Spaghetti Alla Portofino

Summer time and the living is easy. We try to spend as much time outdoors enjoying the warmth of the sunshine and the cooling waters of a pool, lake or the ocean.  Meals tend to be simple, often made with a bounty fresh produce from the garden. The fresh produce may be from your own garden or purchased from your local farm stand or farmers market.  Spaghetti alla Portofino takes advantage of two of summers best ingredients…tomatoes and basil.

Spaghetti alla Portofino

My version of this pasta dish is a twist on two classic Italian favorites. The ever popular caprese salad features slices of  mozzarella, the freshest of tomatoes and basil. Pesto from the Ligurian section of Italy is made with basil, garlic, pine nuts, olive oil and grated cheese.

The Beautiful Portofino Harbor

Inspiration for this dish came from the incredibly beautiful seaside town of Portofino. During our trip to Italy last fall, we had lunch at the Ristorante Puny that sits  at the waters’ edge at the Portofino harbor. When ordering,  our waiter suggested that we share a platter of pappardelle alla Portofino as our pasta course. The sauce is a blend of tomatoes with pesto.

 Spaghetti Alla Portofino

  • 1/2 lb. thick spaghetti
  • 3 or 4 Tbsp. pine nuts, toasted golden
  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1/4 c. olive oil plus extra to drizzle
  • 1 or 2 large cloves of garlic, chopped
  • a dozen or more cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
  • 1/4 c. dry white wine
  • 1/4 c. chopped fresh basil, plus extra for garnish
  • 4 – 6 small fresh mozzarella balls cut into quarters
  • 3 Tbsp. grated Asiago or Parmesan cheese
  • salt and pepper to taste

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add pasta and cook until al dente.

While waiting for the water to boil, place 2 Tbsp. oil, toasted pine nuts and chopped garlic in a food processor and process to combine. Heat the 1/4 c. of olive oil in a large skillet, add the garlic and nut mixture and bring to a simmer. When the garlic is soft and just starting to golden, add the wine. Simmer for a few minutes and then add the tomatoes. Simmer until the tomatoes are soft but still have their shape.

When pasta is cooked, drain but reserve one cup of the pasta water. Add the pasta to the sauce in the skillet and toss to combine. Add as much of the reserved pasta water as needed for a sauce like consistency and cook for a minute or two. Add the mozzarella, grated cheese,salt and pepper to taste. Toss to combine.  Plate the pasta, drizzle with olive oil and garnish with chopped basil. Serve with additional grated cheese at the table.


This simple and easy to prepare dish is perfect for those days when the weather is not nice enough to be cooking outside on the grill…on a day the weather may have turned a little cool or drizzly. Or perhaps you are just craving a wonderful dish that doesn’t include meat. When you have fresh tomatoes and basil, do as the Italians and prepare a quick and delicious bowl of pasta.

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168 thoughts on “Spaghetti Alla Portofino

    1. Hi Angie, I hope you get a chance to make the dish… perhaps latter in the day as two lunches might be a little much. LOL. Thanks for your compliment.

  1. It’s lovely in summer taking things a little more easy and a lot more low-key and having beautiful food like this that’s so quick and easy to prepare yet full of flavour. Enjoy the summer days – very envious down here! xx

    1. Hi Charlie, Summer does lead to relaxing times and simple food. With our opposite seasons, I know that you are missing summer. The dish is full of flavor. Since cherry tomatoes and basil can usually be found year round, perhaps you can prepare this meal and think of warmer days.

  2. Simplicity is always the best Karen – lovely recipe!
    Wish we were enjoying a bit of summer weather – we have a cold front that seems to be more fearce than usual at the moment.
    🙂 Mandy

    1. Thank you Mandy, for your nice compliment. Sorry that you have been having nasty winter weather. Wish I could send summer sun your way.

    1. Thank you Marie, for your nice comment. This dish would be very good topped with shrimp. We must keep our husbands happy after all.

  3. I have the pesto ready! We are still waiting on tomatoes around here. Another week is what I’ve heard. There are a number of recipes marked to do when the tomatoes arrive and I’m adding your’s to the pile.


    1. Hi Polkadot, Happy to hear that you like the recipe. I do love the dishes that we have at the cottage…they look like summer to me. Thank you for your nice compliment.

