Red Sauce Pasta Recipe

Last updated 6th June 2017

When feeding children with particular palates, sometimes the simplest option is the best. My sugo di pomodoro sauce hasn’t failed me yet.


2 tablespoons olive oil

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1 large onion, finely chopped

2 teaspoons tomato purée

8 large ripe tomatoes, peeled, deseeded and chopped

or 2 x 400g tins of good tomatoes

Pinch caster sugar

Freshly ground black pepper

Handful basil, roughly chopped

Handful grated parmesan


In the summer, fresh tomatoes can be substituted for tinned, which make the sauce tiptoe, rather than stride across the palate. Just make sure they’re ripe, and have a decent whack of taste, rather than those sorry, billiard ball-hard specimens that lurk in the supermarket refrigerator.  

If using tinned tomatoes, do buy the very best quality. Those budget versions might seem like a steal, but they lack heft and the resulting sauce becomes insipid.

I cook my onions until they are soft, but not caramelised, and throw in the basil right at the end just after turning off the heat. Then I add a handful of fresh Parmesan at the same time. This not only creates savoury magic, but salts the dish, too. As to the pasta; well, purists would argue the fresh version demands a delicate partner, spaghettini for example, while the sauce made with tinned tomatoes cries out for chunky, ridged shapes, something like penne. But as long as the children are happy, then so am I. 



Heat the oil and soften the garlic and onions for 10 minutes, then add the tomato purée. Cook for a minute, then add the tomatoes and sugar, and stir. Grind in the pepper. Simmer for 40 minutes. Take off the heat, mix in the basil, then stir in a handful of grated Parmesan.

Serve with baby pasta. Makes 16 portions.

Buy: From Let’s Eat by Tom Parker Bowles, Pavilion Books. Buy at Amazon 

Why it’s great 

Its ingredients are the quintessence of simplicity, just a few tins of tomatoes, a brace of chopped onions and a clove or two of garlic. A splodge of tomato purée adds depth, a handful of torn basil brings a verdant whiff of sun-drenched shores. But proper tomato sauce – sugo di pomodoro to use its correct Italian title – is a concoction far greater than a mere sum of its parts. It thrills and delights in equal measure, a rare dish you can feed to any child without fear of sullen faces and grating whines. 

Apart from the fact it’s packed full of goodness, tomato sauce’s other great quality is that it can be made anywhere in the world. I’ve cooked it in 17th-century Sicilian kitchens; outside over a smouldering fire; even on a boat in a cramped galley. It’s the culinary equivalent of Savlon, a reliable cure-all for starving kids. Sometimes, if I’m feeling particularly pious, I might hide a few diced carrots within, though my children are usually quick to spot my subterfuge, painstakingly picking out every single piece.