Perfect Pomodoro Sauce With Capellini. (Dixie D. Vereen/For The Washington Post)

It’s so easy to take advantage of summer’s tomato bounty: The triple-S rotation of sandwiches, salads and soups will dispatch the beauties effectively and deliciously. And then there’s pasta. Even when the weather is so unbearably hot I resist bringing a pot of water to boil, I can’t keep tomatoes separate from noodles for too long; the marriage is too right.

Speed is key. I like my summertime pasta-with-tomatoes dishes to come together in as little time as possible, which cuts down on that boiling-pot steam but also keeps the tomatoes tasting bright and fresh. That’s where angel-hair pasta (capellini) comes in, cooking to tenderness in just a few minutes.

The sauce is little more than ripe tomatoes, chopped and cooked down with olive oil, garlic, salt, pepper and a pinch of sugar (just to bring out the best in the fruit). After it thickens — which can happen in as little as 15 minutes or as long as a half-hour, depending on the texture and juiciness of the fruit and the size of your saucepan — you stir in a fistful of chopped basil and a little butter, which pulls it all together.

That capellini comes with another bonus: When you finish cooking it in the sauce, it absorbs some, meaning you get fabulous tomato flavor in every bite.

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Perfect Pomodoro Sauce With Capellini

6 to 8 servings

Use the best tomatoes you can find, ripe and fragrant, and don’t skip the pat of butter, which helps pull everything together.

Adapted from “Fresh Italian Cooking for the New Generation,” by Alexandra Caspero Lenz (Page Street Publishing, 2016).


1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

4 to 5 large cloves garlic, thinly sliced

1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt, plus more as needed

Pinch freshly ground black pepper

2 pounds ripe red tomatoes, stemmed, hulled and chopped (about 5 cups), including their juices

1 teaspoon sugar, plus more as needed

1 pound dried capellini (angel-hair pasta)

1/2 cup lightly packed fresh basil leaves, coarsely chopped, plus a few small whole leaves for optional garnish

1 tablespoon unsalted butter (may substitute non-dairy butter)


Heat the oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Once the oil shimmers, add the garlic (to taste), salt and pepper; cook, stirring frequently, until the garlic is fragrant but not burned, 30 seconds to 1 minute. (If you burn the garlic, use a slotted spoon to scoop it out of the oil and proceed; if you leave it in, it will ruin the sauce.) Add the tomatoes and their juices and the sugar; cook until reduced and thickened, 15 to 30 minutes, stirring occasionally, depending on the juiciness of the tomatoes. Taste, and add more salt and/or sugar, as needed.

While the sauce is cooking, prepare the pasta: Bring a large pot of generously salted water to a boil over medium-high heat. Add the pasta and cook until just under-done, about 1 minute before the cooking time recommended in the package directions. Drain, reserving 1/2 cup of the pasta cooking water. Return the pasta to its (now empty) pot.

Check on your sauce. If you like it chunky, leave it as is. Or pulse it a few times using an immersion (stick) blender, to make it smoother. Stir in the chopped basil and butter.

Pour into the cooked capellini; use tongs to incorporate it and coat the pasta. Let the capellini finish cooking in the sauce over medium heat until just tender, 1 to 2 minutes. Taste, and add a little more salt, as needed. If the sauce has become too thick, stir in 1 to 2 tablespoons of the reserved pasta cooking water at a time until you like the consistency.

Serve right away, garnished with a few basil leaves, if desired.

Nutrition | Per serving (based on 8): 310 calories, 8 g protein, 47 g carbohydrates, 10 g fat, 2 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 210 mg sodium, 3 g dietary fiber, 6 g sugar

Recipe tested by Joe Yonan; email questions to

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