Pasta with Simple Tomato Sauce

In an ideal world, I would head to my garden in late August and harvest sweet cherry tomatoes, then I’d cook them into a sauce that could be bottled and used throughout the year.  This is what my parents did in Sicily.  The reality is that I do not have their garden, their soil, nor their climate.  However, a delicious, simple tomato sauce can be made from a can of good quality Italian plum tomatoes – preferably San Marzano. 

Once you master it, you can build on it.  You can add onions, spice it up with some peperoncino or a sprig or two of rosemary, or even add bacon or pancetta to it.  The variations are endless. For a smoother sauce, you can transfer the sauce to a tall plastic container and gently pulse the sauce with an immersion blender.

Servings: 6


  • 1 pound of pasta (I prefer long pasta like spaghetti or bucatini, or a short, small pasta like penne with this simple tomato sauce)
  • ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil, plus more for a final drizzle
  • 4-6 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed (you can whack them with the palm of your hand or the flat side of a knife)
  • One 35-ounce can Italian plum tomatoes, preferably San Marzano
  • Kosher salt to taste, plus more for the pasta water
  • 6-10 fresh basil leaves, torn into small pieces at the last minute
  • ½ cup of grated Grana Padano or Parmigiano Reggiano


  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil for the pasta.
  2. Heat the oil in a 2 to 3 quart saucepan over medium heat.  Add the garlic and cook for about 2 minutes. 
  3. Pour the tomatoes and their juices into the saucepan and, with a potato masher, whisk, or wooden spoon, gently mash the tomatoes and stir.  
  4. Bring the sauce to a slight boil and season lightly with salt.
  5. Lower the heat to a simmer and continue to break up the tomatoes while cooking for an additional 20 minutes.  Remove the garlic cloves.
  6. Meanwhile, add the pasta to your boiling water, timing it carefully so the pasta is barely al dente when the sauce is ready.
  7. Stir the basil into the sauce approximately 2 minutes before the sauce is finished.  Taste and season with more salt if necessary.  If your sauce needs a little sweetness, you can add a pinch of sugar or a slight drizzle of honey and stir.  The quality of your canned tomato will determine whether that is necessary.
  8. Transfer your al dente pasta with tongs directly into the sauce in the skillet and toss to coat the pasta with the sauce. 
  9. Add the grated cheese and an extra drizzle of good quality extra virgin olive oil before serving in a shallow bowl.