Penne Pomodoro is a scrumptious, savory 30-minute tomato basil pasta recipe, featuring a delicious meatless sauce and plenty of tender pasta to fill your stomach. Enjoy this easy Italian dinner on any busy weeknight, or in huge batches to enjoy with friends and family!
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Why We Love Penne Pomodoro
- Full of authentic Italian ingredients.
What’s in Pomodoro sauce? Well, from the San Marzano tomatoes to the garlic and basil, with a sprinkle of parmesan on top, you can taste each and every ingredient. It all works together to build a mouthwateringly authentic penne alla pomodoro!
- Comes together quickly.
The best part? This easy Italian dinner recipe is ready to eat in only 30 minutes!
- Leftovers are fantastic, too!
Pasta dishes store well as leftovers, so you can build tonight’s dinner in a breeze while guaranteeing a tasty lunch or dinner later in the week. You can even prepare tons of sauce ahead of time to freeze and use down the road.
Ingredient Notes and Substitutions
- San Marzano Crushed Tomatoes – Any brand will do, but this one is an authentic Italian variety! The tomatoes are meaty and don’t have that “canned tomato” taste that some other brands have.
- Italian Seasoning – Store bought Italian seasoning always contains some combination of oregano, rosemary, marjoram, thyme, and sage. Don’t have any, or prefer some herbs to others? Mix your own homemade blend!
- Penne Pasta – Our pasta pomodoro recipe features penne instead of spaghetti for two reasons: to make it fork-stabbing friendly for kids, and because it’s a great potluck dish! But feel free to use other noodles that you like – any will do!
We have a similar recipe, but it uses a different pasta. Check out our rigatoni Pomodoro recipe next!
- Parmesan Cheese – Grate it fresh for the very best flavor!
Do you love easy Italian dinner recipes?
Some similar, simple Italian meals include our spicy carbone rigatoni and our tried and true pasta with meat sauce – be sure to check out all of our favorite pasta recipes!
Variations and Optional Ingredients
Pasta is incredibly customizable – that’s part of what makes it such a family favorite! Here are some ways you can dress up this simple tomato basil pasta recipe and turn it into something unique to you and yours:
- Zucchini, mushrooms, spinach, and eggplant are just a few vegetables that taste great in this penne pasta recipe. Go with what’s seasonal and garden fresh!
- Turn this simple tomato basil sauce into a meat sauce by stirring in crumbled Italian sausage or ground hamburger! Brown the meat in the olive oil to begin, then sauté the veggies in the fat the meat leaves behind. It builds so much flavor!
- Lovers of creamy sauces might consider adding a topping of ricotta or cottage cheese over the plates of penne Pomodoro. Alternatively, you could stir in small amounts of half & half or heavy cream, for an ultra rich and creamy pasta sauce.
Tips For Making Our Tomato Basil Pasta Recipe
- Build the best Pomodoro sauce base.
It all starts with the garlic. Let the oil get hot (authentic, delicious olive oil makes a big difference in flavor) and sauté the garlic until just fragrant before throwing the tomatoes in there. Don’t let it burn!
Some people like to add onions or shallots to their sauce. If you’re one of them, add the onions first – they leak more moisture and take longer to brown than garlic.
- Customize the sauce for your tastes.
A plain Italian seasoning is definitely the easy, bare-bones way to season penne Pomodoro. But it isn’t the only way! Crushed red pepper and fresh herbs give some spice and life to any tomato sauce. Basil loves thyme and oregano, so throw in some fresh sprigs!
- Cook the pasta to al dente.
There isn’t much that tastes worse with an authentic Italian pasta sauce than slimy, overcooked noodles. To prevent this from happening, cook the penne for 2 minutes less than the time suggested on the package.
- Don’t toss the pasta water!
It adds flavor, and also, the starchy water is fabulous for thinning out the sauce if it’s too thick for you.
- Create a beautiful basil garnish.
Those ribbons of basil you see in Italian restaurants aren’t as complicated as they look! By the way, the official, fancy-pants name for it is a chiffonade cut.
Stack 10 or so leaves of basil on your cutting board and roll them up into a tight “cigar” shape. Turn it horizontally and begin slicing the herbs into very thin slices. Loosen the ribbons of basil with your fingers and sprinkle them over your finished plates. Viola!
Pasta Pomodoro Recipe FAQ
Yes, you can – that’s actually the authentic way of preparing a classic pasta Pomodoro recipe. You will want to skin them beforehand to preserve the smooth texture of the sauce and choose a tender, meaty tomato: Roma or plum tomatoes are great options with a lot of flesh but only a few seeds.
Absolutely! Penne pasta recipes with a meatless sauce like Pomodoro can be frozen, and, the meal will keep well in the freezer for up to six months.
Storing and Reheating
The sauce in our tomato basil pasta recipe is great for making in bulk ahead of time. It lasts for up to a week in the fridge and as mentioned above, it can be frozen for up to 6 months! It thaws well with no real change in texture.
Reheat leftovers in a saucepan on the stove, or microwave in 20-30 second intervals, stirring between each. Unless there’s meat involved, the sauce and pasta should reheat smoothly and pretty quickly.
- 1 8-qt stock pot - or similar size pot, for cooking pasta
- large skillet - or large, shallow saucepan
- 3 teaspoons salt divided
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 3 cloves garlic minced or smashed
- 28 ounces San Marzano crushed tomatoes or other brand canned crushed tomatoes
- 2 teaspoons Italian seasoning
- 1 pound penne pasta uncooked
- ½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
- 8-10 leaves fresh basil julienned – *See instructions, below
- Bring a large pot of water with 2 teaspoons of salt to a boil over medium-high heat.
- Meanwhile, add oil to a large skillet over medium heat. When oil is hot, add garlic, and sauté for 1 minute, until fragrant.
- Add San Marzano crushed tomatoes (with the juices), 1 teaspoon of salt, and Italian seasoning to the skillet. Cover and simmer on low heat while you cook the pasta.
- Add pasta to boiling water and cook to al dente (about 2 minutes less than the cooking time shown on the package). When pasta is finished cooking, use a heat-safe measuring cup or bowl to reserve 1/2 cup of pasta cooking water. Set reserved water aside, then drain the pasta in a colander. Do NOT rinse the penne! Set aside.
- Stir 1/4 cup pasta water into the sauce to thicken it. Add more pasta water if needed, 1 tablespoon at a time, until the sauce is thick, rich, and glossy. Taste the sauce and add more salt if needed.
- To julienne the basil: Stack the leaves on a cutting board, then roll them up tightly into a "cigar" shape. Turn it, so the long side is facing you. Using a sharp chef's knife, cut the basil into very thin slices. Use your fingers to loosen the "ribbons" of basil.
- Garnish with parmesan cheese and basil before serving.