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This red sauce pasta recipe is full of classic Italian flavor! Simmer up this tasty dish with pure, simple ingredients.

Red Sauce Pasta Recipe
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Craving a simple, cozy pasta? Try this Classic Red Sauce Pasta recipe! Like any great Italian recipe, it features simple, classic ingredients simmered until they meld into a savory, velvety tomato sauce. This one is based on a real Italian grandmother’s recipe (so you know it’s good!). Throw it onto pasta with a little salty Parmesan or Pecorino Romano cheese, and it’s simply divine. This one went over very well in our house: each of us huddled over our cozy bowls…and refusing to share!

Ingredients for this red sauce pasta recipe

This red sauce pasta features our classic tomato sauce recipe, which we based on a recipe real Sicilian grandmother! It’s a spin on Nonna’s recipe from the memoir From Scratch by Tembi Locke (which we highly recommend). Like Nonna’s, it uses simple, high quality ingredients, simmered to extract the essence of their flavors.

  • Olive oil
  • Red onion
  • Garlic
  • Crushed tomatoes (San Marzano or best quality)
  • Oregano
  • Fresh basil
  • Sugar
  • Salt
  • Pasta of any shape
  • Parmesan or Pecorino Romano cheese, to garnish
Red Sauce

For the canned tomatoes

The most important ingredient in this red sauce pasta recipe? The canned tomatoes. Low quality canned tomatoes can have a bitter, flat or metallic flavor: and no amount of salt or oil can compensate for that! Here’s what to know about buying the best canned tomatoes for tomato sauce:

  • Look for the San Marzano variety. San Marzano tomatoes are a variety of plum tomato that has less seeds and acidity than most tomatoes. This variety originated in Italy, but it’s grown all over the world. This type of tomato is slightly more expensive than the typical American canned tomato, but it’s well worth the price!
  • Some of the best brands are Muir Glen, Cento, and San Marzano. That’s right: there’s a brand called San Marzano too! These are the brands we lean toward (we are not affiliated).
  • Or, use fire roasted tomatoes. Fire roasted tomatoes are roasted over an open flame before canning, which gives them a sweet, lightly smoky flavor. They work wonderfully here too.
Red Sauce Pasta Recipe

Fresh vs dried basil

This red sauce pasta recipe calls for fresh basil, which is like the gold of Italian herbs. The fresh, peppery flavor that it imparts is key if you can find it. But it can be expensive, especially when it’s out of season. Substitute ½ teaspoon dried basil if you like in this recipe. The flavor won’t be quite as developed as with fresh basil, but it’s an easy swap.

Types of pasta to use

This red sauce pasta recipe works with most types of long and short noodles! Avoid using angel hair noodles because they’re much too delicate. Here are some of the best types of pasta for this sauce:

  • Spaghetti
  • Bucatini
  • Linguine
  • Spirals (fusilli)
  • Bowties (farfalle)
  • Penne
  • Shells (conchiglie)
  • Orecchiette
  • Gemelli
  • Gigli

How to serve red sauce pasta

The best part about this red sauce pasta recipe? The garnishes! Garnishing pasta is key to maintaining a balanced of flavors and texture. Especially key here is the cheese, in our opinion, but you can easily use a dairy-free cheese for vegan. Here’s how to serve this red sauce pasta:

  • Parmesan or Pecorino Romano cheese: Topping the pasta with grated or shaved aged cheese brings a pop of salty flavor. Eat vegan? No problem, substitute purchased dairy-free Parmesan or make this Vegan Parmesan.
  • Red pepper flakes: They’re not required, but a modest sprinkle of red pepper flakes ups the ante flavor-wise. (We used just enough to season, but not enough to be spicy.)
  • Fresh basil: If you buy it, fresh basil looks and tastes beautiful in this red sauce pasta. We’d typically save this for a special occasion if it’s not in season, or grab some from our garden in the summer (here’s how to grow basil).
Red Sauce Pasta

Red sauce storage info

Want to make this homemade red sauce in advance? This tomato sauce stores refrigerated for up to 5 days or frozen for up to 3 months.

More pasta and sauce recipes

Love Italian pastas? Here are a few more tasty pasta recipes to add to your arsenal:

This red sauce pasta recipe is…


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Red Sauce Pasta

Red Sauce Pasta

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  • Author: Sonja Overhiser
  • Prep Time: 5 minutes
  • Cook Time: 45 minutes
  • Total Time: 50 minutes
  • Yield: 4 1x
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This red sauce pasta recipe is full of classic Italian flavor! Simmer up this tasty dish with pure, simple ingredients.


  • ¼ cup olive oil, divided
  • 1 medium red onion, diced
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 28 ounce can crushed tomatoes, San Marzano or best quality
  • 1 teaspoon oregano
  • 6 large basil leaves, plus more to garnish
  • 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 12 ounces pasta
  • Parmesan or Pecorino Romano cheese, to garnish (or vegan Parmesan)
  • Red pepper flakes, to garnish


  1. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium heat in a saucepan. Add the onion and garlic and cook gently for 5 minutes, until softened and fragrant. Add the tomatoes and remaining 3 tablespoons olive oil and bring to a simmer. Cover and simmer for 30 minutes, stirring often.
  2. Transfer to a blender and blend until smooth. Add the salt, sugar, oregano and basil and blend until combined. 
  3. Return to the saucepan and simmer partially covered until thickened to the desired consistency, 15 to 30 minutes. Taste and adjust salt as desired. (Variations: Stir in red pepper flakes, a splash of cream, grated Parmesan cheese, or a splash of balsamic vinegar if desired.)
  4. Serve all 3 cups of the tomato sauce with 12 ounces pasta, and top with Parmesan cheese, Pecorino Romano cheese, and/or red pepper flakes. Sauce stores refrigerated for 5 days or frozen for 3 months.
  • Category: Main Dish
  • Method: Stovetop
  • Cuisine: Pasta
  • Diet: Vegetarian

About the authors

Sonja & Alex

Hi, we’re Alex and Sonja Overhiser, married cookbook authors, food bloggers, and recipe developers. We founded A Couple Cooks to share fresh, seasonal recipes and the joy of cooking! Our recipes are made by two real people and work every time.

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