Pasta al Pomodoro

This dish was pictured on the cover of the May 2011 issue of Bon Appétit magazine. It literally translates as “Pasta with Tomato Sauce” (thank you, GoogleTranslate). When I saw it, I desired it. When I desired it, I wrote it into my menu plan. When I wrote it into my menu plan, I purchased the necessary ingredients. And when I purchased . . . okay, let’s cut the the chase: I made it the other week. The result of my efforts: a silky, smooth, flavorful sauce that coats every strand of spaghetti. Somehow it manages to have both that fresh edge and also a subtle depth.

Now I’m not one to speak out against jarred spaghetti sauce–heavens knows that I always have a jar on hand to make emergency batches of Arroz a la Cubana. However, when you plop pre-made sauce on a pile of spaghetti, let’s be realistic: it ends up in a watery pile. Have you noticed that? The puddles of liquid that pool at the bottom of the plate? It’s kind of gross. The pasta and sauce have issues getting together.

This pasta does NOT have this issue. The sauce and the pasta become one. You can’t take a bite of one without getting the other. And together, they will conquer the galaxy.

If you’re just eating the pasta, it serves 3, but if you have bread and/or a salad, it stretches to 4 easily.


(Serves 3-4)

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, minced
6 garlic cloves, minced
1 pinch crushed red pepper flakes
1 28 oz can whole tomatoes, pureed
1 pinch kosher salt
3 large sprigs basil
12 oz spaghetti noodles
1/2 cup pasta water (reserved)
2 TBS cubed cold butter
1/4 cup finely grated Parmesan or Pecorino Romano cheese

Mince the onion very finely.

In a 12” skillet with deep sides, heat the olive oil over medium-low heat.

Add the minced onion and cook for about 12 minutes (until softened) stirring frequently.

While the onion is cooking, puree the can of whole tomatoes . . .

. . . and mince the garlic.

You’ll notice I added a few more cloves to the mix after that initial shot of all the ingredients together. Adding more garlic is a compulsion with me, and I can’t be expected to control my urges in that area.

Add the minced garlic to the onion . . .

. . . and cook for 4-5 more minutes, still stirring frequently.

Add the pinch of red pepper flakes and stir for 1 minute.

By now it smells so good in the kitchen that I’ll totally understand if you start weeping uncontrollably.

Turn the heat up to medium and add the pureed tomatoes and a pinch of kosher salt to the onions/garlic.

Cook for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. If you have a splatter screen, use it at this juncture! If you don’t (like me) please expect to clean the stove thoroughly from the red tomato polka dots after dinner.

The sauce will reduce nicely during those 20 minutes, as you can see here.

Plus I’ve heard that the acid tomatoes will soak up the iron from the cast iron skillet and give me a little extra boost in terms of my metallic needs.

As you wait for the sauce to become perfect, grate up the Parmesan cheese . . .

. . . and cube the cold butter.

Once the sauce is done simmering, take the pan off the heat and stir in the basil sprigs.

Note: we’re talking 3 whole sprigs here, not just 3 leaves. I tore off a couple leaves and set them aside for garnish.

Set the pan aside.

Heat 3 quarts of water in a large pot. Salt the water generously, and when it boils, add the pasta.

Cook 2 minutes short of al dente. We’re undercooking the pasta because we’re going to finish it off in the sauce, where it will absorb all the flavor during it’s final minutes of cooking. Reserve 1/2 cup of pasta water (just scoop it out in a measuring cup) . . .

. . . and drain the pasta.

Discard the basil, add the pasta water to the tomato sauce . . .

. . . and bring the sauce to a boil. Add the pasta . . .

. . . and cook for 2 minutes (until al dente), tossing with tongs so that the sauce coats all the strands of spaghetti.

Remove the skillet from the heat and stir in the cold butter and cheese.

Toss the pasta until the butter and cheese are melted and incorporated.

 Serve with extra basil and cheese to garnish.

Let’s dig in!

Yes, yes, yes. See how beautifully the ingredients have married?

So this is a little more trouble than using premade sauce, but if you have a little time, it’s so worth it. And now, a nice bottle of red would round things out perfectly.

Click here for printer-friendly version: Pasta al Pomodoro

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20 Responses to Pasta al Pomodoro

  1. skippymom says:

    We grew up on homemade pasta sauce and I am married to an Italian, but…..

