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.

spaghetti pomodoro

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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.

tomato basil pasta or spaghetti al pomodoro with shaved parmesan

Ingredients

ingredients for spaghetti pomodoro

Spaghetti

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.

Fresh tomatoes

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.

Olive oil

Extra virgin olive oil is best because it has a richer and fruitier flavor, but regular olive oil works too.

Garlic

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.

Fresh basil

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.

pasta pomodoro in a dutch oven

Instructions

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.

spaghetti in a pot with boiling water

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 oilcrushed or minced garlic, and chili flakes. Fry gently for one minute.

frying garlic in a dutch oven

Add the tomatoes and cook on medium-high heat for 3 minutes, or until soft.

tomatoes cooking in oil and garlic

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.

canned tomatoes added to the dutch oven

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.

pasta added to the dutch oven

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.

tossing the spaghetti in the tomato sauce

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.

spaghetti pomodoro in a dutch oven

Optionally, add some grated or shaved parmesan cheese (dairy-free cheese works too).

tomato basil pasta or spaghetti al pomodoro with shaved parmesan

Serving suggestions

Storage

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.

Tips

  • 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.

Questions

What is Pomodoro sauce made of?

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.

Does spaghetti Pomodoro have meat?

No, the original spaghetti Pomodoro recipe from Italy doesn’t have any meat or fish in it (including chicken, sausage, and shrimp).

What is the difference between Pomodoro sauce and marinara sauce?

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.

Can I use a different pasta type?

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.

Similar recipes

spaghetti pomodoro or tomato basil pasta

Spaghetti Pomodoro (Tomato Basil Pasta)

By: Nico Pallotta
5 from 11 votes
Spaghetti Pomodoro, also known as tomato basil pasta, is a classic Italian recipe famous worldwide for its taste and simplicity.
In 20 minutes flat, you'll be able to prepare an authentic Italian pasta dish that will leave everyone begging for more.
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 20 minutes
Servings: 4 people
Course: Main
Cuisine: Italian

Ingredients

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

Instructions 

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.
    spaghetti in a pot with boiling water

MAKE PASTA SAUCE

  • Cut the cherry tomatoes in half and set them aside.
    To a dutch oven, large pan, or skillet, add the olive oilcrushed or minced garlic, and chili flakes. Fry gently for one minute.
    frying garlic in a dutch oven
  • Add the tomatoes and cook on medium-high heat for 3 minutes, or until soft.
    tomatoes cooking in oil and garlic
  • Add the canned tomatoessalt, and black pepper, and crush all with a fork. Let the tomatoes simmer on medium heat while the pasta cooks, stirring occasionally.
    canned tomatoes added to the dutch oven

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.
    pasta added to the dutch oven
  • 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.
    tossing the spaghetti in the tomato sauce
  • Serve spaghetti Pomodoro with a drizzle of olive oil and some extra basil on top.
    spaghetti pomodoro in a dutch oven
  • Optionally, add some grated or shaved parmesan cheese (dairy-free cheese works too).
    tomato basil pasta or spaghetti al pomodoro with shaved parmesan

Video

Pasta Pomodoro | easy dinner in 15 minutes

Notes

Nutrition information is for 1 large portion of pasta out of 4 portions. 

Nutrition

Calories: 566kcal, Carbohydrates: 97g, Protein: 17g, Fat: 13g, Saturated Fat: 2g, Polyunsaturated Fat: 2g, Monounsaturated Fat: 8g, Trans Fat: 0g, Cholesterol: 0mg, Potassium: 818mg, Dietary Fiber: 6g, Sugar: 10g, Vitamin A: 1014IU, Vitamin B6: 0.5mg, Vitamin C: 36mg, Vitamin E: 3mg, Vitamin K: 46µg, Calcium: 112mg, Folate: 51µg, Iron: 4mg, Manganese: 1mg, Magnesium: 95mg, Zinc: 2mg
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Nico and Louise in the kitchen

Hi! We are Nico & Louise

Welcome to The Plant-Based School, a food blog with easy, tasty, and wholesome recipes.

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6 Comments

    1. Hi there,

      Thanks for your message.
      Add spinach towards the end, once your sauce is almost ready. They should wilt quickly, within a minute or two, then you can add the pasta.

      I hope this helps 🙂
      Nico

  1. 5 stars
    I love this recipe, it’s so simple, yet so good. The combination of fresh and canned tomatoes and bronze cut pasta is perfect 💚🤍❤️

      1. 5 stars
        Hello Nico, what is the culinary tool that you use to serve the pasta with that creates a nice swirl of the pasta? Thank you. I really enjoy your recipe video’s!

        W

        1. Hi Cherry! Thanks so much, I’m happy you like our videos 🙂 I use a ladle to make the “bouquet” of pasta and a food tweezer to grab and control the pasta. I hope that helps! Cheers, Nico