Tomato and Anchovy Sauce recipe

River Cafe's tomato and anchovy sauce with pasta

I've been cooking tinned tomatoes with onions, garlic, oregano and basil for years and I never thought to vary the ingredients because they work so well together. Then I discovered River Cafe's tomato and anchovy pasta sauce and it was a revelation. At its most basic it consists of:

  • Garlic
  • Fresh rosemary
  • Anchovies
  • Tinned tomatoes

I still can't believe the smell when the four ingredients combine. This has now become my go-to tomato sauce as it's so different and delicious. Once you add cheese and cream it gets even better but I like the sauce just as much without.

I've used this sauce with pasta, vegetables and pizza and it's especially good when combined with aubergines and mozzarella and baked in the oven. When I use it as a pasta sauce I always throw in an extra vegetable and broccoli (pictured) is my current favourite.

I know anchovies are a controversial ingredient but even Colin, who can just about tolerate them, loves the sauce and it just wouldn't be the same without them.

The recipe demands that only anchovies of the best quality are used, i.e. salted and from an Italian deli, but my palate isn't that delicate and I think tinned anchovies are fine. Anchovies freeze nicely so you can use one jar for several batches of sauce.


Serves: 2

Basic sauce

  • 1 large clove garlic
  • 1 tbs fresh rosemary, finely chopped
  • 4-6 anchovy fillets (depending on preference and size)
  • 1 tin plum tomatoes
  • 1 tbs extra virgin olive oil
  • 50ml double or single cream (optional)
  • 40g Parmesan, finely grated (optional)


  • 200g pasta
  • salt
  • 200g tenderstem broccoli (optional)


  1. Place a saucepan over a medium heat and add 1 tablespoon of olive oil.
  2. If using salted anchovies rinse them to remove the salt.
  3. Gently fry 1 large clove of garlic for a minute then add 1 tablespoon of chopped rosemary and 4-6 anchovies. The anchovies will quickly break up and melt.
  4. After the garlic, rosemary and anchovies start to look like a paste, add a tin of tomatoes to the saucepan and once the sauce starts to bubble turn the heat down. Simmer for around 30 - 40 minutes to allow the sauce to reduce and thicken.
  5. Around 10 minutes before the sauce is ready, fill a medium saucepan with salted boiling water and blanch 200g tenderstem broccoli for 2 minutes. Remove the broccoli from the saucepan with a slotted spoon and drain in a colander.
  6. Cook the pasta in the water used to blanch the broccoli.
  7. Once the sauce is ready turn the heat off and add the cream and grated cheese (if using). Add the pasta and broccoli to the sauce and stir well to coat. Serve straightaway.