Buttery Tomato Pasta

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

Buttery Tomato Pasta
Elise Bauer

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).

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

Prep Time 5 mins
Cook Time 20 mins
Total Time 25 mins
Servings 4 servings

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 fusilli pasta or elbow macaroni

  • 1 (14-ounce) can good-quality whole tomatoes

  • 2 tablespoons butter

  • 2 teaspoons sugar, more or less to taste

  • Salt

  • Pepper

  • Pinch 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.


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

Buttery Tomato Pasta
Elise Bauer
Nutrition Facts (per serving)
287 Calories
7g Fat
48g Carbs
8g Protein
Show Full Nutrition Label Hide Full Nutrition Label
Nutrition Facts
Servings: 4
Amount per serving
Calories 287
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 7g 9%
Saturated Fat 4g 19%
Cholesterol 15mg 5%
Sodium 309mg 13%
Total Carbohydrate 48g 18%
Dietary Fiber 4g 13%
Total Sugars 6g
Protein 8g
Vitamin C 13mg 63%
Calcium 47mg 4%
Iron 2mg 14%
Potassium 321mg 7%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate. In cases where multiple ingredient alternatives are given, the first listed is calculated for nutrition. Garnishes and optional ingredients are not included.