Simple Tomato Based Sauce for Pasta

Tomato Pasta sauce

Honestly, there are times when nothing is better than a simple pasta dish with a tomato based sauce.  Why complicate things when many of the greatest Italian recipes are also the simplest? As Leonardo da Vinci said, "Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication."

This recipe is an old favorite of mine and will take you absolutely no effort at all to put together. The sauce will be ready and waiting in the time it takes to cook the pasta.

I suggest you make plenty too, because if your family is anything like mine, they'll want plate after plate of it.



  • One tin of chopped tomatoes from Italy
  • Tablespoon of tomato paste
  • 8 fresh baby tomatoes
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 chili pepper ( you can leave this out or add in more; it depends on your taste for fiery things)
  • Olive oil
  • Salt
  • Parma ham (prosciutto cotto) to taste is optional. You can leave it out, add olives instead, or even add olives AND parma ham!
  • 3 cups of rocket (known as arugula in the USA)
  • 1/3 of a cup basil; chopped fresh is best
  • freshly grated good-quality Parmesan cheese or Grana Padano
  • 500 grams/ 18 ounces of pasta (penne is the best option but you may use spaghetti)
  • Quantities serve 4-6

Cooking Instructions

  1. Put the pasta on to cook in a pot of salted water. The pasta should be cooked al dente (is there another way?). Our question section, below the recipe, answers all your questions about cooking pasta the right way.
  2. Roast the tomatoes until soft and sweet in olive oil, add the garlic cloves and chili pepper. My mamma sometimes adds mushrooms once the garlic starts to take color.
  3. Pour in the tin of chopped tomatoes and the tomato paste, and finally some salt and basil.
  4. Drain the pasta and mix it up with the sauce adding in parma ham and rocket.
  5. Serve with shaved Parmigiana Reggiano (Parmesan) or Grana Padano and if you want to make it look fancy add some fresh basil leaves.

The result is one of those pasta sauces that is a real summer treat. It is also a favorite if you need a quick sauce for dinner after a long day at work. 

All Your Pasta Questions Answered

What's the secret to cooking perfect pasta?

The key is to use a large pot of boiling, salted water. The water should taste like the sea, so don't skimp on the salt.

Should I add oil to the pasta water?

No, it's not necessary. Adding oil can make the pasta slippery and prevent the sauce from adhering properly.

How do I know when the pasta is cooked al dente?

Taste it! Al dente means "to the tooth" in Italian, so the pasta should be tender but still have a bit of bite to it.

What's the best way to drain pasta?

Use a colander or a slotted spoon to remove the pasta from the water. Don't rinse it, as this removes the starch that helps the sauce stick.

How can I prevent pasta from sticking together?

Stir the pasta occasionally while it cooks, and make sure you're using plenty of water. Adding a splash of olive oil to the cooked pasta can also help.

What's the ideal ratio of pasta to sauce?

Italians believe in "less is more" when it comes to sauce. Aim for a ratio of about 1 cup of sauce to 1 pound of pasta.

How do I reheat leftover pasta?

The best way to reheat pasta is in a pot on the stove with a bit of extra sauce or water to prevent it from drying out.

When should you add the salt to the pasta?

There is a huge debate around this, but my opinion is that the salt should be added to the pasta water just before adding the pasta, once the water reaches a rolling boil. This allows the salt to dissolve evenly and infuse the pasta with flavor as it cooks. Adding salt too early can prolong the time it takes for the water to boil and may result in uneven seasoning.

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