This is my favorite, best-ever easy recipe for authentic homemade Italian pomodoro sauce. Whether it’s made with fresh tomatoes or top-quality canned tomatoes, it’s a simple, do-ahead recipe for incredible pasta al pomodoro!
Growing up, we never called it pomodoro sauce. It was simply called “tomato sauce” the familiar, rich red pasta sauce we all knew and loved. In fact, this quick Sicilian-style tomato sauce with dried oregano and fresh basil was our go-to recipe. No questions asked.
But I’ve always wondered: is there a difference between the two? Pomodoro sauce sounds more intriguing, somewhat tastier, even classier than its American counterpart (maybe it’s the imagined Italian accent in my head?). Whereas tomato sauce just sounds like… tomato sauce. Whatever the case, food fascinates me. Here’s what I found down the rabbit hole.
What Is Pomodoro Sauce?
Pomodoro means “tomato” in Italian, so the term “pomodoro sauce” is quite general. However, true authentic pomodoro sauce, the way I understand it, is made from 5 specific ingredients: fresh tomatoes, extra-virgin olive oil, garlic cloves, basil and salt. Onions are optional. No spices.
What sets it apart from the rest? Fresh tomatoes (not canned) although you can find pomodoro sauce made both ways. It’s typically served with fresh homemade pasta or dried, homemade gnocchi and as a base for different Italian-style dishes. I love it with a dollop of fresh ricotta on top. The texture can be rustic or smooth.
Fun Fact: Pomodoro sauce vs. Marinara Sauce. What’s the Difference? Both are tomato-based sauces with similar ingredients. However, the origin of marinara sauce makes it unique. In Italian, “marinara” means “sailor” and when prepared alla marinara (sailor style) it’s typically served with seafood like mussels. Oftentimes, pomodoro sauce and marinara sauce are used interchangeably, with or without seafood, but now you know the difference.
Why Fresh Is Best.
While canned tomatoes are certainly convenient (I use them all the time), choose fresh tomatoes when in season. The flavor is so light and delicate, the sauce actually tastes like real tomatoes! It’s incredibly refreshing too, not heavy or acidic. You’ll get rave reviews.
Tip: For convenience, you can make my pomodoro sauce with good-quality canned San Marzano tomatoes instead. You’ll find you quantities and my preferred brands in the recipe below. It’s a different, richer sauce that tastes equally as good!
How To Blanch Tomatoes
When using fresh tomatoes for sauce, you need to remove the skins before cooking. They are too tough to fully break down. Blanch tomatoes in boiling water for about 1 minute. When cool enough to handle, remove the skin with your hands (it slips right off, very satisfying). Save and re-use the blanching water to cook the pasta. Blanching can be done in advance. Chill or freeze the tomatoes until ready to use.
Pomodoro Sauce Ingredients (You Will Need):
- Fresh tomatoes
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Onions/shallots (optional)
Pomodoro Sauce Tips:
- Best fresh tomatoes for pomodoro sauce? Look for small, sweet juicy tomatoes. Try San Marzano plum tomatoes, Roma tomatoes or my favorite: Costoluto Fiorentino which is a ribbed, Italian heirloom variety from Florence. They’re sweet, not too juicy and thin-skinned. Perfect for sauce. We grew a bunch this year (pictured above) with excellent results. You can purchase seeds here.
- Use a wide 12-inch pan (instead of a high sided pot). The sauce will reduce faster, about 15-20 minutes for up to 3 lbs. of tomatoes, depending on the variety.
- Listen to the sauce. Don’t time it. If it sounds bubbly, like boiling water, the texture is too liquid. If it sounds scratchy, add a splash of pasta water or more tomatoes- the texture is too dry. Fresh tomatoes have different moisture levels which require varying cook times. Be flexible.
- Make it ahead. Chill pomodoro sauce in an airtight container, up to 4 days; Freeze up to 3 months.
- Use as a base sauce for your favorite recipes: chicken parmesan, homemade pizza sauce and my spicy, 20-minute homemade arrabbiata sauce to name a few!
Sample Cooking Timeline
Pomodoro sauce can be made from start to finish in 45 minutes (or less). However, blanching, peeling and chopping tomatoes is messy. Set yourself up for success: if you’re tight on space, like me, split the process into two parts (blanching/cooking) for smoother clean up. When you’re ready to eat, dinner is done in 30 minutes.
- 9 AM: Blanch and chop tomatoes (15 minutes). Chill/freeze until ready to use.
- 6 PM: Cook sauce. Boil pasta while sauce cooks. (22-27 minutes).
- 6:30 PM: Done!
Pomodoro Sauce Pairs Well With:
- Fresh Spinach Pasta Dough
- Beginner’s to Fresh Homemade Pasta Dough
- Beginner’s Guide to Fresh Homemade Gnocchi
- How to Make Perfect Pappardelle Pasta
More Pasta Sauce Recipes To Try!
