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Pasta Napoletana

Neapolitan Pasta in a black bowl garnished with basil leaves.

Known by many names, including Pasta Napoletana, Napolitana, Neapolitan or simply Napoli Pasta, this signature dish from Naples is exactly what your need on your weekly repertoire! Very easy to make and using just a handful of everyday ingredients, this quick pasta recipe features a delicious Neapolitan tomato sauce, full of garlic, onions and basil. And of course, no Italian pasta dish would be complete without a generous grating of Parmesan cheese…

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What Is Pasta Napoletana? 

Pasta Napoletana (sometimes spelt Napolitana Pasta or simply known by the name of Pasta al Pomodoro) is one of the simplest (yet extremely delicious) Italian dishes made with canned or fresh tomatoes, sauteed onions and garlic and copious amounts of basil.

This vegetarian pasta dish is made with a tomato-based sauce (Napoli or Neapolitan Sauce) that originates in Naples, Southern Italy, where it is a staple sauce used in everyday cooking. So much so, that people from Napoli actually refer to it as ‘la salsa’ which literally translates as the sauce

Grated parmesan is being scaterred on top  of Pasta Napoletana.

Is Napoletana Pasta Vegetarian? 

Depends on who you ask… My Italian friend has assured me that the Neapolitan Sauce is by default a vegetarian sauce. As a result, the pasta dish, made with it is strictly meatless. However, more recently a different version of Napoletana Pasta has been popularised by the famous Cheesecake Factory in the United States. Their version includes four types of meat, such as Italian Sausage, bacon, beef and pepperoni. 

Ingredients and Substitutes

Very simple ingredients are needed to make a flavorful tomato sauce. All you need is:

  • pasta: we enjoy spaghetti Napoletana most, but penne Napoletana is also popular. 
  • olive oil: use extra virgin if you can. 
  • brown onion: can be replaced with white onion, red onion or shallots. 
  • garlic cloves: can be substituted with shop-bought garlic paste (note though, that ready-made garlic paste is typically heavily salted, so you will need to adjust the seasoning accordingly). 
  • canned tomatoes: also known as chopped tinned tomatoes in the UK. They can be replaced with canned cherry tomatoes. 
  • basil: fresh and fragrant. Only leaves will be used, the stalks discarded. 
  • parmesan cheese: to scatter on top. Substitute it with other hard Italian types of cheese, like Padano Grana or Pecorino Romano. To make it vegan, simply substitute Parmesan with a dairy-free alternative or nutritional yeast.
Ingredients for Pasta with Neapolitan Tomato Sauce on a black surface.

Step-By-Step Method

STEP 1: Make the Neapolitan sauce

Add a tbsp of olive oil to a large frying pan and set it on low heat. Tip in the finely chopped onions and cook for 5-6 minutes, until softened but not browned.

Add the minced garlic, stir and cook for another minute. 

Finally tip in a can of tomatoes, season with salt and black pepper and stir. Increase the heat slightly and bring the sauce to a gentle simmer, then let it simmer for 10-15 minutes until Napoli tomato sauce reduces by about a third. 

Napoli Sauce in a large frying pan.

STEP 2: Cook Pasta Al Dente

Whilst the Neapolitan sauce is reducing, cook your pasta following the instructions on the packet. Make sure to keep your pasta al dente. 

STEP 3: Assemble Napoletana Pasta

Before draining the pasta, check your tomato sauce. If it has reduced too much, just add 2-3 tbsp of starchy pasta water and stir.

Add the drained pasta to the sauce. Tear the basil leaves and stir them into the sauce just before serving. 

Serve your Napoletana Pasta with grated parmesan on top and garnish with fresh basil leaves!

Recipe Variations

Pasta Napolitana is a good pasta dish that can be served as a vegetarian main dish or as a base to add other bits and pieces to. Here are a few ideas on how to make this pasta recipe even more flavoursome.

  • Use fresh homemade pasta for an extra special meal. 
  • Experiment with different types of pasta. Noodle-type pasta like spaghetti or linguine takes on less sauce, so if you like it extra saucy, use pasta with a lot of nooks and crannies to hold the sauce in (think, Farfalle or Conchiglie). 
  • Add a finely grated carrot or courgette to the sauce to incorporate more vegetables into your diet. 
  • If you feel that you need some protein in this Napoletana pasta, it goes well with chicken, shrimp or Italian sausage very well. 
  • Substitute Parmesan for other Italian hard cheese, like Pecorino or Padana Grano. 
  • Scatter some chilli flakes or red pepper flakes on top.
  • To make it vegan, simply substitute Parmesan with a non-dairy alternative.

