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Spaghetti al pomodoro has been one of my top five meals since 1977, a.k.a. since I started cutting teeth. It’s super-easy and fairly quick to make, and it feels like both an absolute staple and something special. As you can see from the photos, you can make the sauce with other shapes of pasta, too. Don’t miss it.

spaghetti al pomodoro in a white bowl (actually linguine)
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Why we love this recipe

As I often say, I’m 50% Italian-American and like 90% Italian-American food. Spaghetti al pomodoro, to me, is nothing less than a big hug from my mom. Over the course of several decades I’ve tweaked and tweaked my family’s recipe until it’s exactly what I’m looking for. This meal is:

  • Simple and deeply satisfying
  • Full of rich umami
  • Smooth and balanced
  • Make-ahead and freezer-friendly (except for boiling the pasta)

You can make pasta al pomodoro with any shape of pasta that you like — I’ve pictured linguine in this post because that’s what I had on hand.

A word on authenticity

Food and identity are so deeply intertwined. That’s a wonderful gift, and it also creates endless room for strong opinions and hurt feelings — sometimes yours, sometimes mine.

In recipe development, as everywhere, I do my best to adopt a curiosity mindset, to listen more than I speak, and to remember that my perspective is one among many and in no way universal. My goal is to share my favorite food with you, to help make daily life a little better and more delicious. To offer you a way of approaching things, but not to insist that you take it.

Here’s why I’m raising this topic now. Since some of the recipes I share here are my interpretations of dishes from cultures around the world, it’s important to me to be constantly refining and improving my approach to that pursuit. I’ve learned a lot since 2008, and I have a lot more to learn.

More specifically, when I share Italian recipes that my family and I have interpreted through our own Italian-American lens over many decades, I bring more to the table than I would when sharing a recipe from a culture outside my own heritage.

My mom’s cultural heritage is 100% Italian, but our family immigrated to the United States four to five generations ago. I’ve noticed over the years that discussions of Italian-American recipes often ring of dismissiveness and vitriol. These recipes tend to be considered inauthentic to the extent they don’t hew perfectly to their Italian predecessors, and I’ve almost never seen an acknowledgment that 100 years of immigrant history in the Americas could form a valid basis for something real but different — authentic in its own right.

Like most discussions about food and identity, it’s a complicated conversation with many avid stakeholders. Although it’s frustrating and even painful sometimes, I’m grateful to this particular discussion for the chance to be more than just a privileged white voice — though I’m that, too. It gives me a little bit more insight into how it may feel to be in others’ shoes and a little bit more motivation to be thoughtful and respectful when interpreting recipes from around the world.

Okay. Let’s eat.

What you’ll need

Here’s a glance at the ingredients you’ll need to make the sauce. You’ll also need a pound of spaghetti, linguine, or other pasta of your choice, and grated cheese for serving, if you like.

ingredients in bowls
  • Good-quality canned (or boxed) tomatoes make this sauce achievable at all times of year and with greatly reduced cooking time. Over the years I’ve gravitated toward Pomi tomatoes from Italy, but you can use your favorites. I use 50% strained tomatoes (also called tomato purée or passata di pomodoro, depending on the brand). You can also use unseasoned tomato sauce, which is similar but typically hasn’t been cooked down to thicken. I use 50% chopped tomatoes (also called diced tomatoes), because I like the little bit of texture, and also because the combination of these two ingredients allows you to cook at a slightly higher heat without risking spattering or burning. You can use 100% strained tomatoes instead if you like — just keep an eye on the heat and stir frequently.
  • Dice the onion very small so it doesn’t have a major impact on the sauce’s texture.
  • I use a lot of garlic because I like it. You can reduce the amount if you prefer.
  • The little bit of sugar in this recipe is like an insurance policy that guards against imperfectly sweet tomatoes. You can leave it out if you prefer.
  • Swirling in a little butter after cooking adds a wonderful roundness and dimension to the sauce, but you can leave that out, too, if you’d rather.

How to make it

Here’s what you’ll do to make a beautiful batch of spaghetti al pomodoro. You can see the steps in action in the video that accompanies this post, and get all the details in the recipe card below.

  1. In a nice big pot, sauté the onion and garlic, sprinkled with half the salt, in the olive oil.
  2. Pour in the tomatoes, remaining salt, pepper, and sugar and stir it all up. Cover and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for about 20 minutes. (Cook pasta according to package instructions, timing it to be ready at the same point as the sauce if you like, or anytime thereafter.)
  3. Off the heat, stir in the butter.
  4. To finish, you have two options. The simpler approach is to drain the pasta, leaving a bit of cooking water still clinging to it, put it back in the pot, and stir in some of the sauce, then plate and serve. The ideal approach (shown in the video) is to heat some sauce for each serving in a frying pan, pour in a splash of the starchy pasta cooking water, add a serving of pasta, and toss it all together over the heat. It’s up to you. Sprinkle with fresh basil and parmesan or pecorino cheese if you like.

Expert tips and FAQs

Can I use fresh tomatoes?

Making thick, beautiful pomodoro sauce from fresh tomatoes is actually kind of a project. It involves multiple rounds of cooking and lots more work than this recipe. I may share that recipe one day, though I don’t usually cook it since I love this version so much. Don’t substitute fresh tomatoes for canned in this recipe.

What’s the difference between pomodoro and marinara?

These two foundational sauces are similar, and each varies cook by cook. But generally speaking, marinara has a thinner consistency with larger pieces of tomato running throughout, while pomodoro is smoother and thicker (due to longer cooking time or starting with strained tomatoes, which have already been cooked down a bit).

