Penne al Sugo di Pomodoro (Tomato Sauce)

45 minutes
  • Total Time: 45 minutes
  • Yield: 4-6 1x


  • Serves 4-6
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1 28-ounce can peeled plum tomatoes, puréed
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 45 basil leaves, coarsely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon sugar – optional. (See notes below)
  • 1 pound penne – or any pasta
  • Grated Parmigiano for serving

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  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.
  2. In a large skillet over medium heat, sauté the onion in the olive oil until it’s golden. Add the tomatoes, salt and pepper. Add the basil, and a little sugar as desired. Lower the heat and simmer until reduced, 20 – 30 minutes.
  3. Cook the pasta until al dente (about 2 minutes less than package directions). Drain, add to the sauce, and mix together over medium heat.
  4. Serve immediately with grated Parmigiano.


The above measures are a guide, but add or subtract to taste. Nanni used a food mill to purée canned tomatoes and remove the seeds – which are said to have a slightly bitter taste. I rarely use one and instead rely on a speedy blender. Sugar is a controversial addition. My grandmother preferred a slightly sweet sauce and so added it, citing the fact that canned tomatoes are more bitter than fresh ones. I rarely add it. She would not add it to sauces with meat, such as a ragú.

Ed's Review

The secret to happiness (and perhaps sanity) is found somewhere between the song Ball of Confusion by The Temptations and my grandmother Virginia's tomato sauce recipe. Below are a couple of verses from the 1970 song, but you should listen to the whole song and read the lyrics for maximum effect. (Click here)  In that poetry, you'll see that the world is very much the same ball of confusion that it was 50 years ago, as it probably was 400 years ago and as it  probably will be 400 years from now. To expect otherwise is pointless. On the other hand, my Nanni's tomato sauce is constant.  So simple, so delicious, and so easy to share.  No confusion here, just peace, love, and understanding. So savor the moment; it's all we get.

Buon Appetito!

Ed Garrubbo

P.P.S. Ball of Confusion Lyrics

Ball of confusion
Oh yeah, that's what the world is today
Woo, hey, hey

Evolution, revolution, gun control, sound of soul
Shooting rockets to the moon, kids growing up too soon
Politicians say more taxes will solve everything
And the band played on

So, round and around and around we go
Where the world's headed, said nobody knows

Just a ball of confusion
Oh yeah, that's what the world is today
Woo, hey, hey

Eve of destruction, tax deduction, city inspectors, bill collectors
Mod clothes in demand, population out of hand, suicide, too many bills
Hippies moving to the hills, people all over the world are shouting
'End the war' and the band played on

Just a ball of confusion
Oh yeah, that's what the world is today
Woo, hey, hey

4 thoughts on “Penne al Sugo di Pomodoro (Tomato Sauce)”

  1. Welcome back! So happy to have you posting again. Looking foward to sharing this recipe with friends and family when I use it for a Sunday pasta. Of all of your recipes, do you have a personal favorite Pasta Dish? ps.I share your info on the FB page I manage for Italian Importers La Rosa Azzurra-LRA Import whom you may have met at Luzi Food event last February in Manhattan).

    • Hi. Sorry for the delay in responding, i was away. I don’t know… i love pesto, and carbonara, and amatriciana… and always a basic tomato sauce… all of them! thanks for sharing. let me know if we can link up to your site or something. grazie! ed

  2. Edwin,
    I had the most delicious penne in an Italian restaurant in Seattle, that closed a few years ago. The penne was in a tomato sauce but was also baked (I assume) with mozzarella.
    Do you know of such a recipe or how to recreate it?


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