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College Bound and An Easy Tomato Paste Pasta Sauce Recipe

by Jeanette on August 24, 2011 · 32 Comments
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Tomato Paste Pasta
This past weekend we dropped our oldest son off at college where he will be a freshman. I never thought it would be as hard as it was. A few days before we left, a friend called and asked if I was sad, and I replied, “not really.” Well, I was dead wrong. I think between the jet-lag from our recent vacation, unpacking everything from that trip, and then packing up my son for college, I just didn’t have time to really think about what was to come. 

Although I had counted down the days while we were on vacation, knowing that our time was short together as a family, I thought I had prepared myself for cutting the apron strings. Boy, was I wrong. The tears started flowing at dinner the night before the move-in to his dorm. Then more tears came in the car ride home, lying in bed that evening, and into the next day. It was so bad that when I bumped into a friend at the supermarket the following day, and she asked how everything had gone, my eyes watered up again.

Most moms that have had their kids go off to college know what I’m talking about. Have any of you had to go through this separation? A number of my friends reached out to me this week just to let me know that they knew exactly how I felt. I will be doing the same for friends who are dropping their kids off this coming weekend.

Although I am sad that our family dynamics will be forever changed, I am excited for my son who is entering a whole new phase in his young adult life. These next four years will be “the best years of his life,” as my husband always says…tons of freedom, loads of fun, no real responsibilities (other than going to class and keeping those grades up!). It will be a time to discover his interests and passions, grow and mature into a responsible young adult, and make long lasting friendships. Although my husband and I are only a text, email or phone call away, he will be making daily choices, good and bad, and learning from them.

Meanwhile, I have told my other three boys that we are in lock-down mode. No one else is allowed to leave home…especially after living 18 years with me. The older boys were quick to respond, “Oh, so I guess grades don’t matter anymore then, right? And who cares what classes we take or about studying.” Okay, maybe they can go away to college, but it must be nearby, not on the other side of the country.

Today, I am sharing my oldest son’s favorite pasta sauce recipe, endearingly called Tomato Paste Pasta. I made this a lot over the past month or so before he left for college so he could get his fill. I came across this recipe years ago when I was trying out kid-friendly pasta sauce recipes. This easy pasta recipe has stuck around for a long time. Over the years, I’ve added more tomato paste and a lot more garlic to the recipe, but the simplicity of this dish remains. In fact, when we travel, I often tuck a can of tomato paste, a box of pasta, a small bottle of olive oil and a bulb of garlic in my suitcase so that we don’t have to go shopping for our first meal upon landing at our destination.

So simple, just 4 ingredients – olive oil, tomato pasta, garlic, and pasta. Garnished with a little fresh basil, this easy pasta dish is a bowl of comfort.

With just 4 ingredients, this is often our first meal on vacation.

I know what I’ll be making when my son comes home next time. When I asked what he would miss most about home, he did say, “your cooking.” Awe…tears are coming again.

This recipe was submitted to August’s Go Ahead Honey It’s Gluten Free Roundup, hosted by the lovely Shirley. Please take a moment to see what everyone else cooked up for the roundup.

Easy Tomato Paste Pasta Sauce

My kids like a this tomato sauce on the thicker side, and enjoy this on spaghetti or penne shaped pasta. Add more pasta cooking liquid if you like a thinner sauce, and serve with your favorite shape pasta. 

Printable Recipe


  • 16 ounces gluten-free pasta or whole grain pasta
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 small can tomato paste
  • 6 cloves garlic, minced
  • fresh basil, cut into chiffonade (fancy for very thin strips)


  1. Cook pasta until al dente. Reserve 1/2 cup pasta cooking liquid. Drain pasta.
  2. Meanwhile, heat olive oil and tomato paste over medium heat for one minute.
  3. Turn heat down to medium-low and cook 4-5 minutes to caramelize tomato paste and deepen the flavors. Do not burn.
  4. Add garlic and cook another minute until lightly browned. 
  5. Add 1/4 cup of pasta cooking liquid to tomato paste sauce and stir well. Add a little more pasta cooking liquid if a thinner sauce is desired.
  6. Toss pasta with tomato sauce.
  7. Garnish with basil chiffonade.
  8. Serve immediately.

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  1. Pretend Chef says:

    Now that I'm a mama I look back and feel so bad for my mama how I was so quick to move out of the house. I was the baby of 5 kids so I can't imagine how it must have felt. The thought of my son someday moving out makes me emotional and I've got at least another 15 years before that happens. On the bright side, Itty Bitty would love this and I have everything on hand to put this together for him. Added to my must make list. Thanks for sharing Jeanette! Sending a big air hug your way!

  2. I am always up for a good pasta dish! Looks great!

  3. I've heard from friends that they cried the whole way home after dropping off a son or daughter for college, so I think it's a difficult transition for a lot of people. How fun for your son though! And the spaghetti looks pretty comforting.

  4. I found my eyes watering while reading your post and my sons are only 8mos and 2yrs. I hope the best for you in this new chapter of your life.
    Great recipe too!

  5. It's definitely been a tough week, still shedding tears when I least expect it. It is a new chapter in our lives and I know it is all part of transitioning into adulthood. I'm looking forward to the next time he comes home, I'm sure there will be many favorite recipe requests.

  6. Alison @ Ingredients, Inc. says:

    oh this looks mouth watering. I was thinking pasta tonight :)

  7. Oh Jeanette, I got tears in my eyes just reading this post. As much as we want our kids to grow and prosper "moving on" is never a good feeling. I hope he loves college & he comes home soon to hug his mama.
    Love the pasta sauce. Simple & beautiful :)

  8. Lock-down mode, I love it! These transitions aren't easy, are they? What a lovely and versatile pasta dish you've put together and, funnily enough, it reminds me a lot of the kind of food I ate through my university years… Simple but full of flavour and satisfaction.

