Pink pasta is a fun twist on a classic pasta with tomato sauce! This creamy pasta sauce is full of robust flavor from garlic, onions, Parmesan, and basil. Best of all, this indulgent pink pasta recipe can be made in only about 20 minutes!
Note: this post was originally published in 2021 and updated in 2023 with improved instructions.
Are you craving pasta but looking for something a little more indulgent than typical jarred tomato sauce? BUT, you also don't want to do a ton of extra work or spend a ton of time? Yes, I totally hear that! If this is you, you need to try this easy pink pasta!
This pink pasta recipe starts with a base of jarred tomato sauce, but takes it up about 1000 levels, by adding fresh garlic, onion, tomato paste, and of course, heavy cream and Parmesan for that silky smooth taste and texture.
And, this entire pink sauce pasta recipe takes only about 20 minutes to make, start to finish, so you will be enjoying your bowl of creamy pink sauce pasta in no time!
What is pink sauce?
Pink sauce for pasta is basically a tomato-based pasta sauce with a creamy component added in, which results in a sauce that has a pretty pinkish-orange hue. The creamy element can be heavy cream, half and half, or alfredo sauce, depending on the recipe.
(And just to note, I am American so I am speaking from an American perspective on this and all my recipes. If you're interested in authentic Italian pasta recipes, I highly recommend checking out the blog The Pasta Project!)
- Pasta: I used tagliatelle, which is a long, flat egg pasta good for holding onto sauces. But, you can use any shape you prefer! In the Recipe FAQs section I discuss other pasta shape suggestions!
- Basil: the fresh basil is optional, so if you don't have any you can still make the dish. You could also add some fresh parsley instead if you have that on hand.
- Salt: I used kosher salt, which is coarse grained. But you can substitute fine-grain salt instead. Just start with a little less than what is called for in the recipe and add more if needed.
Step by step photos
Here is the step by step breakdown on how to make this easy pink pasta. If you would also like to view a brief slideshow of these steps, check out my web story!
1. Before you do anything else, set a large pot of water to boil for the pasta. Once the pasta water boils, generously salt the water and cook the pasta according to the directions on the box. While you're waiting for the water to boil, and while the pasta is cooking, proceed with the next steps:
2. Finely chop the onion and garlic.
3. Next, heat the oil in a medium sauté pan. Add the onion, salt and pepper. Stir and cook for about 2 - 3 minutes, until the onion is softened and translucent.
Then, add in the garlic. Continue to cook and stir, for about 1 more minute. You just want the garlic to become fragrant, not browned.
4. Add the tomato paste to the pan and cook for another 30 seconds to 1 minute, stirring continuously. You are just looking for the tomato paste to break down a bit and incorporate into the garlic and onions.
5. Now, pour in the tomato sauce and heavy cream. Bring the pink sauce to a simmer, making sure to turn the heat down if the sauce starts to boil.
6. Simmer the sauce for about 6 - 7 minutes, stirring occasionally, or until the sauce thickens.
7. Then, when the pasta is finished cooking, drain it and add it to the pan with the pink pasta sauce. Use tongs to help you toss the pasta together with the sauce.
8. Now sprinkle on the Parmesan cheese and gently stir it into the pasta. If you like, you can also add in some torn pieces of basil to finish the dish!
Tips and tricks
- I like using a sauté pan to make the pink pasta sauce; it has a wide, flat bottom and straight sides that are about 3 - 5 inches (~7.5 - 12.5 cm) tall. A sauté pan works well because it contains the sauce well and gives enough room to easily mix in the cooked pasta with the sauce at the end. If you don't have a sauté pan, you can use a large saucepan.
- The amount of salt in the tomato sauce will vary by brand, so be sure to salt to taste. If you're not sure, you can always add a little less salt than called for in the recipe, and then adjust the seasoning at the end.
- Speaking of salt, be sure to generously salt the pasta water, this is the best way to get seasoning into the pasta itself!
- Pink sauce pasta will taste best if you serve it as soon as you can after it finishes cooking. So, take note of the cook time on the pasta you are using, and time accordingly.
