Simple Penne Pomodoro

published Apr 16, 2022
Penne Pomodoro Recipe

Only five ingredients go into the fresh-tasting basil tomato sauce that's tossed with penne pasta.

Serves4 to 6

Prep5 minutes

Cook20 minutes

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a bowl with penne tossed in a red Pomodoro sauce
Credit: Kelli Foster

Penne pomodoro is one of the easiest pastas you can make. You need just a handful of easy-to-find ingredients and the sauce comes together in about the same amount of time it takes to cook the pasta. Start with a can of crushed tomatoes and turn it into a bright-tasting tomato sauce that’s flavored simply with olive oil, garlic, and a few basil sprigs. Finish the sauce with a handful of chopped basil for a burst of fresh flavor and toss with penne pasta for an easy side dish or vegetarian pasta dinner.

What’s the Difference Between Pomodoro and Tomato Sauce? 

Tomato sauce is a fairly generic term that can mean a smooth canned or jarred sauce or any basic sauce with a base of tomatoes. Pomodoro sauce is a fairly smooth sauce made with tomatoes, basil, olive oil, and sometimes garlic that is light and made quickly, which means no long simmering time. If by tomato sauce you mean marinara, marinara usually also includes additional ingredients, like onion and oregano, whereas pomodoro is super simple: tomatoes, garlic, and basil.

The Ingredients You’ll Need for Penne Pomodoro

It’s a very short ingredients list, but here’s what you need to know.

  • The tomatoes You have a lot of canned tomato options at the grocery store, but for this dish you want to go with crushed tomatoes. They have a bright, fresh-tasting flavor.
  • The basil Basil both simmers in the sauce and gets chopped up, so go with fresh basil in this recipe.
  • The pasta When you’re in the pasta aisle, grab penne rigate (which means it has ridges). The ridges help to provide a rough surface for the sauce to cling to, and the tube shape also traps in all that yummy sauce.
Credit: Kelli Foster

Is Penne Pomodoro Vegetarian?

Yes, penne pomodoro is vegetarian. You can make it vegan by skipping the Parmesan cheese garnish.

What Should I Serve with Penne Pomodoro?

Serve penne pomodoro with a simply cooked green vegetable (broccoli cooked any way you like it, for example) or a green salad with a simple vinaigrette dressing. It’s also great paired it with grilled chicken or oven-baked pork chops for a more substantial meal. For chicken parm vibes, serve it with some garlic-parmesan chicken tenders.

Penne Pomodoro Recipe

Only five ingredients go into the fresh-tasting basil tomato sauce that's tossed with penne pasta.

Prep time 5 minutes

Cook time 20 minutes

Serves 4 to 6

Nutritional Info


  • 3 cloves


  • 3 tablespoons

    olive oil

  • 1 (28-ounce) can

    crushed tomatoes

  • 2 large sprigs

    fresh basil

  • 1 1/4 teaspoons

    kosher salt, plus more as needed

  • 1 pound

    dried penne rigate pasta

  • Grated Parmesan cheese, for serving (optional)


  1. Bring a large pot of heavily salted water to a boil over medium-high heat. Meanwhile, make the sauce.

  2. Mince 3 garlic cloves. Heat 3 tablespoons olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat until shimmering. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant but not browned, about 15 seconds. Add 1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes, 1 of the large fresh basil sprigs, and 1 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt, and bring to a simmer. Continue simmering, reducing the heat as needed and stirring occasionally, until the flavors meld, about 10 minutes.

  3. Meanwhile, add 1 pound dried penne pasta to the boiling water and cook according to package directions until al dente. Pick and thinly slice the leaves from the remaining basil sprig and grate Parmesan cheese if desired for garnish.

  4. When the pasta is ready, reserve 1/2 cup of the pasta cooking water. Drain the pasta, return to the pot, and place over medium-low heat. Add the sauce and 1/4 cup of the pasta cooking water and cook, tossing constantly, until the sauce coats the pasta, adding more pasta water as needed. Taste and season with more kosher salt as needed. Discard the basil sprig. Serve the pasta garnished with the basil and Parmesan if desired.

Recipe Notes

Make ahead: The sauce can be made up to 5 days ahead and refrigerated in an airtight container. Reheat over low heat before tossing with pasta.

Storage: Leftovers can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 4 days.