Penne Napoli is one of the easiest pasta sauces you can make, combining canned tomatoes with onions, garlic and fresh basil. It packs a real punch of flavor but is ready in minutes, making this tomato sauce perfect for busy weeknights.
Napoli sauce (also known as Neapolitan or Napoletana sauce) is hands off with just come occasional stirring. It can bubble away on the stove letting the flavors to intensify while you get on with your evening.
This traditional pasta sauce is perfect for those nights where you think you have nothing to make - because you'll probably have all the ingredients at home already.
I often make a double portion of the napolitana sauce, enjoying some now, and freezing the rest for a quick and easy dinner another night.
Why You'll Love Penne Napoli
- This is a quick and easy pasta sauce that can be made in minutes using refrigerator and store cupboard basics.
- Only 5 minutes hands on prep time, this easy pasta dish can be on the table in 30 minutes.
- Make gluten free penne napoli by swapping regular penne pasta for a gluten free alternative.
- This dish is easy to double up if you are feeding a crowd.
- It's also naturally vegan.
- Try some of my favorite delicious vegetable based pasta recipes:
Penne Napoli Ingredients
Find the full list and quantities in the recipe card below.
Olive Oil - I use a good quality regular olive oil to saute the onions and garlic as it has a higher burn temperature than extra virgin olive oil.
Onion & Garlic - I recommend using fresh onion and garlic which will create the best flavor base.
Penne Pasta - I've used penne which is perfect since the small ridges in the pasta help trap the sauce! But you can use any other shape of pasta noodle.
Tomatoes - I use canned diced tomatoes but you can use canned plum tomatoes and chop them up. Good quality fresh tomatoes are also a great option, you can just blitz them up first.
Basil - I always use fresh basil as it has the best flavor.
How to Make Penne Napoli - Step-By-Step
Find the full printable recipe card below.
Sauté the onions in olive oil until starting to soften, around 5 minutes. Add the minced garlic and stir for a minute until fragrant.
Immediately add the diced tomatoes and tomato paste and the pinch of sugar.
Bring the sauce to a boil then turn the heat down so the sauce is just simmering then cook for around 20 minutes, stirring occasionally as the sauce starts to thicken and the flavor develops.
Meanwhile cook one pound of pasta until al dente in salted boiling water according to packet instructions. Once cooked drain and reserve 1 cup of the pasta water.
Tip the penne into the pan with the sauce and toss, mixing well, so all the pasta is coated in sauce. If you need to loosen the sauce, add a splash or two of the reserved pasta water.
Serve immediately, with freshly grated parmesan and finely sliced fresh basil leaves.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the difference between Napoli and marinara sauce
They are basically very similar, as both sauces are tomato based sauces made with garlic, onion and fresh herbs. Both are regional favorites - if anything Napoli tends to be a slightly chunkier sauce.
Is Penne Napoli an Authentic Italian Dish?
Yes, penne napoli is an authentic Italian dish that was brought to the US by Italian immigrants. The napoli sauce (also known as napolitana sauce) originated in the city of Naples in Southern Italy.
What kind of canned tomatoes are best to use for Penne Napoli?
I recommend using the best quality canned plum or chopped tomatoes you can find. San Marzano are my favorite and have a wonderful mellow flavor. However, if you want a smooth sauce you might want to blend them first, or use crushed tomatoes (passata).
Variations & Substitutions for Pasta Napoli
I've used penne pasta, but you can use any shape of pasta noodle in this recipe. Spaghetti napoli is a delicious option.
For extra richness add a splash of heavy cream or stir through a spoonful of mascarpone.
This sauce can be easily adapted to include other flavors. For example if you like spicy food stir through some fresh chili or bold red pepper flakes.
Add in veggies - bell pepper is particularly good.
You can also try it with other Italian fresh herbs, like oregano or marjoram.
Tips & Tricks For Making Penne Napoli
- Take time to check the seasoning before you serve, and adjust if necessary, as salt helps bring out the natural flavors in tomatoes.
- I always like to hold back some of the starchy pasta water. It can be used to make the pasta sauce the right consistency as well as helping to coat the pasta in the sauce.
- This sauce is easily doubled up, this is a great way enjoy some now and freeze the rest for a quick and easy dinner another night.
- To make gluten free penne al napoli, use a gluten free pasta. Lentil pasta, chickpea pasta or quinoa pasta are great alternatives.
How To Serve Penne Napoli
I like to serve pasta with a side of crusty bread, some warm focaccia, or garlic bread which the kids love. I also add a vegetable side, a vibrant summer salad or my Easy Buttered Kale, Green Beans, or Charred Broccolini. If you'd like to add some meat for protein, grilled chicken or some juicy kielbasa works perfectly.
How To Reheat Penne Napoli?
Leftovers can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator and used within 3-4 days. To reheat next time, place the pasta into a saucepan, place over a medium heat to warm to piping hot. You can add a splash of water to loosen the sauce if you think its needed.
How to Freeze Penne Napoli?
The napoli pasta sauce freezes really well. Once cooked, allow to cool completely, then place the sauce into an airtight container and store in the freezer for us to 3 months. This sauce can be reheated from frozen.
I don't recommend freezing the pasta, as pasta can break down during the freezing and defrosting process. So freeze the sauce and cook the pasta fresh every time.
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More Easy Under 30 Minute Recipe Ideas
- 3 tbsp Olive Oil
- 1 Onion - finely chopped
- 3 cloves Garlic - minced
- 32 oz Canned Diced Tomatoes
- 2 tbsp Tomato Paste - tomato puree
- 1 pinch Sugar
- 1 lb Penne Pasta
- ½ cup Grated Parmesan or Vegetarian Alternative
- Fresh Basil Leaves - optional, finely sliced
- Add the olive oil to a large skillet or Dutch oven on a medium-low heat.
- Saute the onions until starting to soften, around 5 minutes.
- Add the minced garlic and stir for a minute until fragrant
- Immediately add the diced tomatoes and tomato paste and the pinch of sugar.
- Bring the sauce to a boil then turn the heat down so the sauce is just simmering.
- Cook for around 20 minutes, stirring occasionally as the sauce starts to thicken and the flavor develops.
- Meanwhile cook the penne pasta until al dente in salted boiling water according to packet instructions.
- Once cooked drain and reserve 1 cup of the pasta water.
- Tip the penne into the pan with the sauce and toss, mixing well, so all the pasta is coated in sauce.
- If you need to loosen the sauce, add a splash or two of the reserved pasta water.
- Serve immediately, with freshly grated parmesan and finely sliced fresh basil leaves.