  4. This is a great pasta, Karen, and its beauty lies in its simplicity. It, also, helps prove the point that there is no wrong way to add tomatoes to pasta. You can make a pasta with tomatoes that are raw from the vine, or, simmered for hours, and all points in-between. And lest there be any doubt, I love them all! My recipe this week will use tomatoes that are quickly cooked, adding still more proof about the versatility of these red beauties.

    1. I agree with you John, about so many different ways to use tomatoes when preparing sauces. The length of time any vegetable is cooked definitely effects the flavor. When my heirloom cherry tomatoes are ripe, I’ll be adding them raw to hot pasta and just let the heat of the pasta barely warm them. At the end of the tomato season, I will be freezing long simmered tomato sauce. Thank you for your nice compliment and I’ll be looking forward to your recipe.

  5. Other than the cherry tomatoes, this dish looks right up my alley. I’d love to have a big bowl washed down with a nice glass of wine while looking out over the water with you in Portofino.

    1. Hi Boleyn, Thank you for your comment. Of course you can leave out the tomatoes…the dish just won’t be alla Portofino. It would be fun to share a glass of wine with you in Portofino.

      1. Thank you for the compliment. I guess I could just give my tomatoes away to my dining companion and gobble down the rest. 🙂

      2. Perfect idea! Cherry tomatoes that are barely cooked like this would be gratefully appreciated by your dining companion. Better yet, remove the tomatoes from the sauce and reserve. Then toss your pasta in. When plating just top your companion’s dish with the tomatoes and leave yours plain.

    1. Hi Mad Dog, I’m glad that you like the looks of this recipe…thank you. The plates come from your side of the pond, they are Villery and Boch.

  6. What a great summer meal. Too funny though, we made something similar last night with our tomatoes from the garden. It’s just such a perfect pairing. We’re always behind, or ahead, so it won’t be up for a week! Anyway, just beautiful!

      1. Seafood will probably be my next Italian dish if you want to post first. LOL. You are always so nice with your comments about my Italian cooking. Thank you!

  7. Karen I am definitely making this when the tomatoes from my garden ripen. I dream of going to Portofino one day so I am thrilled that you’ve recreated a recipe to bring a taste of this region to us. Have you also been to the Cinque Terra? I remember Ligurian pesto there — it was an all time favorite destination.

    1. Hi Barb, I’m happy that you like the recipe. It will be perfect when your tomatoes ripen. Yes, I have been to Cinque Terra but did not get to enjoy it the way most visitors do. I had broken my foot on the second day of our trip to Italy that year. A cast and crutches isn’t conducive to lots of sightseeing. I did have the pesto there and it was wonderful.

  8. Another great use for my tomato abundance. In addition my basil is doing very well……at least before I left on my last work trip. I will see tonight. Thanks for a great summer recipe. Now, the beverage selection…beer of some sort. Peroni is a little too light for me.

    1. Hi Bishop, Thank you for your nice comment. I hope you will enjoy the recipe. You certainly have had a bumper crop of tomatoes this year. My basil was off to a really slow start because of all the rain we had. Now that we have had sunshine the plants are doing good.

    1. Hi Solitary, Thank you for stopping by and your nice compliment. This is a wonderful summer meal. We do love our summers in Maine but also love our travels to Europe and the inspirations I get for many of the meals I prepare.

      1. I think everyone in Maine is enjoying as much lobster as they can eat…would you believe that it is selling for $3.49 a pound right now.

      2. Now, now, wipe away those tears. I think there might be a run on plane tickets to Maine if everyone knew that lobster was cheaper than ground beef at the present time.

    1. Thank you Reem for your lovely compliment. I’m glad you enjoyed the recipe and photos. We enjoy summer’s sun as much as we can as our season is so short. Some of summers best foods are made with just a few fresh ingredients.

    1. Thank you GGG, for your nice compliment. Portofino is such a beautiful little town…it is hard not to get good photos. I’m glad you like the recipe.

    1. Thank you Larry, I’m glad you like the looks of this dish. I’m sure you have a bumper crop of basil and tomatoes right now from your garden.

    1. Hi Carol, Thank you for your lovely compliment. I see no reason why you shouldn’t take the meal over the top. Keep it Italian and make steak florentine.

    1. Hi Laura, Thank you for your nice compliment. I think this simple pasta is good. The dishes are pretty, aren’t they. I think they are perfect for our summer cottage…especially the salad and dessert plates with the fruit and the lemons.

  9. simple summer dishes are my favourites Karen. and as you say no matter what the weather is doing this pasta dish works!