  9. Alison – Hope you have a chance to try, this is a super easy recipe.

    Marla – You are so right. In my heart, I know that leaving home is all part of growing up, but it is so hard. Miss him dearly…and I think he will want this pasta his next visit home.

  10. Sue/the view from great island says:

    I've been through this with my oldest, and now I'm in the midst of it with my youngest. There are a few silver linings…one is that you will have a chance to bond with your other children in new ways now that the eldest is in college. And just think of all the fun you'll have putting together 'care packages'!
    The pasta looks like the perfect teen comfort food.

  11. Shirley @ gfe says:

    Jeanette, I think this almost classifies as a "non-recipe"! How about entering it for Go Ahead Honey this month? 😉 I extended the deadline per our change in vacation plans. Read all about this month's theme here.

    I totally remember taking son off to college. We shook off the sadness for a while, but then it would return. And every time he'd come home for the weekend, I'd go through it all over again when he left. It took a while to adjust. It's good for them and for those they leave behind (it can mean more time with other kids or in our case, more time as a couple), but it definitely takes adjusting. Tears can and will come at any moment, as you've already experienced.

    Big hugs, Jeanette!

  12. Aww Jeanette, I know (from experience) that it is just as hard for him to leave as it is for you to drop him off! My mom still cries every time she drops me off at my apartment…which is a 20 minute drive from where she lives. And when I lived in Boston…forget it. He'll be home again before you know it and then you can cook up a storm for him – delicious dishes like this pasta!


    One of our family's favorites! So hearty and satisfying.

  14. Sue – You are absolutely right about the silver lining in all of this. Our family dynamics are already changing and it will be a good time for me to enjoy the twins before they set off for college in a few years.

    Shirley – I will definitely enter this recipe in your Go Ahead Honey event. And yes, the tears come at the most unexpected times.

    Joanne – Thanks for sharing your college experience. He's have a blast, but I think he must miss us some – right?

    Sommer – Glad you all enjoy this pasta dish – it is a bowl of comfort and my oldest son asks for this regularly.

  15. hug jeanette! i don't know yet what it's like to have my child leave for college, but i do know that when i have kids one day, i'll be holding on to them so dearly… i didn't know you had 4 sons! do all of them have food allergies or just one of them?

  16. Lydia (The Perfect Pantry) says:

    It will get easier as your son thrives at college. It will, I promise. Meanwhile, cook lots and lots of this pasta dish, for your sons who are still doing homework at your kitchen table.

  17. Kim-Cook It Allergy Free says:

    Jeanette, I am already dreading the day my kids leave for college (and it is still at least 10 years away)! I feel for you so much right now and got all teary reading your post! Huge hugs to you. Now, I will have to make this yummy easy pasta!!

  18. France@beyondthepeel says:

    Oh Jeanette. That must be hard. I can't even imagine. It looks like a lovely and easy sauce anyone can make.

  19. Maurizio says:

    Hi Jeanette.
    This one also looks good. How small is “1 small can tomato paste” in this recipe? I mean in US terms (eg cups) or metric terms (eg deciliters)?

  20. I’ll be there on Aug. 24th. We’ll be dropping my oldest daughter off at college 4+ hours away. I KNOW I’ll cry and be sad. I think it will be much harder when it’s my youngest I’m dropping off, but still, this will be hard.

    Hugs to you, Jeanette.

    • Shana, I remember crying after I got back in the car to drive home…and then for at least a week after. Next year, my twins go off, and I think that will be just as hard if not harder, and then when my youngest leaves, that will be really hard. Best wishes – glad you have another at home to keep you company and keep you busy. xo

  21. This happens to be one of my favorite meals from my childhood. My parents were raising 4 little girls on a very tight budget, and this meal was born one evening because there was nothing else to eat. My parents were worried when they served it we would turn our noses up and refuse to eat but we loved it. We named it Ta-roni (we used elbow macaroni) and begged them to make it all the time. :)

  22. Thanks Jeanette! My wife is off with her friends in NYC for the weekend for Comic Con and my 5 year-old asked for Spaghetti and sauce but didn’t want to drive to the store to get the sauce. I found a can of tomato paste, Googled “simple spaghetti sauce from tomato paste (ha ha) and of course you were right near the top. Very easy and Kai says the sauce tastes good so thank you for your John / idiot-proof recipes!

  23. Gabriella says:

    You are truly a blessing. Me and my bf are So broke right now after the holiday’s that we literally only had these ingredients, I Googled it. And there you were.. I’m cooking This now can’t Wait to eat I’m hungry. 😉 thx u…

  24. I just made this because I only had a few ingredients around the house. Threw in some extra herbs and salt and pepper to taste. It was great for something so simple, and actually tasted better than those pre-made pasta sauce jars! Thanks!

    • Jeanette Jeanette says:

      Tom – so glad you tried this and I love your additions. This sauce has surprisingly deep flavors for such a simple recipe!

  25. I haven’t gone through that separation yet (my oldest is 14) but it sounds awful!! This pasta sauce should provide you with some comfort. It looks lovely and simple.

  26. I made this pasta sauce tonight. It was amazing! This is the first “easy” pasta sauce I’ve made that was really, really tasty. I usually end up making a pasta sauce in a slow cooker and it is far too runny. This was a great consistency.

    • Jeanette Jeanette says:

      KD – so glad you enjoyed this easy pasta sauce – it is my go-to dinner when I’m short on time.

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