Last updated on October 30, 2023

Italian pasta sauces & Healthy tomato pasta sauce recipe 🍝

Gianni from All Italian - Author
Gianni from All Italian

A guide to traditional sauces of Italian cuisine, written by Italians: with vegetables, cheese, fish or meat. And our recipe to make a delicious tomato sauce, «buonissima» even if you are not in Italy.

A short clip of our pasta sauce recipe. Below we explain all steps in detail

Pasta sauce with fresh or peeled tomatoes

The Italian sauce par excellence and the most representative of the Mediterranean diet: tomato sauce is traditionally made by letting fresh tomatoes cook for a long time, in order to remove water and acidity.

But of course not everyone in Italy has fresh, juicy tomatoes and the patience to prepare tomato sauce in advance.

So in everyday life we use peeled tomatoes to make pasta sauce. And we make it excellent, because we use San Marzano tomatoes.

San Marzano tomatoes are a PDO product grown on the Agro Sarnese-Nocerino (in the province of Salerno, Campania), which have little acidity and are very juicy. Suitable for quick cooking, perfect for pasta and pizza.

Spaghetti with tomato sauce
Spaghetti met pastasaus, one of the symbols of the Italian cuisine Foto: Silvimelo

On this page of All Italian we make step by step the pasta sauce recipe, quick and easy with San Marzano tomatoes.

Healthy Italian Pasta Sauce with Tomatoes 🍅

(21) reviews

  • 👩‍🍳 Easy
  • 20 min preparation
  • 🤗 Guaranteed result

Pasta sauce with tomatoes, 🔊 sugo al pomodoro in Italian, is one of the most representative Italian pasta sauces.

You make it with tomatoes, olive oil, basil or parsley and optionally grated hard cheese.

It's healthy, easy and quick to make. And therefore it is one of the sauces that we prepare more often.

Here we prepare tomatoes pasta sauce as we make pasta every day in Italy: step by step, including the step of mixing it into the pasta.

To make it delicious, we use San Marzano peeled tomatoes, which add an exceptional taste to the sauce and only need a short cooking time.

We make the sauce based on a light sauté, to flavor the sauce, with onion or garlic: in Italy we do both, depending on the recipe.

Finally we show how to mix the sauce with the pasta, using the cooking water to make the sauce creamy.

With our tips, you can make an excellent pasta sauce in no time, just like they do in Italy. 👌

Also check our recipe for a perfect pasta al dente.


Ingredients to make pasta-sauce




Ingredient image Ingredient name Cups Grams Ounces
peeled-tomatoes Peeled tomatoes 7 oz 200 g
onion-white White Onion 0.5 onion
olive-oil Extra Virgin Olive Oil 1 tablespoon
salt Salt 1 pinch
basil Basil 4 leaves

👉 We've updated the recipe with a tool to calculate ingredients.

The portion for one person is about 7 oz / 200 g of peeled tomatoes; with one can of 14 oz / 400 g you can make tomato sauce for two people.

In our experience, this is the right amount of tomatoes to get a tasty pasta.

🧄 We have included onion in the ingredients, but you can also replace it with garlic: one clove of garlic per person, then replace one onion with two cloves of garlic.

Per clove of garlic, or half an onion, we make a light sauté with 1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil.

🍅 San Marzano tomatoes

To obtain an excellent pasta sauce in a short time even without fresh tomatoes from the garden, we use San Marzano peeled tomatoes; which you also commonly find outside Italy.

These tomatoes are suitable for quick cooking, because they are low in acidity: we do not add milk or sugar, and we still obtain a sauce full of flavour.

🧅 Saute the onion or garlic

In Italian we call 🔊 soffritto frying the chopped onion or a clove of garlic in a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.

Many families in northern Italy usually make soffritto with white onion; for Bolognese sauce is even richer, with carrots and celery.

In many recipes of central and southern Italy, however, the soffritto is made with garlic: for example in the Arrabbiata, the Aglio - Olio and the Norma pasta sauces.

