Pasta Pomodoro (Spaghetti With Tomato Sauce)

Toothsome pasta is tossed in a velvety tomato sauce, brightened with fresh basil, and finished with freshly grated Parmigiano cheese. This simple yet comforting weeknight dinner recipe ticks all the boxes!

▢6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
▢1 garlic clove, lightly crushed
▢1 pinch red pepper flakes (optional)
▢1 (28-ounce) can whole peeled tomatoes
▢Fine sea salt
▢1 basil branch, plus more leaves for garnish
▢1 pound spaghetti (or packaged pasta of your choice)
▢Freshly grated Parmesan cheese, for serving (optional)

Soften the garlic: In a large saucepan over medium-low heat, stir together ¼ cup of the oil and the garlic until the garlic begins to sizzle, about 2 minutes. Press down on the garlic to release its flavor but don’t let it brown. Stir in a pinch of red pepper flakes. For a milder flavor, remove and discard the garlic, keeping the garlicky oil in the pan. Or leave it in for a bolder flavor—your choice.
Add the tomatoes: Pour in the can of tomatoes and their juice. Watch for spatters as the tomatoes hit the oil. Use a potato masher, sturdy wooden spoon, or silicone spatula to break up the tomatoes. Season with ½ teaspoon of salt and raise the heat to medium-high. Bring the tomatoes to a boil, then lower the heat to medium-low or low to maintain a very gentle simmer.
Simmer the sauce: Cover the pan partially with a lid and cook, stirring every now and then, for 35 to 40 minutes, until the tomatoes have darkened in color and the sauce has thickened. The oil should be pooling on the surface. If the sauce thickens too much before it tastes sweeter and richer, add a splash of water. When it’s finished cooking, turn off the heat and let sit for 10 minutes to cool.
Process the sauce: Strain the sauce with a food mill or fine mesh strainer. Discard the garlic and transfer the sauce to a food mill fitted with the disk with the smallest holes. Pass the sauce through the mill into a bowl. Or, press the tomatoes through a sieve or fine mesh strainer to make a smooth sauce. Return the sauce to the pan. Taste and add another pinch of salt, if needed.
Season the pomodoro sauce: Stir in the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Lay the branch of basil on top of the sauce and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Or scatter about 5 basil leaves into the pan. Stir the sauce and cook gently for about 15 minutes. The basil will wilt into the sauce and infuse it with flavor. Turn off the heat and discard the branch of basil. Add a few more fresh basil leaves if you’d like. You can leave them whole or tear them; either is fine. Cover the pan to keep the sauce warm.
Combine: Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil and salt it generously. Drop in the pasta and cook according to the package instructions until just al dente. Use a pasta fork, tongs, or a skimmer to transfer the pasta directly to the pan with the sauce. Add a splash of the starchy pasta water and turn the heat under the pan on to low. Cook, tossing pasta and sauce together, for about 2 minutes, or until the noodles are cooked and well coated with the sauce.
Serve: Divide the pasta between bowls and spoon any remaining sauce on top. Sprinkle with Parmigiano cheese and basil and serve.

If your garlic clove is older, cut it in half first and remove the green heart, which has an aggressive flavor. Lightly crush the halves and then add them to the oil.
If you prefer a sauce with texture, you can skip the milling or straining. Simply use a potato masher to break down any large pieces.

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