Last Updated on October 17, 2021
Skip straight to my recipe for tomato and chilli sauce for pasta
It’s always great to have a raft of favourite recipes that are simple to cook and make use of mainly store cupboard ingredients. That’s why I love this zingy tomato and chilli sauce for pasta. At its simplest, it has just four ingredients and takes minutes to make and it’s great for vegetarians and meat-eaters alike. In fact, it’s based on a classic Italian pasta sauce called arrabbiata. Like all dishes with a few simple ingredients, it’s critical to use the best you can find for this chilli tomato sauce. San Marzano canned tomatoes are ideal for this – and adding in a few fresh cherry tomatoes will lift the end result. If you find the sauce lacks sweetness, it’s acceptable to add a pinch of sugar, especially when you’ve checked and seasoned well with salt and pepper.
Chop the onion as finely as possible and put it in a heavy-based pan with a tablespoon of olive oil. Crumble over a couple of dried red chillies or some chilli flakes and soften it over a low heat for about 10 minutes before adding the tin of tomatoes. Bring to a simmer and continue to cook over a low heat for a further 10 minutes stirring occasionally Add one medium fresh tomato or four cherry tomatoes (skinned and chopped) to the mix and warm through. Then the final ingredient is a good grind of black peppercorns which seems to bring all the flavours together in this chilli tomato sauce. It’s a delicious combination of sweet tomatoes with a nice hit of chilli heat.
While this tomato and chilli sauce for pasta is fabulous on its own, it’s also the perfect base to build on. You can and should garnish it with fresh herbs – basil, oregano or parsley (or even a mix of all three). You could add extra vegetables like chopped peppers or courgettes for a heartier vegetarian dish. Or stir through some meatballs or chicken for something meatier. I love serving it topped with crunchy, salty bacon lardons that I have crisped up under the grill.
The end result is essentially Pasta alla Amatriciana – although the original Italian recipe would have used a cured pork called guanciale, which is made from pigs cheek, I use bacon pieces or pancetta most of the time!
Remember to drain your pasta, reserving a bit of the cooking liquid and then pour it into the sauce. This all needs to be mixed well so the pasta gets a good coating of the tomato chilli sauce. The pasta cooking water will help the sauce stick to the pasta! Serve in heated bowls, sprinkling generously with the grilled lardons.
Whether you are using meat or making a vegetarian version of pasta with this tomato chilli sauce, you should serve it with grated cheese – Parmesan or Pecorino. If you are trying to make pasta alla arrabbiata as a vegetarian dish, remember that Parmesan and Pecorino Romano can never be veggie thanks to the animal rennet in the cheese-making process. But, there are plenty of vegetarian pecorino cheeses available and most people can’t tell the difference.
Pasta alla amatriciana obviously isn’t vegetarian, but this particular recipe has been adapted so that rather than cooking the pancetta or guanciale with the onion and then in the tomato sauce, it’s cooked separately and added at the end. That also has the benefit of making a healthier dish as at least some of the pork fat is drained away.
Tomato and chilli sauce for pasta
- 1 onion chopped finely
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 400 g chopped tomatoes (1 standard can)
- 4 cherry tomatoes peeled and chopped
- 2 chillies dried
- black pepper freshly ground
- 70 g pancetta, bacon or guanciale cut into lardons - optional
- 120 g linguine
- 20 g pecorino or parmigiano cheese grated
- fresh herbs of your choice - basil, oregano or parsley for instance
- Line a baking tray with foil and spread the lardons on the tray. Place under the grill and cook until crispy, about 15mins.
- Add the oil to a heavy-based pan and stir through the chopped onion and the crumbled dried red chilli. Cook over a gentle heat for 10 minutes until translucent and soft
- Add the tin of tomatoes and reduce down for a further 10 minutes
- Add the chopped fresh tomatoes.
- Season generously with black pepper and if necessary a little salt and a pinch of sugar
- Cook the pasta according to the instructions on the packet. When ready, drain, reserving a bit of the cooking liquid.
- Add the pasta into the pan with the sauce. Add a dash of the cooking liquid to loosen the sauce slightly. Mix well together until the pasta is well coated.
- Stir through the chopped fresh herbs, reserving a few to garnish.
- Serve the pasta and sauce in a bowl with the bacon lardons sprinkled on top and with a bowl of freshly grated pecorino or parmesan cheese
Looking for more pasta sauce inspiration? Check out this recipe for a creamy mushroom sauce here.