Both are wonderful with pasta. Pomodoro is my go-to homemade tomato sauce in general because I love its richness and depth of flavor. I also use it for pizza, since it’s nice and thick and not too liquid.

What other pasta shapes are best with pomodoro sauce?

You can use any shape you like. This robust sauce clings nicely to pasta, and stirring in a bit of the starchy pasta cooking water gives you the control to loosen it up as much as you’d like. That said, some classics include linguine (pictured), angel hair, penne, and rigatoni.

Can I make spaghetti al pomodoro in advance? What about leftovers?

The sauce keeps well in an airtight container in the fridge for a week and in the freezer for up to a year, so you can make it well in advance and easily store leftovers.

Pasta should be cooked right before serving — but if you have leftovers, you can store them in the fridge for up to a week, too. Reheated pasta will lose its al dente texture, but I have never seen it go to waste.

More ways to use pomodoro sauce

More favorite pasta recipes

spaghetti al pomodoro in a white bowl (actually linguine)

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spaghetti al pomodoro in a white bowl (actually linguine)
5 from 10 votes

Spaghetti al Pomodoro (with Tomato Sauce)

By Carolyn Gratzer Cope
This relatively quick, largely hands-off weeknight dinner has been a staple of my life for as long as I can remember. I hope our spaghetti al pomodoro will become a regular in your repertoire, too.
Prep: 5 minutes
Cook: 40 minutes
Total: 45 minutes
Servings: 6
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Ingredients 

  • 2 tablespoons (30 ml) olive oil
  • 1 medium yellow onion, diced very small
  • 8 medium cloves garlic, chopped
  • 26.4 ounces (748 grams) strained tomatoes
  • 26.4 ounces (748 grams) chopped tomatoes
  • 1 tablespoon (12 grams) sugar
  • 2 teaspoons (10 grams) fine sea salt, if tomatoes are unsalted
  • ½ teaspoon about (3 grams) freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons (28 grams) butter
  • 1 pound (454 grams) spaghetti or other pasta of your choice

Instructions 

  • Warm the olive oil in a 5 1/2-quart Dutch oven or other good-sized heavy pot over medium-high heat.
  • Add the onion, garlic, and half the salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5 minutes.
  • Pour in the tomato sauce, chopped tomatoes, remaining salt, pepper, and sugar and stir well.
  • Cover and bring to a boil, then reduce heat to simmer for 20 to 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  • Uncover, reduce heat to a bare simmer and stir in the butter. Taste for salt.
  • With 15 minutes of cooking time to go, bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil, then cook spaghetti until al dente according to package directions. Scoop out and reserve half a cup of the cooking water, then drain.
  • To finish family style, return the pasta to its pot and set back on the warm burner (without turning it on). Ladle in some of the sauce, pour in a bit of the pasta cooking water, and toss to coat.
  • Or, to finish restaurant style, ladle one serving of sauce into a frying pan and set over medium heat. Pour in a little bit of pasta cooking water and add one serving of cooked pasta. Toss it all together with tongs to coat, then transfer to a serving bowl.

Notes

  1. Good-quality canned (or boxed) tomatoes make this sauce achievable at all times of year and with greatly reduced cooking time. Over the years I’ve gravitated toward Pomi tomatoes from Italy, but you can use your favorites. I use 50% strained tomatoes (also called tomato purée or passata di pomodoro, depending on the brand). You can also use unseasoned tomato sauce, which is similar but typically hasn’t been cooked down to thicken. I use 50% chopped tomatoes (also called diced tomatoes), because I like the little bit of texture, and also because the combination of these two ingredients allows you to cook at a slightly higher heat without risking spattering or burning. You can use 100% strained tomatoes instead if you like — just keep an eye on the heat and stir frequently. Do not substitute fresh tomatoes in this recipe.
  2. Dice the onion very small so it doesn’t have a major impact on the sauce’s texture.
  3. I use a lot of garlic because I like it. You can reduce the amount if you prefer.
  4. The little bit of sugar in this recipe is like an insurance policy that guards against imperfectly sweet tomatoes. You can leave it out if you prefer.
  5. If you like, tuck in some fresh basil leaves or two innermost celery ribs with their leaves when you add the tomatoes.
  6. Swirling in a little butter after cooking adds a wonderful roundness and dimension to the sauce, but you can leave that out, too, if you’d rather.
  7. Serve with fresh basil to garish and grated pecorino or parmesan cheese to pass at the table, if you like.
  8. The sauce keeps well in an airtight container in the fridge for a week and in the freezer for up to a year, so you can make it well in advance and easily store leftovers.
  9. Pasta should be cooked right before serving — but if you have leftovers, you can store them in the fridge for up to a week, too. Reheated pasta will lose its al dente texture, but I have never seen it go to waste.
  10. I first published this recipe in 2016. I’ve updated the post for clarity and made a couple of tweaks to the recipe, but the basics remain the same.

Nutrition

Calories: 462kcal, Carbohydrates: 77.8g, Protein: 12.8g, Fat: 12.1g, Fiber: 5.7g

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

Additional Info

Course: Pasta + Noodles
Cuisine: Italian
Tried this recipe?Mention @umamigirl or tag #umamigirl!

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About Carolyn Gratzer Cope

Hi there, I'm Carolyn Gratzer Cope, founder and publisher of Umami Girl. Join me in savoring life, one recipe at a time. I'm a professional recipe developer with training from the French Culinary Institute (now ICE) and a lifetime of studying, appreciating, and sharing food.

5 from 10 votes (10 ratings without comment)

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