🌿 Herbs: basil or parsley

We have included basil in the recipe, but you can also replace it with parsley.

Parsley has a more marked taste, and goes well with sauces that contain garlic. Add it finely chopped when the pasta is ready.

On the other hand, basil has a sweeter flavor and we combine it with sautéed onion. Even the basil should be added when the pasta is ready and the heat is off; break the leaves by hand so as not to alter their color and aroma.


  1. Sauté the onion or garlic

    • Cut the onion into small pieces: the smaller the better.

    • Put the chopped onion in a pan and add a tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil.

    • Warm up the pan over medium heat.

    • Sauté the onion in the olive oil for a few minutes until it turns brown.

    🧄 If you use garlic: first peel it, before putting it in the pan. Saute the garlic over very low heat: the garlic should remain white. If the garlic burns, the sauce will taste less than great.

    If you use garlic, in the following steps you can remove it before the pasta is ready: in this way nobody finds it on the plate.

    👉 Ideally, while you're making the sauce, heat a pot of cold water as well. Depending on the stove, it takes about 10 minutes to bring the water to a boil, to which the cooking time for the pasta must then be added.

    This gives us about 20 minutes to slowly cook the tomato sauce, before adding it to the pasta.

    Sauté the onion or garlic
    We make the sauté with a spoonful of olive oil and half a chopped onion, or a clove of garlic

  2. Add the peeled tomatoes

    When the onion has a golden color, you can add the tomato.

    We use whole peeled tomatoes, which we crush while still in the tin before pouring into the pan.

    Add a little salt, optionally some ground black pepper, and cook the tomato on a low heat for a few minutes.

    👉 Cover the pan with a lid: in this way the aroma is better preserved and the sauce becomes tastier.

    Add the peeled tomatoes
    If you use garlic, just remember to remove it before the end of cooking.

  3. Dilute the sauce with a ladle of pasta water

    The water in the tomato sauce evaporates slowly: in order not to get too dry a sauce, add half a ladle of pasta water and stir occasionally.

    👉 As pasta cooks, it releases starch into the water. Starch is useful for making the sauce not only liquid, but also creamy.

    Stir briefly and leave on the stove over low heat until the pasta is almost ready.

    Dilute the sauce with a ladle of pasta water

  4. Add the pasta to the sauce and finish cooking

    Two minutes before the pasta is ready, turn off the heat and transfer the pasta to the sauce pan to finish cooking.

    👉 How do you know when the pasta is ready? As we often write, Italians do not trust the cooking time indicated on the package: the best way to know if the pasta is almost ready is to taste it.

    With a little experience you can predict how many minutes or so the pasta will be ready.

    a skimmer is very useful for this, if you use short pasta; or a spaghetti spoon for long pasta such as tagliatelle and bavette.

    Leave the pasta water in the pot: a little bit is needed to dilute and flavor the sauce.

    Stir the pasta and sauce into the pan over low heat for a minute or two. In this way, the pasta completes its cooking process and mixes very well with the sauce.

    Add some more pasta water to get a creamier pasta dish.

    When the sauce is ready, turn off the heat and add a few leaves of basil, or finely chopped parsley.

    In Italy, many like to grate an abundant amount of cheese such as Grana Padano, Pecorino Romano or Parmigiano Reggiano on top of pasta sauce, when the pasta is already on the plate.

    Add the pasta to the sauce and finish cooking

Your Pasta sauce is ready. Buon appetito! 🍝

Healthy Italian Pasta Sauce with Tomatoes 🍅
Before serving, add fresh basil or parsley. When the pasta is on the plate, optionally add grated hard cheese: Pecorino, Parmesan or Grana.

Did you like it? Rate this recipe

In the restaurant in Italy, when you finish eating, the waiter will ask: 🔊 andava tutto bene? (was everything fine?)

Recipe rating Italian translation
🔊Abbastanza buono
🔊Non molto buono
🔊Non buono
Placeholder image

Learning Italian 🇮🇹

How do you say pastasaus in Italian?

