Spaghetti Pomodoro, also known as tomato basil pasta, is a classic Italian recipe famous worldwide for its taste and simplicity.
In 20 minutes flat, and with simple ingredients, you’ll be able to prepare an authentic Italian pasta dish that will leave everyone begging for more.
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Spaghetti Pomodoro is a classic Italian dish also known as “pasta al Pomodoro” or “tomato basil pasta.”
“Pomodoro” in Italian means tomato. So when Italians say pasta al Pomodoro, they mean pasta with tomato. In the US, Pomodoro generally refers to a sauce made with tomatoes, olive oil, garlic, and basil. In Italian, that’s called “Sugo al Pomodoro.”
But language differences aside, pasta Pomodoro in Italy and the US are essentially the same. A pasta dish, generally spaghetti, in a delicious tomato sauce.
The original 1837 recipe
The first pasta Pomodoro recipe was published by Ippolito Cavalcanti, a chef from Naples, in 1837. The recipe was published in the Neapolitan dialect. Here’s the English translation. I tried to be as accurate as possible:
“Spaghetti al Pomodoro: when it is the season, you will take 6 pounds of tomatoes, cook them and mash them; then take 1 ounce of lard, or 2 tablespoons of oil, fry it with a head of garlic, and put it in the sauce. Boil 4 pounds of spaghetti, drain them when they are al dente, and throw them into the sauce; fill them with pepper, add salt, and you’ll see what you eat.”
This is the text of a recipe from 1837, and the recipe is so modern. Pasta Pomodoro was so loved at the time that it became a national dish in a few years (there was no TikTok back then, so news traveled slowly).
Like Ippolito, we generally don’t add butter or parmesan cheese to the recipe.
However, it’s commonly accepted to make a variation by adding grated or shaved parmesan cheese (we used dairy-free parmesan) and plenty of fresh basil leaves.
We use “bronze cut” spaghetti for this tomato basil pasta recipe because they have a rugged surface that helps the sauce stick better to the pasta.
You can find bronze-cut spaghetti in most supermarkets these days. Also, we’d recommend using imported Italian pasta or at least pasta made with durum wheat semolina flour and water.
You can substitute bucatini, linguine, pici, or strongozzi for spaghetti. You can also use the sauce with angel hair pasta, but remember that that only takes a few minutes to cook.
Whole peeled canned tomatoes
San Marzano tomatoes (peeled whole and canned) are best for making spaghetti Pomodoro because they produce a thick and sweet sauce.
If you can’t find San Marzano, go for generic whole-peeled canned tomatoes, preferably from an imported brand. Good ones are Mutti, Cento, or Cirio.
We like to mix canned tomatoes with fresh tomatoes, such as cherry tomatoes or plum tomatoes. They are easy to find, add sweetness, and make the sauce fresh and delicious.
Extra virgin olive oil is best because it has a richer and fruitier flavor, but regular olive oil works too.
A couple of fresh garlic cloves are a must in pasta Pomodoro. You can add crushed cloves for a milder garlic flavor or finely minced cloves for a stronger flavor. Usually, the authentic Italian recipe calls for crushed garlic.
Generally, there’s no onion in pasta Pomodoro; however, if you want to add it, feel free to do so.
We like to add fresh basil to our spaghetti Pomodoro, although this is not always common in Italy.
Red pepper flakes
Red pepper flakes are optional. You can substitute fresh chilies, dried chilies, or cayenne pepper for red pepper flakes.
Salt and black pepper
Salt is necessary to cook the pasta (we recommend coarse sea salt for that) and to season the sauce (we recommend fine sea salt or kosher salt). We also add a few twists of freshly ground black pepper to the sauce.
Parmesan cheese and butter
Parmesan cheese and butter are optional and not included in the original recipe. You can add grated or shaved parmesan and a knob of butter.
For vegans, there are many dairy-free alternatives available these days; however, this spaghetti Pomodoro recipe is also delicious without any cheese or butter.
Boil the water
Start by boiling a large pot of water. Whilst the water gets to boiling temperature, prep the tomato sauce.
While the sauce simmer, add salt to the boiling water, add the pasta and cook it for 8 minutes. Set a timer.
Tip: we don’t fully cook the pasta in water because we finish cooking it in the tomato sauce. This way, the pasta will leach some of its starch into the tomato sauce, making it super creamy.
Make pasta sauce
Cut the cherry tomatoes in half and set them aside.
To a dutch oven, large pan, or large skillet, add the olive oil, crushed or minced garlic, and chili flakes. Fry gently for one minute.
Add the tomatoes and cook on medium-high heat for 3 minutes, or until soft.
Add the canned tomatoes, salt, and black pepper, and crush all with a fork. Let the tomatoes simmer on medium heat while the pasta cooks, stir occasionally.
