Pasta with Italian Pink Sauce is a popular Italian-American pasta dish consisting of pasta (usually penne) and a simple pink tomato cream sauce. It's often referred to as "Pink Sauce Pasta," or "Penne with Pink Sauce" due to its beautiful orange-pink color.
The main reason for its popularity has to be its simplicity. With just 7 ingredients, the tomato and garlic flavors really shine. Plus it's a quick sauce- it only simmers for about 30 minutes. The flavors have just enough time to mingle while remaining bright and fresh.
This Pasta with Pink Sauce recipe was inspired by my love for simple tomato sauces. 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. Many of these staples, such as this Vodka Pizza Recipe and this Veal Parmesan Sandwich Recipe, start with a basic tomato sauce.
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, and others do not.
The red tomato sauce get its beautiful pink color from the cream... Because you know, red and white make pink.
How to Make Pink Sauce Pasta
This Pink Sauce 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 tomato garlic sauce. Then cream and more garlic are added to layer in that delicious garlic flavor. And finally, it gets tossed with some penne. See below for ingredients and detailed instructions.
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 Recipe comes together in just 3 simple steps and ~35-40 minutes.
Step 1: Start making the Pink 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 ~½ cup of pasta water. Stir it all together for about 1 minute so the pasta has time to soak up 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.
Equipment can have a big impact on how a recipe turns out. but you don't need any fancy cookware to make the recipe.
The only cookware I highly suggest having for most 4-6 serving sauce recipes is a 3-quart all-clad sauté pan.
I rely on it for almost all of my cooking at this point, including sautéing, frying, and making quick sauce recipes like Penne in Pink Sauce.
This sauce is really great leftover. Here are the best ways to store it.
If you want to eat your leftovers sometime in the next 5 days, simply place leftovers 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 30 seconds at a time, stirring each time. Otherwise the sauce will get too hot in some places, and even a little oily.
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
- 1 lb of Penne Pasta or other short pasta shape
- 4 cloves of garlic; 3 sliced and 1 whole to be grated
- 2 tablespoons of tomato paste
- 2 chiles de arbol, seeds removed (optional)
- 1 28-ounce can of whole tomatoes
- 2 tablespoons of olive oil
- 2 tablespoons of butter
- 6 basil leaves, sliced
- 1 teaspoon of kosher salt (or more to taste)
- Start the sauce. Heat a sauté pan or saucepan with olive oil over medium heat and add the sliced garlic and chiles de arbol, if using. Sauté for 1-2 minutes until garlic is soft but not burnt. The second you see the garlic starting to become golden, add the tomato paste and sauté for another 2 minutes until it starts to stick to the pan. (see note 1)
- Add the can of crushed tomatoes, bring the pomodoro sauce to a boil then reduce it to a simmer. Cover, slightly vented, and simmer for 30 minutes, waiting until the 10 minute mark to break up the tomatoes with a potato masher or spatula. (see note 2)
- In the meantime, boil a pot of water for the pasta. Salt the water once it comes to a boil. (use enough salt so you can just taste it) Try to time the pasta so that it finishes cooking at the same time as the sauce. You'll need to use the box instructions to help with timing, but most penne cooks in about 8-12 minutes.
- 5 minutes before the sauce is done simmering (the 25 minute mark), add the salt and 1 more small clove of garlic by grating it directly into the sauce. Then add the butter and stir until fully incorporated. (see note 3)
- When the pasta and sauce are both done cooking, use a Spider to transfer the cooked pasta to the sauce, along with a splash of pasta water. (about ¼ cup) Top with fresh basil and more red pepper flakes if desired. (note 4)
- Don't let the garlic burn. You will taste burnt garlic in the sauce if it does. However, the tomato paste can burn a little. This flavor is desirable.
- Give the tomatoes 10 minutes of simmering to soften before you mash them up. This will make mashing them easier.
- Butter is not entirely necessary for taste purposes, but certainly helps emulsify the sauce, making it more cohesive and glossy. If you keep a vegan diet, leave it out and stir in a little extra olive oil for a similar glossy texture.
- The basil should top the Penne al Pomodoro at the end because heat completely dimities Basil's flavor. Using it as a topping will help maintain its bright fresh flavor.
Keywords: Penne Pomodoro, Penne al Pomodoro