Pasta with tomato sauce is a classic Italian dish we all know and love. Perfectly roasted garlic with sweet reduced tomatoes and basil to brighten things up.
And of course we can't forget about the premium Italian extra virgin olive oil to tie things all together. Does it get any better?
This is truly one of those dishes we could eat over and over again and not get tired of. And that's exactly what happens in our kitchen when tomato season rolls around each summer.
This Isn't Your Regular Pasta al Pomodoro
This dish is based on the more traditional Italian recipe for pasta al pomodoro which literally translates to 'pasta with tomato sauce'.
Pasta al pomodoro is made by heating extra virgin olive oil and garlic in a pan then adding large pieces of tomato (or crushed tomatoes) and cooking them down into a slightly chunky sauce. The pasta is then added to the sauce and cooked together for the final few moments.
This recipe is slightly different, we've nicknamed it pasta al pomodoro 2.0. Think of it as the fun, cool cousin who visits during holidays, like summer when you have the sweetest tomatoes bursting with flavor and teetering on the edge of becoming dessert.
Pasta with Tomato Sauce Starts with Great Extra Virgin Olive Oil
High quality Italian extra virgin olive oil is the foundation for great pasta with tomato sauce. This is because olive oil is an incredible cooking fat and absorbs flavors extremely well. In this recipe it acts as a vehicle to transport the notes of garlic into each bite.
It sounds cheesy but we've made this dish a hundreds times and it rings true every single time! Plus, when you drop sweet summer tomatoes into sizzling hot EVOO they slightly caramelize and get well... even sweeter.
Extra Saucy Pasta
If you're into super saucy pastas then this recipe is for you.
Use the immersion blender to blend these jammy tomatoes into the consistency of a thick soup. Actually, you could probably use this sauce base for tomato soup, but we won’t go down that rabbit hole today...
Blending the tomato sauce heightens the flavor profiles of each ingredient immensely. The garlic, which you cook whole or smashed, smooths out and lends gentle aromatics, while the basil almost tastes concentrated.
Honestly, it almost tastes like a bisque but there isn’t any cream.
You will probably have some leftover sauce in your bowl or the pan. Whip out the bread and ‘fa la scarpetta’. This is not the moment to choose between pasta or bread.
What Type of Tomatoes Should You Use for Pasta with Tomato Sauce?
Since they will get cooked down and eventually blended you can use just about any type of tomato for pasta with tomato sauce. However, our personal favorite are cherry because they have a good balance of sweet and tart when raw and when cooked down become very sweet.
However, we also make this recipe with roma and it always turns out great.
Fresh vs Canned or Jarred
Use fresh tomatoes if you can, however, if you don't have access to them or they're not in season use jarred. Jarred or canned tomatoes often contain a fair amount of sodium so that's something to take into consideration.
In addition, they may require a bit more cooking time in order to get the tomatoes to sweeten out.
Don't Use Too Much Garlic
We keep the garlic cloves whole or in large chunks in almost all of our recipes and this is no exception. When you cook garlic whole it fries really well in the olive oil then gets jammy and gently flavors the oil which then flavors the rest of the dish.
When garlic is finely sliced or chopped it burns extremely quickly and it doesn’t develop a velvety smooth texture.
Garlic is an incredible ingredient, one of our favorites, but it should complement a dish, not overpower it. Chop it into 2 or three large chunks, or better yet just smash it and put it in the pan. It will get blended up once it has sweetened through the cooking process.
Fresh vs Powdered Garlic
Use fresh garlic in this recipe if you can. It honestly doesn't work very well with dried because the whole cloves adds texture to the sauce. However, if you're in a pinch then do what you have to do.
Adding Spicy Peppers
Giuseppe is from Calabria, Italy, the home of the Calabrian pepper and pretty much all things spicy in the country. This means we really love spicy foods and adding a pepper or two to this pasta with tomato sauce is simply a requirement.
We like to add fresh (or frozen) finely chopped spicy peppers to the olive oil at the same time as the garlic so that way they can season the oil together.
If you don't have access to fresh you can definitely use dried but be careful because they whole dried peppers are super spicy! Or you can use red pepper flakes for a kick.
Salting the Tomato Sauce
Do not heavily salt the tomato sauce, especially while it's cooking, because it reduces down by quite a bit. If you salt a lot at the beginning of the cooking or reduction process it can come out way too salty. And if you also salt the pasta water it can just all be too much.
Delicately salt to taste after you've reduced and blended the tomatoes.
How to Make Pasta with Tomato Sauce
Gently fry the spicy peppers and garlic in extra virgin olive oil on low heat. Really coax out the flavors, then add the tomatoes and cook them down. Towards the end of the cooking process add the basil and a little bit of salt and then blend everything together with the immersion blender. Salt the sauce to taste once its blended.
For this dish especially, the pasta should finish cooking in the tomato sauce with a few ladles of pasta water. This allows the pasta to absorb the sauce, concentrating every bite. It’s better to pull the pasta from the water early to avoid overcooking in the sauce and the pasta becoming mushy.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil and then season with salt. Add the pasta and cook until a few minutes before al dente. DO NOT DISCARD THE PASTA WATER. That starchy water is your life raft if there isn’t enough liquid in the pan.
Mix the sauce and pasta together, add cheese, and then plate. Finish with your favorite EVOO.
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If you make this pasta with tomato sauce, please leave a comment and give this recipe a rating! We love to hear from you. And if you do make this recipe, don’t forget to tag us on Instagram and Facebook and use #EXAUoliveoil so we can repost!