Add pasta to sauce
When the pasta is ready (after 8 minutes of boiling), reserve 2 cups of pasta water, drain the pasta and add it to the pan with the Pomodoro sauce. Add the fresh basil leaves.
Add one cup of the pasta water, and finish cooking the spaghetti with the sauce, stirring it gently until cooked al dente (about 4 minutes). If necessary, add more pasta water.
Serve spaghetti Pomodoro with a drizzle of olive oil, a pinch of red pepper flakes and some extra basil on top. You can transfer it to a serving bowl, or serve directly from the dutch oven.
Optionally, add some grated or shaved parmesan cheese (dairy-free cheese works too).
We recommend serving pasta Pomodoro with a side of leafy greens or veggies. Check out our:
Pasta al Pomodoro is best right after making it. If you have some leftovers, store them in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 36 hours.
Reheat in the microwave or on a pan with a drizzle of olive oil. This recipe is not freezer friendly.
- Use a 2:1 tomatoes to pasta ratio for the best balance between pasta and tomato sauce. For example, to cook 7 ounces (200 grams) of pasta, you need 14 ounces (400 grams) of tomatoes.
- Use two different types of tomatoes – small fresh ones (such as cherry or grape tomatoes) and whole canned peeled tomatoes – to make the tomato basil sauce richer and the balanced sweetness and acidity of the dish.
- Undercook the pasta by 4 minutes compared to what it says on the package instructions. We finish cooking the pasta in the pan with the tomato basil sauce. This will make the sauce much creamier as the pasta releases some of its starch into the sauce.
- Don’t throw away the pasta water as we use it to finish cooking the tomato basil pasta in the sauce. Thanks to its high starch content, pasta cooking water is perfect for adding to our sauce. It will make it creamier.
- Use bronze-cut pasta if you can. Bronze-cut pasta is best for this tomato basil pasta, as opposed to steel-cut pasta, because it has a rugged porous surface that will 1) release more starch making our final dish creamier, 2) allow the sauce to stick better thanks to its rugged surface.
Pomodoro sauce is a tomato-based sauce (Pomodoro in Italian means tomato). The tomatoes can either be fresh or canned. They are cooked with olive oil, garlic, basil, salt, and chili pepper.
No, the original spaghetti Pomodoro recipe from Italy doesn’t have any meat or fish in it (including chicken, sausage, and shrimp).
Pomodoro and marinara sauce are both tomato-based sauces made with olive oil, garlic, and occasionally some red pepper flakes. Pomodoro sauce is generally seasoned with basil, while marinara sauce with oregano and parsley.
In Italy, Pomodoro sauce is used for pasta, while the marinara sauce is mainly used for pizza, calzone, on bread, and with meat, but not on pasta.
Yes. You can use bucatini to make bucatini Pomodoro or any other type of pas a. Pomodoro sauce is excellent with spaghetti, but also with any other pasta type you have in your pantry.
If you loved the simplicity of a bowl of this tomato basil pasta, you might also like these quick pasta recipes:
Spaghetti Pomodoro (Tomato Basil Pasta)
For the pasta
- 1 gallon water to cook the pasta
- 2 tablespoons salt to salt the pasta water
- 1 pound spaghetti
For the pasta sauce
- 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 2 cloves garlic
- ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 10 ounces small tomatoes cherry, plum, grape
- 28 ounces whole peeled canned tomatoes
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 twists black pepper
- 1 handful basil leaves
BOIL THE WATER
- Start by boiling a large pot of water. Whilst the water gets to boiling temperature, prep the tomato sauce.While the sauce simmer, add salt to the boiling water, add the pasta and cook it for 8 minutes. Set a timer.Tip: we don't fully cook the pasta in water because we finish cooking it in the tomato sauce. This way, the pasta will leach some of its starch into the tomato sauce, making it super creamy.
MAKE PASTA SAUCE
- Cut the cherry tomatoes in half and set them aside.To a dutch oven, large pan, or skillet, add the olive oil, crushed or minced garlic, and chili flakes. Fry gently for one minute.
- Add the tomatoes and cook on medium-high heat for 3 minutes, or until soft.
- Add the canned tomatoes, salt, and black pepper, and crush all with a fork. Let the tomatoes simmer on medium heat while the pasta cooks, stirring occasionally.
ADD PASTA TO SAUCE
- When the pasta is ready (after 8 minutes of boiling), reserve 2 cups of pasta water, drain the pasta and add it to the pan with the Pomodoro sauce. Add the fresh basil leaves.
- Add one cup of the pasta water, and finish cooking the spaghetti with the sauce, stirring it gently until cooked al dente (about 4 minutes). Add more pasta water if necessary.
- Serve spaghetti Pomodoro with a drizzle of olive oil and some extra basil on top.
- Optionally, add some grated or shaved parmesan cheese (dairy-free cheese works too).