Tips & Tricks For Success

  • Chop your onions very finely. You want the pieces small so that it blends in with the Napoli tomato sauce and coats the pasta evenly. 
  • Reduce the sauce enough to coat the pasta well. But if you take it too far, use starchy pasta water to loosen it. 
  • Don’t overcook your pasta. For a truly Italian experience, always keep your pasta al dente. 
  • If your pasta is cooked before your sauce has reduced, drain it (keeping a few spoonfuls of starchy water, just in case) and mix in a tablespoon of olive oil. Keep the pasta covered until your sauce is ready. 

Recipe FAQs

Why Is It Called Neapolitan Pasta?

The sauce originates from the Napoli region in Italy. However, many wouldn’t know what you are talking about if you mentioned Napoletana Sauce in Italy. The name is primarily used outside of Italy, where it is simply known as ‘la salsa’. 

Why Does My Sauce Not Stick To My Pasta?

For the sauce to stick to your pasta, it needs to have a starchy coating. If you are rinsing your pasta before cooking, it will remove the starchy coating and your sauce will slip off. Another reason could be adding oil to your pasta before you coat it in the Napoli sauce. We only recommend adding oil, if you cooked your pasta too early and don’t want the noodles to stick to each other.  

Pasta Napolitana with parmesan and basil in a black bowl on a black marble surface.

Made Too Much Napoli Pasta Sauce? 

There are many uses for this rich tomato sauce. Keep the Napoli Sauce in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 5 days. It can then be used as a sauce for meatballs, bolognese or lasagna sauce. 

What is more, you can reduce the Neapolitan sauce further and use it as a pizza sauce. 

What To Serve With Pasta Napoletana?

This vegetarian pasta dish is absolutely beautiful served with a healthy green vegetable side. We particularly like it with: 

And you can never go wrong with some garlic bread, right? 

Other Quick & Easy Vegetarian Pasta Recipes

Looking for more inspiration for simple weeknight pasta dishes? We got you! Try these absolutely delicious recipes next: 

Recipe Card

Neapolitan Pasta in a black bowl garnished with basil leaves.

Pasta Napoletana

Known by many names, including Pasta Napoletana, Napolitana, Neapolitan or simply Napoli Pasta, this signature dish from Naples is exactly what your need on your weekly repertoire! Very quick to make and using just a handful of everyday ingredients, this pasta recipe features a delicious Neapolitan tomato sauce, full of garlic, onions and basil. And of course, no Italian pasta dish would be complete without a generous grating of Parmesan cheese…
5 from 1 vote
Prep Time 5 mins
Cook Time 15 mins
Total Time 20 mins
Course Dinner, Main Course
Cuisine Italian
Servings 2 portions
Calories 515 kcal

Ingredients
 
 

  • 200 g pasta we used spaghetti
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 small brown onion very finely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves minced
  • 1 can chopped tomatoes 400g tin
  • 10 g fresh basil leaves only
  • 10 g parmesan cheese grated

Instructions
 

  • Add a tbsp of olive oil to a large frying pan and set it on low heat. Add the finely chopped onions and cook for 5-6 minutes, until softened but not browned.
  • Add the garlic, stir and cook for another minute.
  • Finally tip in a can of tomatoes, season with salt and pepper and stir. Increase the heat slightly and bring the sauce to a gentle simmer, then let it simmer for 10-15 minutes until Napoli tomato sauce reduces by about a third.
  • Whilst the Neapolitan sauce is reducing, cook your pasta following the instructions on the packet. Make sure to keep your pasta al dente.
  • Before draining your pasta, check your tomato sauce. If it has reduced too much, just add 2-3 tbsp of starchy pasta water and stir.
  • Add the drained pasta to the sauce. Tear the basil leaves and stir them into the sauce just before serving.
  • Serve your Napoletana Pasta with grated parmesan on top and garnish with basil leaves!

Nutrition

Calories: 515kcalCarbohydrates: 89gProtein: 17gFat: 10gSaturated Fat: 2gPolyunsaturated Fat: 1gMonounsaturated Fat: 6gCholesterol: 3mgSodium: 383mgPotassium: 721mgFiber: 6gSugar: 10gVitamin A: 545IUVitamin C: 25mgCalcium: 171mgIron: 4mg
Keyword Naepolitan Sauce, Napoli Sauce, Napolitana Pasta, Neapolitan Pasta, Pasta Napoletana, Spaghetti Alla Napoletana, Spaghetti Napoletana, Vegetarian Napletana Pasta
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