Buttery Tomato Pasta

Quick and EasyVegetarianPasta and NoodlesTomato

Pasta with the easiest ever tomato sauce made with whole canned tomatoes, butter, sugar, basil, and salt and pepper.

Photography Credit: Elise Bauer

Featured in 14 Recipes That Make the Most Canned Tomatoes  and 12 Easy Recipes for New Cooks

About once a week, for my entire upbringing, my mother would prepare a very simple side of pasta with a sweet, buttery tomato sauce.

Usually she used elbow macaroni pasta, because usually a small bowl of tomato pasta would be served alongside tuna macaroni salad, our standard Catholic fish-on-Fridays family meal.

Mom would just make extra macaroni and stir in the tomato sauce for it. She did this because my dad requested it, and he wanted it because that’s what his mother in Minnesota used to make for him (back in the 1930s and 40s).

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Hot buttery tomato pasta

Oddly, this hot buttery tomato pasta was, and still is, a perfect taste complement to the cool, crunchy, acidic tuna salad.

This is my father’s comfort food. Mom made it the other day with corkscrew pasta instead of elbow macaroni and I liked the way that the ridges in the corkscrews capture the sauce better.

An Italian classic tomato sauce with butter

Apparently, a simple tomato sauce cooked with butter instead of olive oil is a classic in Italian cuisine. (News to us, my grandmother was German Austrian!)

If you haven’t tried making tomato sauce with butter, I recommend it. It’s actually crazy good. We add a bit sugar to the sauce, because the sauce just tastes better to us when it’s sweeter.

My mother also adds a little bit of fresh or dried basil, not much, just a pinch. Not so much that you get distracted from the sweet, buttery tomatoes.

Buttery Tomato Pasta Recipe

  • Prep time: 5 minutes
  • Cook time: 20 minutes
  • Yield: Serves 4

My mom insists that the trick to the tomatoes is the sugar, and I agree. Tomatoes are naturally acidic. You need to add sugar to balance the acidity and this particular dish should be a little on the sweet side, which is why we add sugar.

Use the best quality canned tomatoes available. We recommend Muir Glen brand or San Marzano. The sauce has so few ingredients, it's important that the tomatoes you use are high quality. Cheap, generic canned tomatoes just will not taste as good.


  • 1/2 pound of fusilli pasta or elbow macaroni
  • 1 14 ounce can of good quality whole tomatoes
  • 2 Tbsp butter
  • 2 teaspoons sugar (more or less to taste)
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Pinch of dried basil or fresh sliced basil (optional)


1 Cook the pasta: Half fill a 4 quart pot with water. Add a tablespoon of salt. Bring salted water to boil. Add pasta. Cook until al dente, tender but still a little firm.

2 Cook the tomatoes with butter and seasonings: While the pasta water is heating and the pasta is cooking, prepare the tomatoes. Shred the canned whole tomatoes with your fingers as you put them in a small saucepan. Add any tomato juice left in the can to the pot.

Add the butter. Heat to a simmer and stir to melt the butter. Simmer gently while the pasta is cooking.

Stir in sugar, salt, and pepper to taste. If you have fresh basil, thinly slice a couple leaves and stir in. If not, if you want you can add a pinch of dried basil.

3 Drain the pasta, combine with the tomatoes: When the pasta is done, drain it. Stir in the cooked tomatoes and put in a serving bowl.

Serve immediately.

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Marcella Hazan's Tomato Sauce with Onion and Butter on SteamyKitchen, Smitten Kitchen, and Food 52

Buttery Tomato Pasta

Elise Bauer

Elise Bauer is the founder of Simply Recipes. Elise launched Simply Recipes in 2003 as a way to keep track of her family's recipes, and along the way grew it into one of the most popular cooking websites in the world. Elise is dedicated to helping home cooks be successful in the kitchen. Elise is a graduate of Stanford University, and lives in Sacramento, California.

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44 Comments / Reviews

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  1. Karen

    My mom is Irish Catholic and also makes this same dish. Love it!!! But she usually mashes up a can of stewed tomatoes instead of regular whole tomatoes. I think it brings on a better sweetness. Thank you for sharing. Didn’t know a recipe actually exists!


  2. Martha

    I thought the Catholic Fri night dinner was grilled cheese and tomato soup! I sure had my share of those, and actually still love it.

  3. Helen Jo

    Thank you for sharing this recipe. I had remembered and wanting to make her ” tomato and noodles” recipe and bam….. Here it is !!!!!


  4. Josie

    Found this on huffpost! I made it with fresh tomatoes and red peppers tonight for dinner. So simple and delicious!

  5. Judy K.

    So my mom made something similar; she would crisp up chopped bacon, add chopped onion, then the tomatoes. No butter, just the bacon fat. LOVED it. But I think this would be really tasty too!

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Buttery Tomato Pasta