Penne Pomodoro is a traditional Italian dish that's quick and easy to make and is the perfect blend of simple yet flavorful ingredients! This dish is also ready in under 30 minutes, making it a great weeknight meal. Let's jump right in.
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💭 Why you'll love this recipe
Penne al Pomodoro (or pasta al pomodoro) literally means pasta with tomato sauce. It's the perfect dish when you want to whip up a quick and tasty meal.
- It's quick and easy to make. This recipe can be made in under 30 minutes, making it the perfect weeknight dinner option (like this 3 ingredient, authentic cacio e pepe recipe, I'm all about convenient but delicious dinners!)
- It's made with simple, everyday ingredients. This dish uses common pantry staples like olive oil, garlic, basil, tomatoes, and pasta - so you likely already have everything you need to make it.
- It's a delicious and satisfying meal. This dish, full of pasta, tomatoes, and herbs will make your taste buds think you're in Italy. Not only does it have a great flavor, but it's also a hearty dish that fills you up. Make a large batch and have for lunch the next day!
📋 Ingredients and Notes
To make this recipe, you'll need penne pasta, cherry tomatoes, extra virgin olive oil, garlic, fresh basil, red pepper flakes, salt, and parmesan cheese.
Notes and Variations
- Penne pasta substitute. You can totally experiment with different types of pasta in this recipe (e.g., short pasta like farfalle, rigatonil; long pasta like spaghetti or bucatini; other pasta like gnocchi, anything goes!) Just cook the pasta al dente so it doesn't become soggy when cooked with the sauce.
- Other flavor variations. Aside from using basil and pepper flakes, you can also explore other Mediterranean herbs such as oregano or thyme to give the dish a more complex flavor.
- Tomato substitute. This recipe requires ripe cherry tomatoes, but if you can't find any or don't have time to wait for them to ripen, feel free to use canned or pureed tomatoes. San Marzano tomatoes (fresh or whole peeled!) or Roma tomatoes tend to work really great for making any kind of tomato sauce.
- Substitute with other fresh herbs. Tomato and basil are the classic combination, but you can also use other herbs like oregano, fresh parsley, thyme or these basil substitutes for a different flavor profile to this dish.
📖 Make penne pomodoro!
Salt a large pot of water, and bring water to a boil over medium heat. Once the water starts boiling vigorously, add the pasta and cook to al dente according to package instructions. Reserve pasta water (about a cup should be enough).
While pasta is cooking, add olive oil to a large skillet, and heat over low-medium heat. Once hot, add garlic cloves and red pepper flakes (you can skip this if you want to adjust for spice tolerance). Cook for a minute or two, until fragrant, stirring occasionally, taking care not to let the garlic burn.
Then, add the tomatoes and salt and cook for 10 minutes over medium heat, stirring frequently to avoid any burns. If you want a shortcut here, you can easily use this San Marzano sauce (make a large batch in advance and store!)
Allow the tomatoes to cool down (if you don't have a heat-safe blender). Then, either transfer to a blender or food processor. You can also use an immersion blender (like this budget-friendly one that has thousands of positive reviews!) to pulse and blend the sauce to the desired consistency! You can also just use a masher or the back of a spoon to crush tomatoes by hand instead.
Return the blended sauce or crushed tomatoes to the pan and simmer slowly over medium low heat. Add salt and pepper, and adjust to taste. Add the finely chopped basil leaves on top.
Once pasta is al dente, add cooked pasta using tongs to the sauce and toss well to coat. Add a small portion of the reserved pasta water, one tablespoon at a time, and toss with tongs to form your sauce. This helps the sauce get a silky texture and coat the pasta fully.
Serve with a drizzle of olive oil and parmesan cheese (regular or vegan) as well as a few fresh basil leaves or dried basil on top for garnish. Enjoy your penne pomodoro!
P.S., you can transfer this to a baking dish, add some cheese on top and also bake it if you want something a bit more luscious.
👩🏽🍳 Top Tips to Make the Best Penne Pomodoro!
Here are five tips that I follow to make the best penne pomodoro recipe that will leave your taste buds wanting more, every time!
