Pink Sauce Pasta is a very popular Italian-American dish consisting of pasta (usually penne) and a simple pink tomato cream sauce. With just 7 ingredients, the tomato and garlic flavors really shine. Plus it's a quick sauce that only simmers for about 30 minutes. The flavors have just enough time to mingle while remaining bright and fresh.
As an Italian-American recipe blogger, I want to make sure my website is a place where home cooks can find recipes for all the best Italian-American staples, such as Pink Sauce Pasta.
Like many Italian American staples such as this Vodka Pizza Recipe and this Veal Parmesan Sandwich Recipe, pink sauce starts with a basic tomato sauce. (like Pomodoro or marinara)
So, What is Pink Sauce?
Pink sauce is simply a tomato sauce with cream. Some pink sauces call for vodka and a spicy element, as this one does, but others do not.
The red tomato sauce get its beautiful orange- pink color from the cream...
How to Make Pink Sauce Pasta
This Pink Sauce Pasta recipe only calls for 7 ingredients, (plus salt and red pepper flakes if desired) and takes just over a half hour to make.
It starts as a simple garlicky tomato sauce. Then calls for cream and more garlic to layer in that delicious garlic flavor. And finally, it's tossed with some penne pasta.
Ingredients in Italian Pink Sauce
This Pink Sauce recipe does call for a splash of vodka. I love the subtle sweet flavor vodka gives the sauce. But if you don't like cooking with alcohol, you can leave it out entirely.
- Tomato Paste
- Crushed Tomatoes
- Vodka (optional, but helps build flavor)
- Heavy Cream
- Fresh Basil (optional)
- Olive Oil and Salt
- A pinch of red pepper flakes OR 2 dried chiles de arbol (optional, but adds a flavorful spice to the sauce)
See recipe card for quantities.
This easy Pink Sauce Pasta Recipe comes together in just 3 simple steps and ~35-40 minutes.
Step 1: Start making the sauce. Sauté the garlic and chiles de arbol (if using) in olive oil for just 1-2 minutes. Then add the tomato paste and cook for another 1-2 minutes. Deglaze the pan with vodka.
Step 2: Add the can of crushed tomatoes and bring the sauce to a boil. Then cover it partially-vented and reduce heat to simmer for 30 minutes. Finally, add salt, heavy cream and a small clove of freshly-grated garlic, and simmer the pink sauce until the pasta is cooked. (see next step)
Step 3: Drop the pasta into boiling water once the sauce has been simmering for about 25 minutes. When the pasta is cooked, add it to the pot of pink sauce along with ~¼ cup of pasta water. Stir it all together for about 1 minute so the pasta has time to soak up and cling to the sauce.
- The absolute best part about this easy Italian Pink Sauce is its layered garlicky flavor. Don't skip on adding that extra clove of garlic right at the end. This singlehandedly makes the dish the best Pink Sauce Pasta.
- Another amazing trick I learned through trial and error is to use chiles de arbol to flavor Italian tomato sauces. Add the chiles, which you can easily order on Amazon, at the same time as the garlic to build spice into your pink sauce. They give the sauce a more complex spicy flavor that red pepper flakes can't provide.
There are a couple ways to substitute ingredients in this pink sauce recipe to suit all diets.
- Alcohol free - Though this pink tomato sauce does call for vodka, most of the alcohol burns off. But if you can't have alcohol at all, or simply prefer not to cook with it, leave it out entirely. You can optionally deglaze the pan with a splash of water. Or you can skip straight to the tomatoes.
- Dairy Free - In order to make this pink sauce dairy free without losing the pink color, replace with a non dairy alternative such as cashew cream. I find cashew based "milk" to be the creamiest option.
- Gluten Free - Easy! Just use gluten free pasta.
Variations on Italian Pink Sauce Pasta
- Extra Spicy - In addition to the pepper flakes or chiles de arbol, add a tablespoon of chopped Calabrian chili peppers when you add the tomato paste.
- Deluxe - Serve with Italian chicken cutlets for a more protein-filled meal.
- Baked Pasta with Pink Sauce - When the pink sauce pasta is done, place it in a baking dish and top with fresh mozzarella. Broil for 3-5 minutes until the cheese gets all brown and bubbly.
