Looking for a tomato-free pasta sauce recipe? We’ve got plenty—21 recipes for pasta sauce without tomatoes, to be exact.
We promise there’s nothing wrong with you. You’re there for us when we need you most: on pizzas, in casseroles, and, of course, at the top of towering mountains of pasta. You got along famously with our friends at that Italian-themed dinner party and charmed the socks off our parents when we brought you over for Meatball Monday.
Sometimes, though, we feel the need to be a little bolder, to venture out there and get a taste of all the flavors that the world has to offer. Really, we swear it’s not you, it’s us. We’ve reached the point where it feels necessary to take a break and explore these eleven sauces that go beyond the tomato-y basics. So don’t be sad, marinara. It’s not a goodbye, just a so long for now.
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Real deal carbonara doesn’t need any cream, just some eggs, a couple cloves of garlic, and a generous handful of parmesan tossed together into a silky, noodle-clinging sauce. Get our Desperation Spaghetti Carbonara recipe. See also: Cacio e Pepe.
Consisting entirely of ingredients you probably already have in your pantry, aglio e olio—garlic and olive oil pasta—is the sort of dish that you’ll return to time and time again whenever you need a quick dinner on the table. Get our Basic Garlicky Spaghetti recipe.
Capable of being made from virtually any leafy green, pesto could be catalogued as a whole genre of tomato-less sauces by itself. Spinach pesto stands out as perhaps the most all-purpose of the bunch, however, with a mild taste that doesn’t overwhelm with an overload of greenage, as some others do. Get our Spinach Pesto Fusilli recipe. (But try our Basil Parsley Pesto recipe, Artichoke Pesto recipe, Cilantro Almond Pesto recipe, and Watercress Walnut Pesto recipe too.)
Chef Stephanie Izard of Girl & the Goat dresses this simple bowl of pasta with a sprightly blood orange vinaigrette with depth from fish sauce and malt vinegar. Juicy segments of the citrus, crunchy pistachios, and hearty greens round out the meal, which is just as good cold as fresh from the pot. Get the Angel Hair Pasta with Escarole and Blood Orange Vinaigrette recipe.
Bright lemon always juices up a basic pasta, and this light, zesty emulsion proves vodka sauce doesn’t have to use tomatoes. Fresh tarragon adds an anise note, and any seared fish or even chicken would be just as good as the scallops. Get our Seared Scallops with Lemon and Vodka recipe recipe.
This equally citrusy twist stars shrimp and dispenses with the vodka but does deglaze the pan with white wine. It also adds some garlic and red pepper flakes for heat, plus a healthy dose of fresh parsley to lift all the flavors at the end. Get our Lemon Parsley Shrimp Pasta recipe.
Clams come pre-loaded with a sauce of sorts. Just give them a quick steam and and let them release their briny juices—it’s liquid gold in a pot. Our recipe also throws in some chorizo for a bit of spice, resulting in an easy surf ‘n turf meal that practically throws itself together. Get our Linguine with Clams and Chorizo recipe.
No fresh seafood? Canned tuna is a surprisingly delicious addition to a bowl of noodles, especially dressed with a simple Japanese vinagirette of soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, mirin, and sesame oil. Feel free to use this with any noodles you want to, and load it up with fresh scallions to really bring it to life. Get the Tuna Noodle Salad recipe. (If you like them, use sardines in pasta too.)
A super chunky sauce of roasted veggies is perked up by briny olives and parmesan. This is perfect for using up zucchini and other summer squash; we added bell peppers and onions too, but you can really use whatever vegetables you most like to roast (and/or whatever is in season). Get our Spaghetti with Roasted Vegetables, Pine Nuts, and Olives recipe.
Ah, good old alfredo—what would fettucine be without it? The velvety sauce is enjoyable enough on its own over long, flat noodles, or you can top it off with mushrooms, chicken, or whatever other cream-loving add-ons your heart desires. Get our Fettuccine Alfredo recipe.
This easy parmesan cream sauce is a little lighter than alfredo, and it pairs especially well with chicken sausage, but use spicy or mild as you prefer. Add some garlic for a bit more kick as well. If you plan on having leftovers, you may want to make some extra sauce and reserve a bit to mix in the next day, as the pasta will absorb a lot of it overnight. Get our Creamy Pasta with Chicken Sausage and Broccoli recipe.
A meaty braise has a two-in-one purpose when you use it to top pasta: You get hunks of fork-tender protein as well as a deeply savory sauce to that ties the whole dish together. Using milk as the braising liquid might sound strange, but it’s utterly delicious. Get our Milk-Braised Pork Shoulder Ragu with Fresh Fettuccine recipe.
This recipe from Nikki Dinki is ideal for fall, but unlike your latte, it’s full of real pumpkin flavor that is as creamy and gently sweet as can be. The poblano pepper and goat cheese add more layers that keep it from being one-note, and warm spices sneak in too. Get the Pumpkin Poblano Pasta with Shrimp and Baby Bok Choy recipe.
Hazelnuts and sage make for a pretty magical duo: The toasted nuts bring an earthy richness to this dish while the herbs add fragrant overtones, creating a sophisticated marriage of flavors and textures—and that’s before you even get to the tangy, silky crème fraîche sauce and naturally sweet pumpkin pasta. Get our Pumpkin Gnocchi with Sage Crème Fraîche Sauce recipe.
Balsamic vinegar and mushrooms make for a moody, intense sauce that takes things over to the dark side. Pair it with a strong-willed red wine for maximum effect. Get the Balsamic Mushroom Pasta recipe.
Hankering for a more traditional mushroom cream sauce? This one is quick to make from scratch and clings to every strand of spaghetti like a satin robe. Get our Creamy Chicken and Mushroom Spaghetti recipe.
Related Reading: 15 Creamy Mushroom Recipes That Don’t Require a Can Opener
This may be stretching the definition of a sauce if the word makes you picture something that drips and flows from a spoon, but the combo of sweet Italian sausage, pleasantly bitter broccoli rabe, fragrant garlic, and spicy red pepper flakes is cooked in just enough olive oil to form a slick coating that transforms into a sauce with the addition of pasta cooking water and grated cheese. Don’t skip the nutty toasted breadcrumbs on top. Get our Orecchiette with Sausage and Broccoli Rabe recipe.
This shocking pink sauce is made from pureed roasted beets with garlic, red wine vinegar, and crème fraîche to keep it from being too sweet—plus hidden white beans for extra body and nutritional benefits. Toasted walnuts, feta, and dill fronds top it off, but try it with blue cheese if you have it. Get the Creamy Beet Linguine with Walnuts and Feta recipe.
This classic Italian pasta preparation is best with a delicate, fresh pasta that complements the tender cubes of butternut squash and the cream sauce. The crushed amaretti cookies may sound like a random garnish, but they’re actually traditional (and tasty). Get the Butternut Squash Pappardelle recipe.
We probably don’t need to remind you that mac ‘n’ cheese is the non-tomato based pasta dish par excellence. But in case you forgot, well, it’s time to reacquaint yourself with the gooiest, cheesiest, and rib-sticking-est recipe of them all. Get our Classic Macaroni and Cheese recipe. (And don’t miss these 7 Rules for Making Perfect Mac and Cheese.)
Miki Kawasaki wrote the original version of this story in 2015. It has been updated with additional images, links, and text.