- If you don't think you can nail the timing just right, I recommend erring on the side of finishing the pink sauce first, because it will keep just fine on the stove, set to low for a few minutes. Just give it a stir occasionally!
Additions and substitutions
This pink sauce pasta recipe is perfect all on its own (in my humble opinion!). But, there is always room for a little creativity. If you want to switch up this pink sauce pasta recipe, here are some ideas for additions and/or substitutions:
- For more protein, add grilled or pan-seared shrimp or chicken breast on top of the finished pasta. Or, try topping the pasta with slices of cooked Italian sausage.
- You can also add grilled or sautéed veggies on top; try bell peppers, zucchini, yellow squash, and/or eggplant.
- If you don't have jarred tomato sauce, you can substitute an equal amount of canned crushed tomatoes.
- If you don't have (or don't like) fresh basil, feel free to leave it out. Instead, if you like, you could add ½ teaspoon dried basil when sautéing the onions.
Storage and reheating
- This pink pasta recipe will taste best made fresh, but, if you have any leftovers, they will keep in the fridge, tightly covered, for 3 - 4 days.
- Because this pink pasta sauce has cream in it, it will not freeze well.
- The pasta will continue to absorb the pink pasta sauce as it sits in the fridge, making the texture of the dish drier as time goes on. So, I recommend enjoying the leftovers the next day if you can.
- To reheat, place the leftover pink pasta in a small skillet or sauté pan. Cover the pan with a lid and place on the stove top. Heat the pasta on the lowest heat setting, lifting the lid to stir occasionally. Only heat until warmed through to maintain the creamy texture of the sauce.
- If the leftover pasta looks dry, I recommend adding a bit of extra heavy cream and/or tomato sauce to the pot before reheating on the stove top.
- Alternatively, you can microwave 1 - 2 servings of the leftover pink sauce pasta on 50% power for 1 minute at a time, stirring in between, until heated through. (Cover the bowl with a paper towel to catch any spatter!)
This pink pasta is so creamy and indulgent, so for serving suggestions, I recommend keeping it simple!
In addition to topping the pasta with veggies and/or proteins of your choice (as I discussed in the Additions and substitutions section above), here are some delicious side dish ideas:
- green salad or Caesar salad
- farro salad (or other grain salad)
- crusty bread or garlic bread
Yes, you can make just the pink pasta sauce ahead of time and keep it covered in the fridge for 3 - 4 days. When you want to serve the pink pasta, just gently re-heat the sauce in a small saucepan over low heat, stirring occasionally. Then mix it together with freshly-cooked pasta, Parmesan, and basil (if using), as described in the recipe.
While you can use any shape of pasta you like, creamy sauces such as this pink pasta sauce work well with wide, flat shapes such as tagliatelle, fettuccine, or linguine.
Medium, tube shaped pasta shapes also work great, such as penne, rigatoni, or ziti. For an even more indulgent experience, you can even try making this pink sauce pasta with cheese or meat ravioli or tortellini.
Here is a great resource on finding a good pasta shape for different types of sauces.
Regardless of the shape, if you have the option, also look for bronze-cut pasta. Bronze-cut pastas have a rough exterior, perfect for grabbing onto the creamy sauce.
Pink sauce and vodka sauce are both pink-hued, creamy tomato sauces. However, vodka sauce has vodka added (surprise!), whereas pink sauce does not.
This pink pasta recipe uses heavy whipping cream, which I chose because it has a very high fat content (at least 36%). This high fat content is useful because it not only makes the pasta super creamy, but also helps protect the sauce from separating when being simmered.
If you would like to use half and half instead, I recommend tempering it first before adding (similar to my recipes for Greek yogurt buffalo chicken dip and creamy hamburger potato soup). Then, just warm the sauce through on the lowest heat setting, rather than simmering it as called for in the recipe. Because the sauce won't have time to reduce through simmering, just add enough half and half to get the consistency you are looking for.