When we refer to pastasaus, in Italian we use two words: 🔊 salsa, which is the literal translation of saus; and 🔊 sugo.

Both of these words indicate a semi-liquid cream, and Italians often interchange them, depending on the region. For example, in some areas of Italy we say 🔊 salsa di pomodoro, and in others 🔊 sugo di pomodoro to indicate tomato pasta sauce.

We believe you'll like the diminutives, which in Italy we use when the sauce is particularly good and tasty: 🔊 salsina and 🔊 sughetto. For example: 🔊 un sughetto delizioso, a delicious sauce.

The Italian words we use on this page:

🔊 Sugo per pasta Pasta sauce
🔊 Salsa per pasta Pasta sauce

In Italian it is called 🔊 sugo al pomodoro and it pasta dish 🔊 pasta al pomodoro.

Traditional Italian pasta sauces

On All Italian we have already made an overview of the most popular pasta types. Only the best known, because the typical shapes of Italian pasta are hundreds: tagliatelle, farfalle, orecchiette, bucatini...

Traditional Italian sauces are just as famous as the pasta types. And each type of sauce typically accompanies a specific type of pasta: for example spaghetti alla carbonara, bucatini all'amatriciana and tagliatelle al ragù Bolognese. The typical pasta dishes that represent the Mediterranean cuisine.

And each sauce is made with ingredients from a specific region, of course; and therefore knowing a pasta recipe means discovering the products and customs of an area of Italy.
Below we make an overview of the most famous pasta sauces.

Spicy with tomato and red pepper: Arrabbiata sauce

Naturally, tomato sauce is the basis for many other pasta sauces. The variation we do most often is adding red hot pepper.

In the dialect of Rome, 🔊 Arrabbiato indicates something particularly pronounced. The Arrabbiata sauce comes from there, and to be accentuated is the spicy taste.

The ingredients of Arrabbiata sauce are tomato, abundant red chili pepper, garlic for the sauté and a sprig of parsley: all to give the dish a special taste.

Mezze penne with Arrabbiata sauce
The «mezze penne rigate all’Arrabbiata» that we have prepared for our pasta cookbook

It's the sauce we make most often when we're short on time, but we want to a eat healthy meal: because it's quick to make and doesn't contain any particularly high-calorie ingredient.

Arrabbiata sauce goes well with all types of pasta: traditionally they enjoy it in Rome with spaghetti, but we also really like it with penne, fusilli and tortiglioni.

👉 See also our Pasta all'Arrabbiata recipe.

Creamy tomato sauce with cheese: Pecorino or ricotta

To make the tomato sauce a little creamier and to flavor the dish, in many Italian families it is customary to grate plenty of hard cheese on the freshly served pasta. Usually Parmigiano or Grana, in northern Italy; and Pecorino in central and southern Italy.

An even creamier version of tomato sauce with cheese is tomato sauce with ricotta, which we make in our pasta recipe book. The ricotta cheese and tomato create a very creamy dish which is enriched with a few fresh basil leaves.

Pasta with tomatoes and ricotta - Traditional Italian recipe
Pasta with tomato and ricotta from our pasta recipe cookbook

Tomato sauce with garden vegetables: Norma pasta sauce

We wrote that each sauce represents its place of origin well. An excellent example of this is the sauce alla Norma, which is made with the typical Sicilian vegetables and cheese.

The name Norma means in fact normal, as they normally make pasta sauce in Sicily.

The vegetables are tomatoes and aubergines, and the cheese is the typical ricotta salata (salted ricotta) produced in the city of Catania.

Unlike traditional fresh ricotta, ricotta salata is instead a hard cheese, more similar to Pecorino. This is grated on the pasta when it is served.

In the original version of the Norma sauce, the aubergines are fried and the garlic is abundant to flavor the dish.