    I am not a huge fan and don’t make it. I don’t know what kind of sauce [jarred/canned] that you keep on hand for emergencies but the kind we use doesn’t pool water or taste nasty. My biggest complaint with the jarred brand is that “Prego” is always voted number one [followed closely by it’s ugly step sister “Ragu”] are so freaking sweet as to be nasty.

    I appreciate your efforts on this – looks good – but for an “in a pinch kind” of sauce try Hunt’s or Paul Newman’s. They won’t disappoint.

  2. Joanne says:

    So…you’re saying the pasta and the sauce together are like pinky and the brain? That together they shall take over the world and/or galaxy? Nice.

    I’ve seen a lot of great reviews of this pasta, which means I really need to get my butt in the kitchen and make it! Way better than jarred sauce. Hands down.

  3. Wendi says:

    Jenna, I’ve never been happy with any homemade pasta sauce that has ever come out of my kitchen. Maybe this time things will be different.

  4. I have that issue of Bon Appetit and that recipe is dog-eared because I, too, was mesmerized by the beauty. Glad to know it’s worth the effort! I’ll be trying it!

  5. Veronica says:

    Thank you, I will be making this, I know it! It’s actually really close to a recipe I made up on the fly, but yours turned out creamier looking, which may be because of the cheese–I didn’t add anything but butter. My hubby loves pasta so he’ll be very happy.

  6. NanaBread says:

    I’m sold! Your photos are gorgeous. I wanted to eat a bowl for breakfast. This is going on my menu for next week. If I can wait that long.

  7. This looks so yummy. I may need to try this pronto. I’ll letcha know how it goes. :-)

  8. foongfest says:

    There are as many ways to make pasta sauce as there are Italian grandmothers but it seems that the common point is that, as Mario Batali says, the pasta and the sauce should be as one.

    And you’re so right, taking the time to make this is so worth it.

    I’ve never bought jarred pasta sauce in years. In fact, I actually have a slightly similar method that I use in a pinch – using crushed tomatoes instead. It takes less time to make the sauce than it is to boil pasta.

    Oh, and I detest washing my food processor so I actually crush the tomatoes either by hand or with a potato masher in a separate pot on the stove. That way the tomatoes dry out a little as the onion and garlic infuse their deliciousness into the oil on the pan. Makes for a more intense sauce but that’s just my palate talking.

    Here’s a tip I learned if you want to bump up the sauce – use San Marzano Italian tomatoes (there’s a San Marzano brand but that’s not the stuff I’m talking about.) They’re even more fantastic in a pomodoro sauce. (Many chefs use them exclusively.) They’re only a couple more bucks more expensive and are not hard to find.

    Anyway, great stuff. Makes me crave pasta this instant.

  9. I bet my little ones would love this.. they love anything pasta!

  10. Ever since I was little I was always anti jar sauce and you just proved me right!

  11. Erica says:

    Dear World:
    I can vouch for this sauce. I made it last night, right after reading this post.
    “But you’re the blogger’s sister!” you may say. Yes, yes, but this sauce is delicious. My family bias isn’t even swaying me on this one. It’s hearty, it’s flavorful, easy to whip together, and so so so satisfying to eat.



  12. Pingback: Recipe Review: Pasta al Pomodoro | Inside NanaBread's Head

  13. giselle says:

    Ok I’m going to make this right now – I’ve been wanting to since you posted it! But first – I have to ask. I have a very similar grater as the one you show in the picture with the cheese. What in the world are those weird little metal thingies on the side (you can see them in your picture)??

    • Jenna says:

      I’m pretty sure they are for scraping spirals/curls of zest off a lemon or orange . . . though I can’t be sure since I haven’t used them =).

      • giselle says:

        That sounds too fancy. I won’t ever use mine.

        I made this and it was AWESOME. So tasty!! I loved it. I love homemade tomato sauce and I don’t care what anyone says – jarred sauce could never compare. I didn’t have any butter (I know, weird) so I had to do without and I just know that it would’ve been so much better with it. Yum.

      • Jenna says:

        Yay! Yeah, the butter adds a silkiness that is pretty awesome, but I would imagine it’s pretty darn good without it as well. =)

  14. Jamie-Lee says:

    I just made this myself, using the recipe from this month’s issue of Bon Appetit:

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