I don't recommend making pink pasta sauce with milk, it's just not creamy enough to get the job done (in my personal opinion!).
If you’ve tried this recipe, please leave a star rating and/or review in the comments section below, I would love to hear from you! You can also follow me on Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest. And sign up for my weekly newsletter to get recipes delivered straight to you!Print
This creamy pink pasta sauce is a more indulgent version of pasta with tomato sauce. It's easy to make in only about 20 minutes!
- Prep Time: 5 minutes
- Cook Time: 15 minutes
- Total Time: 20 minutes
- Yield: 4 servings 1x
- Category: main course, entree
- Method: stove top
- Cuisine: American
- 12 ounces (340 g) pasta, any shape (recommendation: tagliatelle)
- 1 cup (156 g) finely chopped onion (from about 1 small onion)
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt, or to taste, plus more to salt pasta water
- ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper, or to taste
- 3 tablespoons (50 g) tomato paste
- 1 cup (237 ml) tomato sauce
- 1 cup (237 ml) heavy whipping cream
- ½ cup (14 g) finely-shredded Parmesan cheese, plus more for serving
- 5 - 6 fresh basil leaves (optional)
- Set a large pot of water over high heat to boil. When the water begins to boil, add a large pinch of salt and the pasta to the water. Cook the pasta according to the directions on the package. While waiting for the water to boil, and while the pasta cooks, proceed with the following steps (see note 1 re: timing for the pasta).
- Heat the tablespoon of oil in a medium sauté pan over medium heat. When the oil is hot, add the finely chopped onion, kosher salt and black pepper. Cook the onion for 2 - 3 minutes, stirring frequently, until the onion is softened.
- Add the minced garlic to the pan with the onion. Continue to cook and stir for 1 minute, until the garlic is fragrant.
- Add the tomato paste to the sauté pan; stir and cook for an additional 30 seconds - 1 minute, just long enough for the tomato paste to full incorporate into the onions and garlic.
- Pour the tomato sauce and heavy cream into the sauté pan, stir to combine. Turn the heat up to bring the sauce to a simmer. Simmer the sauce for 6 - 7 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the sauce has thickened. If needed, turn the heat back down to maintain the simmer. Taste the sauce and add more salt and/or pepper if needed.
- When the pasta is finished cooking, drain it well. Add the drained pasta to the sauté pan with the finished sauce. Use tongs to toss the pasta together with the sauce.
- Add the finely shredded Parmesan cheese and gently toss the pasta with the tongs again to incorporate the cheese.
- If desired, tear the fresh basil leaves into small pieces and sprinkle over the pasta. Serve immediately with additional Parmesan cheese (optional).
To finish the pasta and sauce around the same time, check how long your pasta needs to cook and time accordingly; for pastas that take about 8 minutes, starting it around when you add the tomato sauce and heavy cream to the pan works well for me. If needed, you can always start the pasta cooking a little later in the process, since the sauce will keep well on the stove on the lowest heat setting while the pasta finishes cooking (just stir the sauce occasionally).
A sauté pan has a wide, flat bottom and straight sides that are about 3 - 5 inches tall. This pan is a good option for this recipe because it contains the sauce well and gives enough room to easily mix in the cooked pasta with the sauce at the end. If you don't have a sauté pan, you can use a large saucepan.
Kosher salt is coarse grained; if you want to substitute fine grain salt, start with only ¼ teaspoon. Then taste the finished sauce, and add more if desired.
The nutrition information below is an estimate provided by an online nutrition calculator, and should not be considered a substitute for professional medical, health, or nutritional advice. The nutrition counts of your dish will vary based on the brands and exact amounts of ingredients used. See our full nutrition disclosure policy.
- Serving Size: ¼ recipe
- Calories: 483
- Sugar: 8.3 g
- Sodium: 438 mg
- Fat: 17.1 g
- Saturated Fat: 8 g
- Carbohydrates: 72.7 g
- Fiber: 5.1 g
- Protein: 14 g
- Cholesterol: 44 mg
Keywords: pink pasta, pink pasta sauce
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