- Extra Nutrients - If you want to add something green to this pink sauce, the best way to do so is with a handful of frozen peas or fresh spinach. You can add wither of these ingredients when you add the garlic and cream to the sauce.
How is this Pink Sauce Recipe different from regular vodka sauce?
Though there is vodka in this tomato cream sauce, I'm not calling it a vodka sauce...
Although neither penne alla vodka nor penne with pink sauce is "traditional" in Italy, (according to Celebrity Italian Chef Maryanne Esposito) typical penne alla vodka doesn't have crushed tomatoes...
Instead, penne alla vodka's tomato flavor typically comes entirely from tomato paste. (See my recipe for Spicy Calabrian Chili Vodka Sauce)
Whereas this recipe for Pink Sauce Pasta (which still has vodka) is saucier due to its use of crushed tomatoes.
This sauce is really great leftover. If you want to eat the leftovers sometime in the next 5 days, simply place them in a container in the fridge.
When it's time to re-heat the penne with pink sauce, add a splash of water and heat it up in a sauté pan or microwave.
If using a microwave, I suggest heating for just 30 seconds at a time, stirring each time. Otherwise the sauce will get too hot around the edges and not hot enough in the center.
Freezing Leftover Pink Sauce
Most sauces freeze really well, and this Pink Sauce is no exception. Allow the Pink Sauce Pasta to cool completely, then place leftovers in a container. Press plastic wrap onto the pasta so it's not exposed to air. Cover and freeze.
Reheat using the same method as with the refrigerator. No need to defrost it first.
- Use a microplane to grate in fresh garlic once the sauce has simmered for 30 minutes.
- Some canned tomatoes are more watery than others. If the sauce is still looking watery after 25 minutes, simmer for an extra 10 minutes beyond the 30 minutes the recipe calls for.
- As with any tomato sauce, add the salt at the end. Since tomato sauces reduce as they cook, you may end up with a more reduced/salty sauce than you intended if you salt too early. 1 teaspoon of kosher salt tends to be perfect. Sea salt is much saltier. Start with ½ teaspoon if using sea salt.
- Do not reheat food multiple times. This means you shouldn't reheat leftovers and then save them as leftovers again.
Pink Sauce Pasta RecipePrint
The Best Penne Pomodoro
- Prep Time: 10 minutes
- Cook Time: 35 minutes
- Total Time: 45 minutes
- Yield: 4 1x
- Category: Side Dish, pasta, main course, appetizer
- Method: Pasta water, pasta, tomato sauce
- Cuisine: Italian
Pasta al Pomodoro or "tomato pasta" is a simple, classic Italian pasta dish that everyone should know how to make.
- 1 pound of penne pasta (or your favorite pasta shape)
- 1 28-oz can of whole tomatoes
- 2 tablespoons of tomato paste
- 4 cloves of garlic, 3 sliced and 1 grated
- 2 dried chiles de arbol, seeds removed
- 2 tablespoons of olive oil
- 2 tablespoons of butter
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 6 basil leaves, sliced
- Heat a sauté pan with olive oil and sauté the sliced garlic and chiles de arbol for 1-2 minutes. Don't let the garlic burn as burnt garlic has an unpleasant flavor that will permeate into the sauce. As soon as it starts to turn golden, add the tomato paste and sauté 1-2 minutes longer until the tomato paste turns deep red and starts to stick to the pan.
- Add the can of tomatoes, and break each tomato in half with a spatula. Bring the sauce and halved tomatoes to a boil, cover (partially vented) and reduce to simmer for a total of 35 minutes. After the first 10 minutes, when the tomatoes have softened significantly, use a potato masher to fully break them up. When the sauce has just 5 minutes left, stir in the salt, butter, and a small clove of freshly grated garlic to the sauce.
- Meanwhile, bring a pot of water to a boil and salt it with enough salt to taste just a little salty, like soup. About 8 minutes before the sauce is done cooking, add your pasta.
- When the sauce and pasta are done cooking (pasta should be al dente), transfer the cooked pasta to the sauce along with about ½ cup of pasta water. Stir for about 1 minute until the sauce thickens a little and clings to the pasta.
- Serve and top with fresh basil.
Keywords: Penne Pomodoro, Penne pomodoro recipe, penne al pomodoro, pomodoro sauce
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