The brilliant Jack Monroe has been a magnificent campaigner in the fight against food poverty in the UK. One of her latest achievements has been the reintroduction of Smart Price items to the shelves of Asda. Two of my personal favourites are the 28p penne pasta and 28p tinned tomatoes. They are the staple ingredients of a quick, easy pasta sauce that is perfect if you’re pushed for time, cash or both.

My pasta sauce recipe below is not exactly original or groundbreaking. Pretty much any half-decent home cook probably has their own take on a basic tomato pasta sauce. What I love about this one is that I can adjust it depending on what I’ve got in the kitchen – and whether I can be arsed to go to the shops.

As you read through the recipe, you will see I have included alternatives throughout, so it can be adjusted to suit your circumstances. I last made this on Sunday night after a long drive home from Easter. The Newcastle-London drive on a Bank Holiday Monday can be enough to kill anyone’s enthusiasm for anything remotely energetic, but I somehow found the spoons to pop to Asda and throw the creamy variation together – and I am glad I did, because it fed me and my husband for two nights. This was ideal after a very busy Tuesday of admin, always the way when you abandon the work email for an extended bank holiday weekend.

As a bonus, this recipe fits squarely with my mission to let everyone know they can cook. It is so breathtakingly easy that I defy anyone to mess this up. And it can be served atop pasta, rice or potato.

Cheap and easy tomato pasta sauce


The basics

2 tablespoons olive oil (or any sort of cooking oil or a couple of tablespoons of butter, margarine or spread)

1 onion, diced (or flavour with a good smattering of onion granules)

2 cloves garlic, crushed (or flavour with a good smattering of garlic granules)

1 tin chopped tomatoes

2 tablespoons tomato paste to thicken

Extras, depending on time and budget

Seasonings: Your choice of salt, pepper, any dried green herbs, any fresh green herbs finely chopped, sumac, chilli powder, cayenne pepper, cajun seasoning… Pasta sauces are pretty forgiving so you can add pretty much any combination that works for you.

Protein: I like to use diced bacon but you can always use chopped mushrooms, chopped pieces of chicken, pork or beef, or tinned seafood, such as tuna, salmon or prawns, or sandwich meat, such as ham or chicken sliced, chopped into squares.

Extra vegetables: Like the seasonings, you can throw all manner of things into this – frozen peas, frozen beans, diced sweet potato or potato, diced peppers, mushrooms, chopped carrot, cauliflower and broccoli florets, frozen or tinned corn, up to you…

Make it creamy: I like a creamy tomato sauce, so I usually throw in either a few dollops of plain yoghurt, creme fraiche, cream or sour cream until it’s the desired thickness.

Cheese on top: I like a little parmesan on top, but seriously, any grated cheese works here.



  1. Heat the oil/butter/spread in a large pot and gently fry the onion and garlic until the onion is soft. If you are using onion or garlic granules, season the oil as it warms up. If you are adding meat, such as diced bacon or chicken, now is the time to do so, making sure it’s cooked properly.
  2. Throw in the tinned tomatoes and your choice of seasonings and extra vegetables. You can thicken the sauce with tomato paste at this point – stir through and serve when the vegetables are cooked but not soggy. If you’re using frozen peas, they’ll literally need a couple of minutes at the end before serving.
  3. If you’re making it creamy, add your choice of creamy ingredient now until it’s to the thickness of your choice. Stir through well and serve.
  4. This can be served on rice, pasta or potatoes, or as a baked potato filling. I like some parmesan on top, but there’s no need to be a cheese snob – any grated cheese will do nicely.

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