The Classic Tomato Basil Pasta Sauce from Italy

It is known that, here in Italy, we love our pasta. We love it so much that we eat it almost every day (or at least a few days a week). For this reason, during the last few centuries, we have invented an endless variety of sauces and gravies to enjoy with it. In fact, the beauty of most pasta dishes, including this tomato basil pasta sauce, is that you can usually cook the sauce while the pasta is boiling. In this way, it is possible to save time and have a great meal ready to eat in less than 30 minutes.

The sailor’s favorite

This pasta recipe is a classic from Liguria, my home region. It gets its name from the Portofino promontory, the same headland where the world-famous homonymous village is located. According to the locals, this simple tomato basil pasta sauce was (and still is!) a sailors’ favorite. Nowadays, it is quite difficult to find this dish in restaurants, but it’s still really common to make it at home, especially when the weather is good and it is possible to enjoy it outdoors under the sun. 

Simple to make in 20 minutes

This tomato basil pasta sauce calls for only 5 ingredients, and takes just a few minutes to make. Nevertheless, it’s absolutely mouth-watering and delicious. However, as with most Italian recipes, the real secret to the success of the dish is the quality of the ingredients. You cannot skip on a good helping of extra virgin olive oil and a lot of fresh basil, or the sauce will come out bland. Also, your tomatoes should be plump and ripe but not too watery. 

Finally, if you could find Genovese basil that would be the perfect choice. Otherwise, Sweet Basil will work as well. Just make sure it has a pleasant, not too pungent perfume.

Click below for more classic Mediterranean basil recipes:

Pesto Genovese (Traditional Italian Pesto)

Zucchini Basil Soup with Lemon

Skillet Garlic Shrimp with Basil and Olives

Chicken and Chickpea Salad with Fresh Basil Dressing (Greece)

Also, check out this video about “How to Grow More Basil than you can Eat”

Tomato Basil Pasta Sauce - Spaghetti alla Portofino (Italy)

Prep Time 10 mins
Cook Time 10 mins
Total Time 20 mins
Servings 2
Calories 586 kcal


  • 6 ounces dry spaghetti
  • 2 tomatoes (around 10 oz) heirloom varieties work best
  • 2 cups fresh basil leaves, de-stemmed
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil (add more if needed)
  • 1/2 tsp chili flakes
  • Sea salt, to taste
  • Pecorino cheese shavings, to taste (optional)


  • Bring a big pot of salted water to a boil. Once boiling, add spaghetti and cook until al dente, stirring occasionally.
  • While pasta is cooking, finely chop tomatoes and put them in a colander to drain for a few minutes. In this way they will release all the excess moisture, and the sauce won’t come out too watery.
  • Mince basil and garlic.