Pasta napolitana is the perfect simple Italian meal at home. Loaded with flavour from tomatoes, onion, garlic and herbs, I add a secret ingredient to mine to make it even more irresistible.

Love a good pasta dish? Try this easy chicken and spinach pasta or this chicken basil pesto pasta.

Two bowls filled with pasta napolitana on a wooden table.

Why you’ll love it

Taking less than 30 minutes to make from scratch, pasta napolitana is especially perfect for busy weeknights. The taste is rich and hearty and, while it doesn’t normally contain meat, you can certainly add it if you prefer.

This quick pasta is a great one to have on hand when you’re in a hurry but don’t want to skimp on flavour.

What is Napoletana sauce? Napoletana sauce (also spelt napolitana, and also known as Neapolitan sauce or Napoli sauce), is a meatless Italian tomato sauce used for dressing pasta. In Italy, it is simply referred to as la salsa (the sauce) while the other names are generally used outside of Italy.

A skillet filled with Napolitana sauce.

Typically, napolitana sauce is made up of tomatoes, onion, garlic and herbs. I add some carrot to mine for 2 reasons – it adds heartiness to the sauce and it’s also a great way to add some extra vegetables.

To keep this recipe incredibly simple, I use good quality tinned finely-chopped tomatoes and dried herbs. You can most certainly use fresh if you prefer but will need to cook this down a little longer.

Ingredients in pasta napoletana

Ingredients for pasta napolitana on a wooden benchtop.

Detailed quantities and instructions in the recipe card below.

  • Tomatoes: Tinned chopped tomatoes, keep this recipe quick and simple but make sure to get a good quality one as the flavour will certainly vary.
  • Onion: Use a fresh brown onion for the best flavour.
  • Carrot: Not used traditionally in napolitana sauce, I like the heartiness it adds while also adding extra veg.
  • Tomato paste: With it’s intense tomato flavour this adds richness to the sauce.
  • Sugar: Feel free to leave the sugar out if you prefer but the sugar actually emphasises the natural sweetness in the tomatoes and carrots.
  • Garlic: Please use fresh garlic cloves and mince them yourself. These always have a much better flavour than garlic powder, garlic granules or even the jarred variety.
  • Dried herbs: Keep things simple by using dried Italian herbs but you can use fresh too if you prefer or use a mixture of dried herbs you may have on hand like basil, rosemary, thyme and oregano. Feel free to add in a bay leaf while it cooks too.
  • Pasta: I most often use spaghetti or linguine when making my napolitana pasta but pretty much any will work. You can use dried or refrigerated fresh pasta.
  • Basil: I love finishing this with some fresh basil which adds flavour as well as looking pretty.
  • Parmesan cheese: Please buy a block of parmesan and grate it yourself. The dried shelf-stable variety is a totally different flavour and the pre-shredded types have anti-caking agents which affect their texture.

If you want to make your pasta napolitana even heartier without adding meat, try adding some cooked mushrooms or capsicum (bell pepper) or celery with the onions.

To add some spice, thrown in some chilli flakes or red pepper flakes.

Tools you’ll need

  • A couple of good saucepans or dutch oven.
  • A spatula.
  • Strainer or tongs.

How to make pasta napoletana

A collage of 4 images showing how to make pasta napolitana.

Detailed quantities and instructions in the recipe card below.

  1. The pasta: This recipe is so quick that you’ll want to start boiling your water for the pasta straight up. Make sure to add plenty of salt so that the water tastes salty then add the pasta and give it swirl to make sure it’s all submerged. Cook until just al dente – don’t let it go mushy. Strain, keeping a little of the pasta water, then set aside.
  2. The sauce: Once the pasta is in, start the sauce. Heat oil in a large saucepan, then add chopped onions, carrots and salt. Let it cook a few minutes until softened. Add the garlic and cook another minute before adding the rest of the ingredients. Give it a good stir and simmer for 8-10 minutes.
  3. Serve: Stir the pasta and sauce together, adding a little of the pasta water if you need to loosen the sauce. Top with fresh basil and parmesan and serve it up.

Pasta napoletana is wonderful served with some crusty bread, my pesto garlic bread or my parmesan toast.

Top down view of pasta napolitana in a bowl on a wooden table.

