Pasta with 5 Ingredient Butter Tomato Sauce

$4.23 recipe / $1.06 serving
by Beth - Budget Bytes
4.84 from 48 votes
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I hate to sound hyperbolic, but this 5 Ingredient Butter Tomato Sauce is probably the last red sauce recipe I’ll ever need. It’s ridiculously easy and still “lick the spoon” good. No, more like “scoop spoonfuls into your mouth sans pasta” good. Or, “I might have to make this into a soup” good.

Overhead view of Pasta with 5 Ingredient Butter Tomato Sauce and toasted breadcrumbs in a bowl with a black spoon and a black fork

It’s All About the Butter

How is it so good? If you’re a fan of plain buttered pasta with salt and pepper, you already know that it’s all about the butter. Butter gives this sauce a delicate creaminess, compliments the sweetness of the tomatoes, and provides a little bit of body to keep the sauce from feeling too thin or light. It’s just perfect, really. So yes, real butter is mandatory for this recipe.

The Secret is in the Salting

Also, I’m a huge advocate of salting food properly. Salt doesn’t just make food salty, it pronounces individual flavors and helps your tongue differentiate subtleties in flavors that would otherwise be lost. 

Too much salt is bad, obviously, for both flavor and health. But, if you salt your food at the very end you’ll get that much needed punch of flavor and still a lot less salt than you’d be getting from pre-packaged or restaurant foods.

This sauce is the perfect example of this concept. When I added the final salt to this sauce after it had simmered for a half hour, the flavor went from “Yeah, that’s tomato sauce.” to “WHOA. Super rich, slightly sweet, and utterly divine.” So don’t judge the sauce until you add your final salt. It changes everything.

Add Toasted Breadcrumbs

What about those deliciously toasty breadcrumbs? They’re an easy, inexpensive, and vegetarian alternative to Parmesan. It’s best to make them out of old stale bread because A) you get better texture and B) you’re saving that bread from being thrown out. See my tutorial on How to Make Breadcrumbs.

Unfortunately I didn’t have any old bread today so I used the store bought bread crumbs that I had in my pantry. They’re still pleasantly flavorful and give the pasta a wonderful texture. The next time you’re about to chuck a piece of stale bread, toss it into the freezer instead (properly wrapped and sealed, of course) and save it for the next time you want to make some super awesome toasted bread crumbs! :)

A forkful of Pasta with 5 Ingredient Butter Tomato Sauce being lifted out of the bowl, side view.

Recipe adapted from Marcella Hazan’s Tomato Sauce.

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Pasta with 5 Ingredient Butter Tomato Sauce

4.84 from 48 votes
Pasta with 5 Ingredient Butter Tomato Sauce uses five simple pantry ingredients to make an incredibly rich and delicious sauce, perfect for any weeknight.
Servings 4
Prep 5 minutes
Cook 45 minutes
Total 50 minutes




  • 8 oz. pasta ($0.50)
  • 4 Tbsp salted butter ($0.31)
  • 3 cloves garlic ($0.24)
  • 28 oz. can whole peeled tomatoes* ($2.43)
  • 1/2 tsp salt (or to taste) ($0.02)
  • Freshly cracked pepper ($0.05)


  • To make the toasted bread crumbs, heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Once the oil is shimmering, add the bread crumbs, salt, oregano, and some freshly cracked pepper. Cook and stir the bread crumbs continuously until they achieve a deep golden color. Remove them from the skillet and let cool until ready to use.
  • To make the sauce, mince the garlic and add it to a large deep skillet with the butter. Sauté the garlic in the butter over medium heat for about a minute, or just until it becomes fragrant. Add the can of tomatoes, along with all the juices, and some freshly cracked pepper. Break the tomatoes up into a few chunks with your spoon (they should be soft and easily crushed).
  • Stir the ingredients in the skillet, then let it come up to a simmer. Once it reaches a simmer, reduce the heat to medium-low and let it continue to simmer, without a lid, for about 30 minutes. Stir the sauce occasionally as it simmers, breaking the tomatoes into smaller pieces as you stir.
  • While the sauce simmers, cook the pasta according to the package directions. Save about 1/2 cup of the starchy cooking water before draining the pasta in a colander.
  • After simmering for 30 minutes, the sauce should have thickened and become slightly less acidic and slightly more sweet. Season the sauce with a final 1/2 tsp of salt (or to your liking). Add the cooked and drained pasta to the sauce and toss to coat. Use some of the reserved starchy cooking water to loosen the pasta if it becomes too dry. Top the pasta and sauce with a generous sprinkle of toasted bread crumbs, then serve.

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*I used whole peeled tomatoes “in heavy juice”


Serving: 1ServingCalories: 468.2kcalCarbohydrates: 61.73gProtein: 10.88gFat: 19.13gSodium: 1023.58mgFiber: 4.08g
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Want a version of this 5 Ingredient Butter Tomato Sauce, but with meat? Check out The Best Weeknight Pasta Sauce

Overhead view of a bowl full of Pasta with 5 Ingredient Butter Tomato Sauce, with fork and spoon on the side.

How to Make Butter Tomato Sauce – Step by Step Photos

Toast Bread Crumbs in the pan with a wooden spatula

To make the toasted bread crumbs, heat 2 Tbsp olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Once the oil is hot and shimmering, add 1/2 cup bread crumbs, 1/4 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp oregano, and some freshly cracked pepper. Stir and cook the bread crumbs until they become a deep golden color (this happens quickly), then remove from the heat. They should look like damp sand or brown sugar. Let the bread crumbs cool until you’re ready to use them.