- Use good quality tomatoes. This is really important. Tomatoes form the base of the dish, so you want to make sure you're using ripe and flavorful tomatoes. If you can't find good fresh tomatoes, then canned whole peeled tomatoes will work just as well!
- Don't overdo the garlic. Look, I always tell people to measure garlic with your heart. But a little garlic goes a long way in this dish, so use enough to give it a nice flavor without being overwhelming.
- Don't hesitate to add some spice. A pinch of crushed red pepper flakes will add some heat without overwhelming other flavors.
- Don't overcook the pasta. I typically suggest cooking the pasta to a minute under al dente. This ensures that the pasta is not mushy when you cook it again in the sauce. If you prefer your pasta a bit softer than al dente, then cook it just until al dente according to package instructions before tossing in sauce.
- Top with fresh parmesan cheese and basil. The cheese adds a creamy richness that takes the dish over the top (whether regular or non-dairy!)
Pomodoro is a classic Italian sauce made from tomatoes, garlic, and herbs. The word "pomodoro" comes from the Italian word for tomato. It is typically used as a pasta sauce, but it can also be used on pizzas or as a dipping sauce. This sauce is cooked for a short period of time to allow the flavors to meld together. Then is typically served with pasta, pizzas or sandwiches.
Marinara sauce is a classic Italian sauce that is typically made with tomatoes, garlic, and herbs. It is thinner than Pomodoro sauce and does not usually contain cream or cheese. Pomodoro sauce is also made with tomatoes and garlic, but often includes cream or cheese, making it creamier and thicker.
This popular pasta sauce is made from tomatoes, which are an excellent source of Vitamin C, Vitamin A, Vitamin K and other nutrients.
There are two types of penne pasta - penne rigate and penne lisce. The word "rigate" means ridged or striped, while "lisce" means smooth or polished. So, penne rigate is a type of penne with a ridged exterior (and tends to hold the sauce a bit better!)
🍴 Serving and storage suggestions
You can make pomodoro sauce ahead of time and store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 4 days or the freezer for 3 months. Just be sure to portion and label it so you don’t forget the date you made it!
If you have any leftovers of this dish then you can place it it in the fridge for up to 4 days. Just make sure you placed it in an airtight container to preserve it properly.
To reheat, simply heat it up in a skillet over low heat and add some olive oil or water to make the sauce less thick.
Make sure to check out a few more delicious pasta recipes:
Did you make this recipe?! ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
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- 10 ounces penne pasta
- 14 ounces ripe cherry tomatoes, chopped, or from can
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- ¼ cup fresh basil, chopped
- ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 1 teaspoon salt, adjust to taste
- 2 tablespoons parmesan, vegetarian or vegan, optional
- Salt a large pot of water and bring to a boil over low-medium heat. Once the water starts boiling vigorously, add pasta. Cook the pasta to package directions (al dente consistency, typically 10-11 minutes ). Save 1 cup of the pasta cooking water.Note: You'll be finishing the pasta in the tomato sauce.
- While pasta is cooking, heat olive oil in a large pan over medium heat. Once hot, add minced garlic cloves and red pepper flakes. Cook for about 1 minute, until fragrant.
- Add cherry tomatoes and salt. Cook down for 10 minutes over medium heat, stirring frequently to avoid burning.
- Once tomatoes are cooked, blend the sauce to desired consistency. This can be done using an immersion blender, or by transferring to a regular blender. Cool down the tomatoes first if your blender container is not heat-safe. You can also just use a masher or the back of a spoon.
- Return the blended sauce to the pan and simmer over low heat. Add the chopped basil leaves.
- Once pasta is cooked, transfer with tongs to the sauce and mix to coat. Add a small portion of the cooking water and mix with tongs to form your sauce.
- Turn off the heat and add parmesan cheese, and an extra drizzle of olive oil as well as chopped basil leaves. Serve hot.
- Tomatoes: if using fresh tomatoes, pick the very ripe ones, that are soft to the touch but not dark red and mushy. You can also use canned whole peeled tomatoes (San Marzano) otherwise.
- Choice of cheese: Cheese is optional in this recipe. I use parmesan to give it some nuttiness, but you can substitute with a hard cheese of your choice.