The 5-Ingredient Low-Effort Pasta I’ve Made Dozens of Times (So Much Better Than Jarred Sauce!)

published Jun 14, 2024
We independently select these products—if you buy from one of our links, we may earn a commission. All prices were accurate at the time of publishing.
Caramelized tomato paste pasta plated.
Credit: Photo: Murray Hall; Food Stylist: Jessie YuChen

I cannot resist a recipe that takes cheap pantry ingredients and transforms them into something totally impressive and delicious (think: creamy miso butter pasta, anchovy butter chicken thighs, and tortellini piccata). I live for recipes like these! It’s a bonus when there are few additional ingredients and minimal effort is required. Needless to say, caramelized tomato paste pasta is right up my alley. 

When making homemade sauce, I was always in the habit of including a few tablespoons of tomato paste (even when the recipe didn’t call for it), so right away this recipe clicked. I was immediately blown away by the results, and I still am — even after making this dozens of times. Gone are the nights of spaghetti and jarred marinara as my standing fall-back dinner. This is the meal I make when I have nothing planned and don’t know what to cook, because I can always count on having a box of pasta and a can of tomato paste. 

Get the recipe: Caramelized Tomato Paste Pasta

What Makes Tomato Paste Pasta So Good?

It’s so rare that any recipe uses a whole can of tomato paste, but this one does. That tiny six-ounce can yields an ample amount of rich, full-flavored, velvety sauce to coat a full pound of pasta. The secret to stretching it is a couple cups of starchy pasta water. Stirred in at the end of cooking, it thins the tomato paste and creates a sauce with lots of body that perfectly clings to every strand of pasta. This sauce is heavy on the garlic (always a win in my book), and on nights I’m feeling particularly lazy, I appreciate that this recipe simply calls for slicing the cloves, rather than mincing, which I find tedious.

You definitely want to let the tomato paste sizzle in the oil (don’t forget to stir once in a while) until the color is such a deep brick red it almost looks burnt, but isn’t. It takes all of five minutes and this is when the flavor really develops, deepens, and picks up the scent of the garlic. Also, don’t be afraid to be on the generous side when seasoning the sauce with salt. Tomato paste can taste a little acidic, and stirring in some salt a little bit at a time will balance the flavor. This pasta is easily one of my favorite low-effort, high reward-recipes. It’s so quick and easy, and better than any sauce you’ll get from a jar. 

Get the recipe: Caramelized Tomato Paste Pasta