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My Perfect Spaghetti al Pomodoro (with Tomato Sauce)

The Italian name makes this meal seem a little fancy, but in reality it's a relatively quick, largely hands-off weeknight dinner that's been a staple of my life for as long as I can remember. To make this recipe vegan, simply omit the butter and cheese.


  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 medium yellow onion, diced small
  • 3 medium cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 28-ounce can (or 26.4-ounce tetrapack box) strained tomatoes/tomato sauce*
  • 1 28-ounce can (or 26.4-ounce tetrapack box) chopped tomatoes
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 2 small innermost stalks celery, with leaves
  • 2 tablespoons good butter
  • Salt
  • 1 pound spaghetti
  • Grated parmesan or pecorino cheese to pass at the table


  • 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 along with a pinch of salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and continue cooking for two minutes more.
  • Pour in the tomato sauce and chopped tomatoes and sugar and stir well. Add a teaspoon of salt if your tomatoes are unsalted. Tuck in the celery stalks. Cover and bring to a boil, then reduce heat to simmer for 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.
  • In a restaurant this dish would be finished one portion at a time by transferring some sauce to a wide skillet, bringing it to a simmer and then transferring one serving of pasta directly from the pasta pot to the frying pan with a bit of starchy cooking water still clinging to it. The chef would toss it all together while simmering for a few seconds and then plate it immediately. This technique marries the sauce and the pasta into one simple, magical dream come true. This being real life, I've found you can approximate that result by adding a serving of drained spaghetti, a ladle or two of hot sauce, and a tablespoon of the reserved cooking water to a big mixing bowl, tossing it with tongs, and then plating it. When I don't even feel like doing that, I just ladle a couple of cups of sauce into the drained pasta in the pasta pot, stir to coat, and then plate and add a little extra sauce to the top of each serving. It's all good.
  • Whatever you do, serve with grated cheese to pass at the table. I also like to include freshly ground black pepper and some fruity olive oil for drizzling.
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    Recipe Notes

  • * I like to use Pomi tomatoes from Italy. They're great quality tomatoes without added salt, and I like that they come in a tetrapack box.
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