Pasta alla Norma made with the traditional Italian recipe
The Mezzi Rigatoni alla Norma that we have prepared for our recipe book

👉 See also our Pasta alla Norma recipe, adapted with the ingredients you can also find outside Italy.

Pasta sauce with tomato and fish: the Puttanesca sauce

A sauce that is usually much appreciated by visitors from abroad and typical of the regions of central - southern Italy is the Puttanesca, which takes the tomato sauce an give it an even stronger taste than the Arrabbiata thanks to a mix of anchovies, capers, olives, chilli and parsley.

Olives, chilli pepper and anchovies are sautéed with plenty of garlic, and then add the tomato and the other ingredients: an intense aroma will remain in your kitchen, but it is naturally worth it. 👍

Spaghetti alla puttanesca made according to the Italian tradition
De spaghetti alla puttanesca die we samen met jou bereiden

👉 Read at our recipe for Pasta alla Puttanesca: we have prepared it step by step.

All'Amatriciana: pasta sauce with tomatoes and meat

A classic combination of tomato sauce and meat in pasta sauce is called in Italy 🔊 sugo all' Amatriciana, Amatriciana sauce: that is how they make it in Amatrice

, a town in central Italy on the border between the regions Lazio and Abruzzo.

The Amatriciana includes a typical product of that region, which is guanciale: the part of the pig between the neck and the cheek. It is a particularly fatty meat, and traditionally the recipe is prepared by first frying the guanciale in its own fat together with a red chilli pepper, and then adding the tomato sauce.

The Amatriciana comes from another famous recipe from central Italy, pasta alla Gricia: similar to the Amatriciana, but without the tomato.

Amatriciana and Gricia share the main ingredient, the guanciale. An ingredient that is difficult to find outside Italy. Is therefore often replaced by the more common pancetta: this is also how most people prepare it in Northern Italy.

Spaghetti with Arrabbiata sauce
The «Spaghetti all’Arrabbiata» from our pasta recipe book

Apart from the guanciale, the ingredients of the original Amatriciana recipe are tomato, white wine, and Pecorino cheese: the recipe contains the typical products of the Rome region.

In Amatrice, the Amatriciana sauce is traditionally made with spaghetti. In Rome the recipe has become popular with bucatini, a type of pasta that is the symbol of the city.

👉 See also our pasta all'Amatriciana recipe recipe, which we have make step by step for recipe book.

Different types of grains and pasta for different types of sauce

The sauces we have discussed so far all belong to the tradition of pasta from central and southern Italy.

Thanks to the climate, hard wheat is grown in these regions, of which the semolina is the main component of dried pasta.

In the northern regions, especially in the region Emilia-Romagna, another tradition has developed, that of fresh egg pasta: also made from soft wheat flour, which grows in the plains of northern Italy.

The most famous types of fresh pasta are tagliatelle and lasagne.
In Emilia, this kind of pasta is traditionally eaten with ragù, the name by which Italians know minced meat sauce.

Ground beef and peeled tomatoes: ragù alla Bolognese

A sauce made with much more meat mixed with tomato is what we call ragù in Italy, and which is instead known abroad as Bolognese sauce. There is not just one type of ragu in Italy, but the most famous one is a recipe classic of Emilia, and therefore of the regions of Central and Northern Italy: ragù alla Bolognese, known abroad as Bolognese sauce.

bolognese sauce is the typical from Emilia: made with pancetta, ground beef, peeled tomatoes and a splash of wine.

Unlike other Italian pasta sauces, ragù has to be cooked slowly for at least 2 to 3 hours, to absorb all the flavour.

A plate of tagliatelle with ragù, a few basil leaves and grated Parmigiano cheese is what many Italians dream of eating on Sundays, especially in the North, perhaps the one 🔊 della nonna (by grandma).

Ragù Bolognese -  Bolognese sauce - Italian recipe
The Bolognese sauce we made for our pasta recipe book

The Bolognese is not the only ragù from the Italian pasta tradition: the Neapolitan ragù is also famous, made with pieces of meat instead of minced meat. Or the ragù alla Genovese, made with pieces of beef and lots of onions, and therefore also called ragù in bianco (white ragù).

