Main dish

River Cafe's Tomato and Anchovy Sauce recipe

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One of the best tomato sauces ever from The River Cafe cookbook. I can't stop cooking it.

  • Prep15m
  • Cook30m
  • Total45m

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 become my go-to tomato sauce and once you add cheese and cream it gets even better but I like it just as much without.

The sauce is especially good combined with aubergines and mozzarella and baked in the oven. With pasta I always throw in an extra vegetable and broccoli (pictured) is my current favourite.

I know anchovies are a controversial ingredient but even Col, who can just about tolerate them, enjoys the sauce and it 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 too so you can use one jar for several batches of sauce.

Recipe credit

The River Cafe Cookbook by Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers.


River Cafe's Tomato and Anchovy Sauce

  • Prep15m
  • Cook30m
  • Total45m
Serves: 2


Basic sauce

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


  • 200g dried 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 1 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 of tenderstem broccoli for 2 minutes. Remove the broccoli from the saucepan with a slotted spoon and drain in a colander.
  6. Cook 200g of dried pasta in the water used to blanch the broccoli.
  7. Once the sauce is ready turn the heat off and add the 50ml of double cream and 40g of grated cheese (if using). Add the pasta and broccoli to the sauce and stir well to coat. Serve straightaway.

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