Some of the tastiest pasta sauces are also the simplest to make. Fresh tomato sauce, pesto, or creamy Alfredo all make delicious, easy pasta dinners.
The most delicious sauces for pasta are the ones with the fewest ingredients. They’re simple and elegant, some slow and some quick—all easy to prepare.
The three sauces featured here are common in Italy and in any corner of the Earth where great pasta dishes are honored with homemade sauces.
Fresh Tomato Sauce
Can one of the best—if not the best—pasta sauces be made with just three ingredients? Absolutely. With only fresh tomatoes, tomato paste, and salt, you can make a warm, inviting, classic sauce for any kind of pasta.
Keep in mind that this is not a marinara sauce—it’s just the base for it. You can add other ingredients later if you choose, such as onion, garlic, herbs, meats, or other vegetables. Or you can enjoy the delicious simplicity of tomatoes turned into sauce.
The tomato paste is an important ingredient, so choose one from Italy, if you can. It usually comes in a tube and is often double-concentrated for extra richness. It’s great for helping to thicken juicy tomatoes.
Keep in mind, too, that this sauce takes very little effort but a lot of time. Put it in a pot on the range and let the hours do their thing.
Fresh Tomato Sauce Recipe
(This recipe makes a small batch for four servings. You can easily double or triple it and freeze the sauce in small batches for several months.)
- 1 1/2 lb fresh tomatoes, large enough to peel easily
- 3 tbsp Italian tomato paste
- sea salt, to taste
- Peel the tomatoes over the pot you’re going to cook them in to catch all the juices. Cut them into small chunks once they’re peeled.
- When all the tomatoes are in the pot, crush them in your fingers to break them up a bit.
- Place the pot on the range over medium heat and slowly bring the tomatoes to a simmer. While the tomatoes heat, stir in the tomato paste and salt.
- When the tomatoes come to a simmer, reduce the heat to the lowest level and cover. (If your burner keeps the tomatoes simmering too hard even on low, leave the lid barely ajar to help stop the bubbling.
- Stir the sauce every 30-45 minutes and let cook for at least 3 hours. Turn off the heat and let sit for 1 hour longer.
If you’re using the sauce right away, you may need to re-warm it a bit while the pasta cooks. Or place it in a bowl, covered tightly, in the fridge and enjoy the next day.
Pesto is a classic Italian sauce starring fresh basil. This sauce also uses few ingredients, but instead of taking hours to cook, there’s no cooking at all. Just make sure the basil leaves are bright and beautiful—they’ll do the rest themselves.
The recipe below is for 4-5 servings. It won’t look like a lot in the bowl, but pesto is very rich and you don’t need much for the noodles.
If you’re making it to freeze, don’t add the cheese until the pesto has thawed and come to room temperature.
- 2 cups packed basil leaves
- 1/3 cup pine nuts
- 2 garlic cloves, peeled and roughly chopped
- sea salt
- freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1/3 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano
- Place the first 5 ingredients (through pepper) in a food processor and grind until finely minced.
- With the processor on, slowly pour in the olive oil.
- Scrape down the sides of the processor bowl and process until smooth.
- Pour the sauce into a bowl and stir in the cheese (unless you’re freezing it). Stir into hot pasta and enjoy.
The two sauces above are not only simple and delicious, but healthful as well. Not so much for Alfredo. This version is a little lighter since it uses half-and-half instead of heavy cream and less butter than usual. Choose a rich cheese like Parmigiano Reggiano and you can use less of that too.
Like pesto, Alfredo is very rich, so you don’t need much for each serving. This recipe should feed 4-5 people.
- 3 tbsp unsalted butter
- 8 oz. half-and-half
- 3 tbsp Parmigiano Reggiano
- sea salt
- freshly ground black pepper
- pinch of dried oregano
- Melt the butter over low heat, then increase the heat to medium and slowly stir in the half-and-half.
- Bring to a slight simmer and let cook 1 minute, stirring constantly.
- Reduce the heat to low and stir in the cheese until it melts.
- Season with salt, pepper, and oregano and toss with hot pasta. Serve sprinkled with chopped fresh herbs on top, if desired.