👉 View our Bolognese sauce recipe with the steps to make a buonissima sauce.

Carbonara sauce with meat, egg yolks and Pecorino cheese

In Italy, however, we don't only eat pasta sauces with tomatoes. The most famous Italian sauce in America, the Carbonara, does not contain it.

Since it belongs to the culinary tradition of Rome, the classic Carbonara recipe contains guanciale, such as the Amatriciana sauce.
Outside Italy though it is customary to replace the guanciale with pancetta or bacon, more readily available.

The ingredients of Pasta alla Carbonara
The ingredients of Pasta alla Carbonara, with pancetta in place of guanciale.

A common mistake (according to us Italians) when making Carbonara is to add cooking cream: it is one of the ingredients in many recipes that imitate Carbonara, but distorts the traditional taste of the dish.

Carbonara sauce goes well with spaghetti, rigatoni and tortiglioni: the types of pasta that are typical for Rome.

👉 Read our Pasta alla Carbonara recipe: we describe the instructions and preparation step by step.

Aglio olio e peperoncino: sauce with garlic, olive oil and red pepper.

All the sauces we have talked about so far contain one or more ingredients that particularly represent them: tomato, meat or fish.

Aglio olio e peperoncino sauce differs because it is made with almost nothing. But that doesn't mean it's less good, because the few ingredients it contains are among the essential ones of Mediterranean cuisine.

🔊 Aglio olio e peperoncino (or even just Aglio Olio) is typical of Naples, and well represents the "Cucina Povera": literally the «poor kitchen», that of the times when there is nothing at home to eat.

In the Neapolitan tradition, the Aglio Olio pasta is decorated with chopped parsley when it is al dente. To make the dish richer, you can also add anchovy fillets, fresh cherry tomatoes or black pepper.

Spaghetti aglio olio e peperoncino made according to the Italian recipe
The Spaghetti aglio olio e peperoncino we made for our pasta cookbook

The iconic type of pasta for aglio, olio e peperoncino is spaghetti. In Naples they also traditionally eat it with other types of long pasta, such as vermicelli and linguine.

Quick and easy to prepare, it is one of the most popular sauces to make with friends at the end of the evening. In Italy we call it 🔊 spaghetti di mezzanotte.

👉 See also our spaghetti aglio olio e peperoncino recipe.

🌿 Herbs for pasta sauce: basil and parsley

All types of Italian sauce are flavored with one or more aromatic herbs which help to create the characteristic flavor of the pasta dish.

Two frequently used herbs are basil and parsley, which have different tastes and characteristics and which therefore go well with different sauces.

Parsley has a more decisive flavor, and goes well with sauces with an equally spicy flavor: in sauces such as Arrabbiata, Puttanesca and Aglio-Olio we add it freshly grated directly into the dish.

In other recipes we even add it at the beginning of the preparation, such as in sautéed pasta with clams: parsley can be used in both ways.

Instead, Basil has a sweeter taste and we use it in creamy, non-spicy sauces, perhaps with cheese: for example on tomato sauce, tomato and ricotta, and as a condiment for a plate of ragù Bolognese.

👉 If you have tried to add basil at the beginning of the preparation, you have noticed that the leaves immediately turn dark and the aroma is quickly dispersed.

This is why we preferably use fresh basil, always at the end of cooking, to ensure that it expresses all its flavor in the dish.

Follow our pages on Italian pasta

We frequently update our pages on Italian pasta with new classic and regional traditional recipes.

Over All Italian

Hi! We are Italian expats and have been living abroad for years, currently in the Netherlands. Wherever we go, we carry part of our tradition with us. And we often notice that Italy, its heritage and its lifestyle, are very popular.
Now that we understand a little better the culture of the countries we live in, we want to offer an account with original content about our home country.
We are also writing this blog to practice English, so you will find our writing a little «creative» at times. Grazie mille!