Classic Pasta al Pomodoro Recipe

At Female Foodie, we love just about everything and anything pasta related, and one of the most timeless, classic pasta dishes we love to enjoy is an authentic pasta al pomodoro, literally translated as “pasta with tomato sauce”. You don’t need much more than good quality tomatoes, extra virgin olive oil, and a few other pantry staples to make this delectable pasta al pomodoro.

A few pasta al pomodoro recipe tips:

  • This recipe is best using San Marzano tomatoes, a variety of tomatoes grown near Naples, Italy (south of Rome). These are the tomatoes you’ll see most commonly used for Neapolitan pizza or a pasta recipe similar to this one in Italy, and they’re absolutely delicious! A little more fleshy than a Roma tomato, fewer seeds, slightly less acidic, and the perfect accompaniment to pasta or bread. We prefer using whole, peeled San Marzano tomatoes as opposed to pre-crushed San Marzano tomatoes, but in a pinch crushed will work.
  • High quality extra virgin olive oil will extraordinarily contribute to this recipe. You don’t have to spend $50 on a bottle of olive oil (although if you do, we won’t judge you!), but proactively use olive oil that’s not expired, housed in a dark glass or opaque bottle (light is not a friend to olive oil), and only buy oil labeled “extra virgin”. Even at Trader Joe’s or Costco, you can find good quality extra virgin olive oil for a reasonable price.
  • Don’t be afraid to use enough salt. Too much salt will no doubt ruin your beautiful pomodoro sauce, but the more frequently occurring issue is not enough salt. Taste your sauce throughout the cooking process several times (most importantly before adding the pasta) to ensure it has reached the level of saltiness that truly lets your San Marzano tomatoes shine. A generous amount of salt should be added to your pasta water too, just before you add the pasta (use more than you think!).

This recipe is inspired by countless memorable pasta al pomodoro dishes enjoyed in Rome, Italy (pictured at the beginning of this post, is a classic gnocchi al pomodoro from Ivo in Trastevere, Rome). Need more Rome recs? Make sure to check out our guide to the 20 best Rome restaurants, the 10 best gelaterias in Rome, and the 10 best Trastevere restaurants. Enjoy!

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Classic Pasta Al Pomodoro Recipe

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium onion (or 1/2 large onion), chopped white, yellow, or sweet onion (do not use red)
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 28 ounce can san marzano tomatoes (whole, peeled)
  • sea salt or kosher salt to taste
  • 1 pound pasta**
  • 1/2-1 cup heavy cream (optional)*

Instructions

  • In a large dutch oven or skillet, heat the extra virgin olive oil over medium heat. Add chopped onions and cook for 10 minutes, until soft and translucent, stirring occasionally to avoid browned onions. Add garlic and cook for one minute. Do not let garlic burn. Open canned tomatoes, and as you pour tomatoes into the dutch oven, crush each one with your hand, releasing juices and breaking up the flesh of tomatoes one by one. Add several cranks of salt to tomatoes. Simmer for 30-40 minutes, stirring every few minutes to avoid burning of tomatoes.
  • About 20 minutes before pomodoro sauce is done cooking, bring a large pot of water to boil. Just before it begins to boil, generously salt the water. If using spaghetti or other classic dried pasta, cook 1 minute less than package directions or until just barely "al dente". Remove 1 cup of starchy pasta water from pot just before pasta is finished cooking. If cooking gnocchi, pasta is cooked when the gnocchi float to the top of the boiling water. Strain from pasta water immediately as to not overcook.
  • Using an immersion blender, blend the contents of the pomodoro sauce in dutch oven together until smooth. Taste sauce and add additional salt if needed. Add the reserved cup of pasta water to pomodoro sauce, and bring to a soft boil over medium-high heat. Add pasta and stir constantly for about 1 minute. Remove from heat and serve immediately. Top with fresh basil and parm as desired.

Notes

*You may add 1/2 to 1 cup of heavy cream to the pasta just before serving if you'd like a creamier, richer sauce instead of the pasta water. Just make sure to taste the sauce after you've added the cream to ensure it has enough salt.
*This pasta al pomodoro recipe can be made with any pasta, but we prefer to enjoy it with gnocchi or spaghetti. If you prepare gnocchi with this dish, you may need double the amount of gnocchi (2 lbs. or 2 packages) to get the correct pasta to sauce ratio. If using spaghetti, 1 lb of pasta is perfect.

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