This creamy tomato pasta sauce without cream recipe uses parmesan cheese to make a rich and creamy sauce, much more akin to traditional Italian pasta methods. The best thing about this recipe is that it comes together in about 20 minutes and uses mostly pantry ingredients (besides the cheese).
This is one of those dinners that is super flavourful and incredibly low-effort that it’s sure to become a frequent rotation on busy weeknights. It uses only a handful of ingredients and the sauce, which comes together in less than 10 minutes, simmers while your pasta cooks!
So if you’re looking for a cream-free pasta sauce that’s insanely simple to whip up any night of the week, make sure not to sleep on this!
How to Make Creamy Tomato Pasta Without Cream
This pasta sauce uses parmesan cheese instead of cream (or milk) to make a creamy sauce.
The results are really delicious and don’t have the muted flavours that a cream-based sauce can have, however, the final product won’t be quite as pink as one made with cream. That is generally a trade-off you will have to make if you don’t want to use cream.
Now, onto how to make the sauce. First things first, add a bit of extra virgin olive oil to a large skillet along with one or two oil-packed anchovy fillets. These are optional, however, they add a great dimension to the sauce and don’t impart any kind of fishy flavour – I promise!
Allow the oil to gently heat up over medium heat. You will notice the anchovy fillets slowly begin to dissolve. At the same time, put a large pot of heavily salted water on to boil (this is to cook your pasta).
Once the oil is shimmering, add a finely diced onion along with a generous pinch of salt. Cook the onion for about five minutes or until it is translucent and beginning to brown slightly around the edges.
Then, add in a bit of tomato paste along with a good amount of minced garlic. Cook this, stirring constantly, for about a minute- you’ll notice the tomato paste darken and begin to stick to the bottom of the pan.
Next, add a can of whole peeled tomatoes that you’ve crushed with your hands. I’ve mentioned this in a number of different recipes (from my pasta puttanesca to my chickpea curry), but I prefer the texture and flavour of whole tomatoes vs crushed or diced tomatoes.
Once you’ve added the tomatoes, put your pasta on to boil and cook it for about two minutes less than the package suggests.
About a minute before the pasta is done, add a bit of the starchy pasta water to the sauce. Then, sprinkle over a bit of parmesan cheese and stir to combine.
Repeat with more cheese – the reason we don’t do this all at once is that the cheese can clump and not melt and emulsify if you do so.
Doing it a bit slowly will ensure that you end up with quite a creamy tomato pasta sauce without cream.
Once your pasta is done cooking, add it to the skillet with the sauce and toss it to combine, ensuring everything is evenly coated with sauce.
Make sure that you still hang on to some of the pasta cooking water just in case you need to loosen the sauce a bit more.
Then, taste the pasta to adjust for seasoning, adding salt and pepper where needed. Serve immediately, topping with more cheese and a bit of freshly chopped basil, if desired.
- 1-2 oil-packed anchovy fillet (optional)
- 1/2 large yellow onion, finely diced
- 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 2 teaspoons tomato paste
- 1 (400g/15oz) can whole peeled tomatoes, crushed with hands
- 250g (1/2lb) pasta (see note 1)
- 50g (1 cup) parmesan cheese, finely grated (see note 2)
- Fresh basil, finely chopped (for topping)
- Add 1.5 litres (6 cups) of water to a large pot along with 2 teaspoons of coarse sea salt. Cover and bring to a rolling boil.
- Add 1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil to a large skillet along with the anchovy fillets, if using. Set the pan over medium heat. Gently heat the oil until shimmering and the anchovies begin to disintegrate - about 1-2 minutes.
- Add the onion along with a generous pinch of salt. Cook, stirring frequently, until the onion is softened, translucent and beginning to brown around the edges, about 5 minutes.
- Add the tomato paste and the garlic. Cook, stirring constantly, for another minute.
- Add in the tomatoes and stir to combine. Bring to a gentle simmer and reduce the heat to medium-low. To the boiling water, add the pasta and cook for 2 minutes less than the package suggests. Allow the tomato sauce to simmer while the pasta is cooking.
- About a minute before the pasta finishes cooking, reserve about 250ml (1 cup) of pasta cooking water. Pour in 120ml (1/2 cup) of the reserved water into your tomato sauce. Gently sprinkle half of the parmesan cheese over the sauce and stir to combine. Repeat with the remaining cheese.
- Add the cooked pasta to the sauce and, tossing constantly, ensure that the sauce is thickened and clinging to the noodles, about 1-2 minutes. Add more pasta water as needed to loosen the sauce.
- Taste to adjust for seasoning, adding salt and pepper where needed. Serve, topping with chopped basil and more parmesan cheese, if desired.
- I like using rigatoni or a similarly shaped pasta for this dish, but it will work with most types of pasta.
- Use the weight measurement if at all possible over the volumetric. Depending on how coarsely or finely you grate your cheese, this can wildly change the weight of 1 cup of cheese. If grating the cheese with a rasp-style grater like a microplane (as I suggest), do not pack it into a 1-cup measure.
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Nutrition Information:Yield: 2 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 478Total Fat: 23gSaturated Fat: 4gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 17gCholesterol: 43mgSodium: 106mgCarbohydrates: 47gFiber: 4gSugar: 5gProtein: 21g
Nutritional information is automatically generated and provided as guidance only. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
This tomato pasta is super creamy without using any cream. It’s easy to make and comes together very quickly, making it a great weeknight dinner option!
Are you looking for a creamless tomato pasta? Have any questions about this recipe? Let me know in the comments!