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One of our all-time favorite easy pasta recipe ideas for dinner. Learn how to make make this classic red Italian pomodoro pasta sauce at homewith canned or fresh tomatoes, olive oil and basil. Ready in 25 minutes!
Pasta pomodoro is a classic red pasta sauce recipe that needs to be in your file — if it isn’t already! This five-ingredient sauce (plus salt and pepper) comes together in less than 30 minutes.
Whenever you combine pomodoro sauce made with canned tomatoes and pasta, happiness ensues — my kids never get tired of it, and thank goodness the adults don’t either.
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 is the Italian word for tomato. Along with simple marinara sauce, they are one in the same — they are both humble tomato-based sauces.
Fun Fact: 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-American food. Especially after many southern Italians and Neapolitans (like my ancestors) emigrated from their country in the 19th century.
The best canned tomatoes for sauce
Classic pomodoro sauce really depends on the quality of the canned tomatoes. Allow me to break down the choices to help you choose the best ones.
- 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.
- 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.
Fresh tomatoes for pasta sauce:
There’s nothing better than really sweet, fresh tomatoes, fresh basil and 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 your pomodoro sauce.
You’ll need 3 pounds of fresh tomatoes to make pomodoro sauce. Dip them in boiling water for about 2 minutes, then 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 in the style of a spicy tomato arrabbiata sauce along with the onion and olive oil.
- Swirl in 1 or 2 tablespoons of butter into the finished sauce for extra delicious-ness.
- Simmer the sauce 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. Pomodoro sauce can be frozen for up to 2 months.
Long pasta types like spaghetti, ziti, rigatoni or bucatini are other great choices to pair with the sauce.
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.
25-Minute Pomodoro Sauce for Pasta
- 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
- The sauce makes enough for 2 pounds of pasta. It will keep refrigerated 5 days or frozen for up to 2 months.For a smoother sauce, use a handheld immersion right in the pot or let the sauce cool sllightly and briefly pulse in a blender.
- Add crushed red pepper to taste along with the onions
- Swirl in 1 or 2 tablespoon butter to the finished sauce for extra richness.