Tomato and Anchovy Sauce

Tomato and anchovy pasta

I love Italian tomato sauce - it goes with everything, it's really quick to make and the ingredients are mostly of the store cupboard variety. I've been cooking it with onions, garlic, oregano and basil for years and I never thought to vary the ingredients because they work so well together.

River Cafe's tomato and anchovy pasta sauce was a revelation to me. 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; I love the original but this one is so different and delicious. Once you add the cheese and cream it gets even better but I like the sauce just as much without. The original recipe uses a lot of double cream and cheese which I always reduce (and often omit) because it's very rich.

I've used the basic sauce with pasta, vegetables and pizza. It's especially good with aubergines, topped with mozzarella and baked in the oven. If I'm cooking pasta then I add mushrooms to the sauce to increase the vegetable count.

I know anchovies are a controversial ingredient but even Colin, who can just about tolerate them, loved 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 I think (good) tinned anchovies are fine. Out of interest I bought deli anchovies but apart from the price I couldn't tell the difference. The best ones I've found come in jars from Tesco and are salted, silvery pink in colour and originate from Morocco. Anchovies freeze nicely too so you can probably 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


  • 150g penne pasta
  • salt
  • 250g mushrooms, halved or quartered
  • 40g fresh grated hard Italian cheese
  • 50ml double or single cream


  1. Place a saucepan over a medium heat and add the olive oil.
  2. If using salted anchovies rinse them to remove the salt.
  3. Gently fry the garlic for a minute or two then add the rosemary and anchovies. The anchovies will quickly break up and melt.
  4. After a minute add the 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 thicken.
  5. If serving with pasta add the mushrooms to the saucepan and stir well.
  6. Around 10 minutes before the sauce is ready, cook the pasta according to the instructions on the packet making sure to generously salt the water for the pasta.
  7. Once the sauce has reduced, turn the heat off and add the cream (if using) and grated cheese. Add the pasta to the saucepan and stir well to coat. Serve straightaway.

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