- Ragù Bolognese Sauce
- Aglio e Olio (Garlic and Oil)
- 20-Minute Arrabbiata Sauce
- Homemade Italian Sausage Ragù
- Quick Sicilian-Style Tomato Sauce
- Pesto alla Trapanese (Sicilian Pesto)
- Classic Italian Basil Pesto (Pesto alla Genovese)
- Easy Golden Butter & Sage Pasta Sauce
This is my favorite, best-ever easy recipe for authentic homemade pomodoro sauce. Serve with fresh pasta or dried, gnocchi and as a base for different Italian-style dishes (chicken parmesan, sautéed veggies, soups etc). This recipe makes approximately 1 quart of spaghetti sauce, which is sufficient for 1 lb of pasta.
For the Pomodoro Sauce
- 3 lb. (1.36 kg) fresh, ripe tomatoes
- 1 garlic clove, smashed
- 1/3 cup (50 g) finely minced shallots or onions
- 6 tbsp. olive oil
- 6–8 fresh basil leaves
To Serve with Pasta
- 1 lb. (450 g) dried penne or spaghetti (or fresh homemade pasta)
- 2 tbsp (30 g) unsalted butter (optional)
- Parmesan cheese
- Fresh basil leaves
Notes & Tips
- For fresh tomatoes: Choose San Marzano plum tomatoes, Roma tomatoes, even Beefsteak tomatoes from the farm stand. Cherry tomatoes work too, but since they’re smaller and you’re working with multiples, they take more time to blanch and peel. Either way: look for dark red, super sweet, fresh tomatoes. Your sauce will thank you.
- If using canned tomatoes: substitute 42 oz/1.2 kg (1 1/2 large cans) whole, peeled plum tomatoes, preferably San Marzano tomatoes. I like Cento brand.
- Onions are optional in pomodoro sauce. However, most times, I skip the onions, use shallots, and omit the garlic altogether. Why? I use this sauce as a base for many Italian-style dishes. Some of these dishes do not require garlic. So when needed, I just add a smashed garlic clove or two, to my base sauce while it re-heats. The flavor infuses beautifully. PS: shallots remind me of onions and garlic combined, so it’s a perfect balanced blend.
- Remember, fresh tomatoes can be blanched ahead and chilled/frozen until ready to use. This is extremely helpful when making large batches of sauce (and you don’t have time to do it all in one day).
- Try Butter. I love, love, love butter in my pomodoro sauce, which is not authentic, but a nod to Marcella Hazan’s famous tomato sauce recipe with onions and butter. It’s divine.
Note: If using fresh tomatoes, you’ll need to blanch them first to remove the tough skins (see below). If using canned tomatoes, skip the blanching step and jump straight to cooking. You’ll need to chop them into small pieces first, and add to the pan with their juice.
To Blanch Tomatoes:
Boil a large pot of water. Cut a small X on the bottom of each tomato (the skin will peel off easier). Blanch the tomatoes for 30 seconds to 1 minute. Transfer to a bowl with a slotted spoon; do not drain the pot of water. Run the tomatoes under cold water to stop the cooking process. Remove the skins with your hands- they should slip right off. Next, slice the tomatoes in half and scoop out the seeds (I do this over a bowl). Dice the tomatoes into small pieces. At this point, the blanched, chopped tomatoes can be stored in the fridge up to 4 days or frozen up to 3 months.
Tip: Save the blanching water to cook the pasta (or save it to water your plants or garden if not using right away).
To Cook Pomodoro Sauce:
In a large 12-inch (30 cm) skillet warm the olive oil over medium heat. Sauté the onions or shallots (if using) until soft and translucent, 5-7 minutes. Add the smashed garlic clove; cook until fragrant, 30 seconds.
Add the tomatoes to the pan. Season with salt. Give it a quick stir with a wooden spoon. Bring to a gentle boil, lower the heat and simmer until the sauce is reduced and slightly thickened, about 15-20 minutes depending on variety (the juicier the tomatoes the longer it will take to cook). Towards the end of cooking, tear the fresh basil leaves into small pieces and stir into the sauce.
To finish, remove the garlic clove. Puree the sauce with an immersion blender or regular blender to create a semi-rustic or smooth texture. Or, don’t puree at all- your choice. Your sauce. Taste and correct with more salt, if needed.
To Serve with Pasta:
Cook the pasta according to the package instructions. Meanwhile, have your pomodoro sauce simmering and ready to go in a 12-inch pan (the pasta will finish cooking in the sauce). When the pasta is aldente, use tongs or a small strainer to transfer it into the pan. Add the butter if using, and stir well. Shave some parmesan cheese over the pasta; toss to coat. Simmer and toss for 30 seconds. Transfer your delicious pasta al pomodoro to a large serving bowl and garnish with fresh basil on top. Enjoy!
Keywords: Pomodoro sauce, tomato sauce, easy, authentic, Italian, recipe, pasta, fresh pasta, fresh tomatoes, San Marzano