A spoonful of untoasted breadcrumbs held near the skillet of toasted breadcrumbs to show the color difference

For reference, here is a spoonful of the untoasted bread crumbs next to the toasted bread crumbs. (sorry about the blur).

Butter and minced garlic in the skillet

On to the amazing sauce… Start with 4 Tbsp butter and 3 cloves of minced garlic in a large, deep skillet. Sauté the garlic in the butter over medium heat for about a minute, or just until the garlic becomes really fragrant (you don’t want it to brown).

Can of Whole Peeled Tomatoes

Then add one 28oz. can of whole peeled tomatoes to the skillet. I didn’t realize I bought tomatoes “in heavy juice with basil”, but I didn’t find the basil made much difference in the end flavor. The heavy juice was nice, though. It created an instant sauce that didn’t need much thickening.

Add Whole Peeled Tomatoes to the skillet with the butter and garlic

Break the tomatoes up into smaller pieces as you stir the tomatoes into the butter and garlic. The tomatoes will be soft and easily crushed with a spoon. Finally, add some freshly cracked pepper. Let the sauce come up to a simmer without a lid. Once it reaches a simmer, turn the heat down to medium-low and let it gently simmer for 30 minutes.

Simmered Tomato Sauce after 30 minutes

Stir occasionally as it simmers and continue to break the tomatoes up into smaller pieces. The sauce will slowly sweeten as it simmers and become less acidic, but the real flavor comes when you add a final 1/2 tsp of salt (more or less depending on your taste buds). Taste and season accordingly.

Add Pasta to Butter Tomato Sauce in the skillet

While the sauce is simmering away, cook 8oz. pasta according to the directions. Before draining it in a colander, save some of the starchy pasta cooking water because it’s great for loosening up the sauce if it gets too dry when you add the pasta. Stir the drained pasta into the sauce.

Finished Pasta with 5 Ingredient Butter Tomato Sauce in the skillet, some pasta twirled around a wooden pasta fork.

Finally, top it with some of those delicious toasted bread crumbs! (I added some chopped parsley just to give the photos some color.)

Pasta with 5 Ingredient Butter Tomato Sauce in a bowl, some twirled around a black fork, a black spoon sitting in back.

Then DIG IN.

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  1. I haven’t made yet but I am wondering if the sauce can be made ahead of time and reheated?

    1. Yes, for sure! I would just avoid topping with the breadcrumbs until serving.

  2. can the sauce be frozen with butter? just curious if freezing changes texture after reheated?

    1. Hi Molly, you can freeze this sauce. It will not change in texture dramatically.

  3. Could you possibly use diced tomatoes in a can instead? That’s all I had available and I’m curious if it’ll work?

  4. I made the sauce without the breadcrumbs to use for pizza and “lick the spoon good” is the correct description! I used crushed tomatoes since that’s what I had.

  5. This sauce is amazing, my family loves it! And it’s so easy! I add a little sautéed onion and some fresh basil when I have it. I usually use less butter – about 2-3 TBSP – to try to make it a little healthier. I’ve never made the breadcrumbs, but I want to try them. 

  6. I make this pasta at least once a month! I love how easy and DELICIOUS it is! Everyone I’ve made it for loves it and I also add fresh basil to the sauce!

  7. If we have spaghetti, this is what my kids want! So simple yet so delicious. 

  8. made this with Macaroni instead of Spaghetti then added Cayenne to make it spicy. I used fresh tomatoes instead of canned and it was perfect 😍😍😍😍 thank you so much

    1. I can’t always find canned tomatoes where i live. How many (or how much weight) fresh tomatoes would you use?

    1. I think that will probably just be a matter of personal preference. :)

  9. Absolutely delicious. I used tomato sauce instead of whole tomatoes (because that’s all I had). It was so good!

  10. Wow so finally someone picked up on my “secret ingredient” I always added to my famous spaghetti sauces, BUTTER! Yes it gives the sauce a velvety rich flavor. Use the butter every time and your guests will always ask for your spaghetti sauce recipe! Warmest regards XOXO

  11. How could a recipe this simple and with such plain ingredients turn out so good?! Friends, it’s the question I asked myself after my second bite of this spaghetti. It was so flavorful and miles better than jar sauce and spaghetti tossed together. In making this recipe I realized that Beth is an amazing cook for being budget and flavor conscious. Brava!

  12. This is the best pasta I’ve ever made. After making it the first time, I’ve made it nearly every other week. I do make a couple of changes. I use gf pasta and panko due to my allergy to wheat and I use at least 5 cloves of garlic due to my affinity for bad breath. 

    The last time I made this pasta, my oven mitt caught on fire while stirring my the boiling pasta and I sliced my finger on the lid of the tomato can. Even after all that, the pasta turned out wonderful and I was very glad to have its warm tomatoey buttery comfort. 

  13. This so reminds me of a dish my late mother used to make, it had elbow macaroni and canned whole tomatoes and butter, and just salt and lots of pepper. Wow, I loved this growing up but don’t seem to make it now, I will have to fix that! Adding garlic and breadcrumbs sounds delicious, I will definitely try that, and cooking the sauce longer, my Mom’s version just heated them through and then you were done.