2 tablespoons of butter into the finished sauce for extra deliciousness.
How to make pasta with pomodoro sauce
First, you might be wondering which pasta shapes go with tomato sauce.
The answer is literally any! I used a dried pasta shape called trivelle in these photos, which is a type of spiral pasta.
Spaghetti, ziti, rigatoni or bucatini are other great choices to pair with the sauce.
Begin making the sauce and let it simmer for about 20 minutes.
In the meantime, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook your pasta. Drain it well. Toss the pasta in a large bowl with Parmesan cheese and garnish with sprigs of fresh basil that are torn into pieces.
Pasta Pomodoro Sauce with Basil
- 3 tablespoons (45 ml) extra virgin olive oil
- ½ cup (80 g) finely chopped onion
- 2 tablespoons (30 g) grated or minced garlic
- 2 (1.2 l) 28-ounce cans crushed tomatoes or whole peeled tomatoes, crushed
- 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- 1 pound (450 g) dried pasta
- ½ cup freshly grated Parmesan or pecorino Romano cheese, plus more for serving
- A handful of fresh basil leaves, torn if large
- Put the oil and onion in a large saucepan and place over medium heat. Cook until the onion is soft, about 5 minutes, stirring. Add the garlic and stir until it smells good, 15-20 seconds.
- Add the tomatoes, 1-2 teaspoons salt, black pepper and sugar to the pan. Bring to a simmer, breaking up the tomatoes into pieces with a spoon. Cook uncovered 20 minutes or so, until the sauce has thickened slightly.
- Taste for seasoning – add more salt or pepper to taste.
- Meanwhile, bring a large pot (5-6 quarts) water to a boil and add 3 tablespoons salt. Cook the pasta until al dente, according to package directions. Drain well.
- Put the pasta in a large serving bowl and ladle over about half the sauce. Top with the cheese and toss to coat. Sprinkle the basil over. Serve with additional cheese.
Karen’s Notes and Tips
- Add crushed red pepper to taste along with the onions
- Swirl in 1 or 2 tablespoon butter to the finished sauce for extra richness.