Our new favorite pasta sauce has all the earmarks of a Neopolitan classic. Quick and simple, it exemplifies the short-order-cooking style typical of great Italian food. It simmers just long enough to get saucy and tangy, then clings lovingly to the pasta of your choice, careful to let the creamy flavor of the wheat shine through.
It includes the usual suspects: chunked-up tomatoes, garlic, red pepper flakes, sage….
Sage? What’s with the sage?
We know how Italians season tomatoes with basil and oregano, and occasionally with rosemary and thyme. Sage goes into saltimbocca and brown butter sauce, but not red sauces.
But why not? Sage belongs to the mint family, along with all those other herbs. Ada Boni even featured a traditional Neopolitan fresh tomato sauce with mint in her famous Italian Regional Cooking.
While our research department failed to uncover a true Italian red sauce recipe with sage, we found that fresh sage gives tomatoes an aromatic zip that knocked our socks off. If you’re lucky enough to grow sage in your garden, you know it is much heartier than basil and can even survive the winter. With a single bushy sage plant, you can make this sauce as often as you want—long after your basil has succumbed to the cold.
The inspiration for this sauce comes from Christopher Kimball at Milk Street, who says the idea came from Yottam Ottolenghi. So it’s Italian by way of the Middle East.
Use any kind of tomato, and don’t bother to peel (we like those little curled-up skins). Yes, you can even use canned. Adjust the flavor and consistency with a squeeze or two of tomato paste, and some optional anchovy paste to pump up the umami.
And, to the dismay of the Italian Basil Council, be sure to use fresh sage.
Pasta with Fresh Tomato and Sage Sauce
Makes about a pint of sauce.
- 4 tablespoons olive oil, or more to taste
- 3 large garlic cloves, minced
- ¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- 1 pound tomatoes cut into chunks, or cherry tomatoes, halved
- ½ teaspoon sugar
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 1 tablespoon anchovy paste, or to taste (optional)
- 1 teaspoon Kosher salt
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh sage, or more to taste, divided
- 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
- Shaved Pecorino Romano, for serving
- Fresh ground black pepper, for serving
- 12-16 ounces dry fettucine, bucatini, linguini, spaghetti or other pasta, cooked al dente
- Heat oil in a 12-inch skillet until shimmering. Add garlic and red pepper flakes, then cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
- Add tomatoes, sugar, tomato paste, anchovy paste (if using), salt, and 1 cup of water.
- Bring to a simmer and cook uncovered, stirring occasionally, until sauce thickens, about 15 or 20 minutes.
- Stir in 1 tablespoon chopped sage and smoked paprika. Turn down heat to keep just warm.
- Cook pasta in salted water until barely al dente and drain, retaining some pasta water in a cup.
- Add pasta to the sauce in the pan and toss. Cook up to a minute—just long enough to finish the pasta and let it absorb some of the sauce. If it gets too dry, add a splash of pasta water.
- Serve topped with the remaining chopped sage, fresh ground pepper, and shaved Pecorino Romano.