Tips and tricks

  • Blend: If you like a smoother and thicker texture, you can use an immersion blender to puree the sauce a little or a lot.
  • Chunky sauce: If you prefer a chunkier sauce, cut your carrots into small pieces instead of grating them and don’t blend it. You can also use diced tinned tomatoes instead of the finely chopped or crushed variety. Make sure the carrot is tender before serving.
  • Choose your pasta: Chunkier sauces tend to best on chunkier pastas, like penne or rigatoni, while I find smoother sauces are great on spaghetti style pastas.
  • Want it classic? If you want a classic napoletana sauce, just leave out the carrot.
  • Add meat: If you want to add some meat, brown off a little chicken, pork or beef mince (ground meat) or sausage with the onions and carrots.
  • Always keep some pasta water: Make a habit of reserving a little pasta water whenever you cook pasta. It has a magical ability to loosen up a sauce while not watering it down (due to the salt and starches in it). It also has a tendency to make sauces silkier. The other thing it’s great for, is if you leave your pasta sitting a little too long and it’s starts sticking together – just dribble over some pasta water to loosen it again. You may not need any but better to have it than not.

Storage

Napoletana sauce can be made ahead of time, 2-3 days, and stored in the fridge in a mason jar or airtight container.

It also freezes well. Freezing pasta sauces is easy and so handy. Pour them into a ziplock bag, make sure it’s sealed well, then lay it down in the freezer until solid. Now you can stack them or line them up like books. This can freeze for 3 months.

More pasta recipes and Italian cuisine

Pasta wrapped around a fork.

IF YOU TRY THIS pasta napoletana recipe, please take a moment to leave a rating and comment below. I love hearing from you, and it helps other readers too!

Closeup of pasta napolitana in a bowl.

Pasta Napolitana

5 from 6 ratings
Need a quick weeknight dinner? This pasta napolitana can be on the table in less than 30 minutes. With minimal ingredients, al dente pasta, smothered in a classic Italian pasta sauce is great for meatless Mondays too.

Ingredients

  • 350 g spaghetti or linguine
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, finely diced (roughly 1 cup)
  • 1 small-medium carrot, finely grated (roughly ½ cup)
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 400g tin finely chopped or crushed tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • ½ cup water
  • 3 teaspoons white sugar
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 ½ teaspoons dried Italian herbs
  • teaspoon black pepper
  • fresh basil for serving
  • Parmesan for serving

Instructions
 

  • You can start the sauce as soon as your pasta is in the water.
  • Bring a large saucepan of water to boil, salt well, then add your pasta. Cook to just al dente (check packet) and drain, reserving a little pasta water.
  • In the meantime, in a deep saucepan, over medium heat, heat the oil.
  • Saute onions, carrot and salt together until softened (3-4 minutes).
  • Add the rest of the ingredients, blend if you’d like a smoother consistency.
  • Bring to simmer then turn down to low heat (cover with a splatter guard or lid ajar) and cook 8-10 minutes, stirring every so often.
  • Add the cooked pasta and mix well to combine. Add a little of the pasta water if you need to loosen the sauce.
  • Top generously with chopped fresh basil and parmesan.
  • Please take a moment to rate this recipe. I really appreciate it and it helps me create more recipes.

Video

Notes

  1. Tomatoes: I used finely chopped / crushed tinned tomatoes. Feel free to use chopped tinned tomatoes if you’d like it a little chunkier.
  2. Chunky: If you’d like a chunkier sauce, cut the carrots instead of grating and don’t blend it.
  3. Want it classic? If you want a classic napoletana sauce, just leave out the carrot.
  4. More veg: If you want to make it even heartier, add chopped capsicum (bell pepper) and / or celery along with the onions and carrot. You can also add some cooked mushrooms.
  5. Add meat: If you want to add some meat, brown off a little chicken, pork or beef mince (ground meat) or sausage with the onions and carrots.
  6. Make ahead: The sauce can be made 2-3 days and stored in the fridge in a mason jar or airtight container. It can also be frozen for up to 3 months – see the post for the tips.
MORE PASTA DISHES!
Have you tried this recipe?Don’t for get to leave a rating and comment below and let me know how it was! I love hearing from you.