    1. Hi Claire, Simple dishes with goodies from our gardens are so good. This simple dish has lots of flavor. Thank you for your nice comment.

  10. Yum! Plenty of basil out the back door right now, and with this heat, the tomatoes are probably right around the corner!

    1. Hi T.W., Thank you for your comment. The weather this year is definitely changing when the tomatoes are ripening. My basil is just starting to flourish now that the rain has stopped and the weather is warming. I think that I’m going to have a very poor crop of tomatoes this year…too cool and too wet.

  11. Is love this dish, Karen and am so envious that you have this sort of produce on hand! Our market says they’ve brought in”local” veggies but that would be impossible until later in the summer:P I can just taste these flavors!

    1. Hi Smidge, Thank you for your comment…I’m glad you like this dish. I know what you mean about markets selling “local” veggies…it is still a little early for some of the produce up north. Maine has one of the largest hydroponic tomato growers in the country and has early tomatoes. I have two ripe tomatoes on my plants now but most are several weeks away from ripening. My basil has just started to take off and jalapeños are doing nicely.

    1. Hi Marina, I’m glad that you like my spaghetti dish, it really has all the flavors of sumer. I appreciate your nice compliment. I’m sure that your homemade pasta is going to be delicious.

  12. I would definitely love to channel Italy with this dish. I loved the image by the Portofino Harbour and can imagine many places just tucked behind serving a variety of great foods & wine as you look to the harbour.

    1. Hi Alli, Thank you for your lovely comment. Portofino is a wonderful little town to explore all of it’s back streets and marvel at the yachts moored in the harbor.

      1. They’ve just begun a week in Italy on Australia’s Masterchef so I look forward to seeing some more of the sights and food on the Telly. One of the things I love most with food is the ability to travel and recreate those memories for the palette.

    1. Hi Chunklet, Cherry tomatoes are small but packed with flavor and usually available throughout the year. Thank you for your comment.

  13. Stunning photo from Italy. Italy just inspires people to cook, maybe it is the place, the people the great ingredients. Or maybe all the above. I love the simplicity of this dish and it does give you more time outside to enjoy the fun parts of summer. Take Care, BAM

    1. Thank you Bam, for your lovely compliment. I think simplicity and fresh ingredients are two of the reasons we enjoy Italian food.

    1. Hi Brydie, My husband and I look forward to the first summer tomatoes and fresh corn each year…truly part of rituals of summer.

    1. Hi Maureen, Thank you for your compliment…I’m glad you like the recipe. It is nice that there are products that are available to us year round now. It certainly makes for good cooking.

  14. Portofino is one of my favourite towns too. I have a similar photo to be posted in the next couple of weeks but it was taken from a little further around the bay! We also ate at Ristorante Puny and had a fabulous lunch…How could you not with that view. I often get lazy in summer and just add halved cherrry tomatoes and basil to the cooked pasta- sometimes with mozzarella, sometimes not but I will try cooking them as you suggest and pretend I am back in Portofino!

    1. Hi Jenny, Portofino is a wondrous little place to visit. Glad you enjoyed it as much as we did…even eating at the same restaurant. We enjoyed exploring all its back streets all the way to its heights where there are splendid views. I think Ristorante Puny is the best restaurant both food wise and view wise. Hope you enjoy the recipe.

  15. This is absolutely the perfect dish for dinner in our warm weather we’ve been experiencing lately. You’ve plated it beautifully and the photo of Portofino Harbor made me wish I was there this very minute sipping a glass of wine and enjoying your dish with you.

    1. Hi Sam, I think it would be lovely to share a glass of wine and a dish of pasta with your in Portofino. We could talk about all our travels over a delicious meal. Stay cool.

    1. Hi Mary, Thank you for your nice compliment. I agree about roasting vegetables but in the summer I usually grill them so as not to heat up the kitchen.

  16. There is a wonderful song, about Portofino… Thank you dear Karen, your post almost fascinated me and took me a voyage in the mind… Love, nia

    1. Hi Nia, Thank you for your lovely compliment. I’m glad you enjoyed the post. I hadn’t heard the sound before…thank you for letting me know about it.

    1. Hi Sawsan, I’m glad that you like the recipe. I think it has delicious taste for being such a simple recipes with few ingredients.

    1. Thank you Tanya, for your nice compliment. Easy recipe for you with all your tomatoes. I do hope that someday you get to visit Portofino. We stayed in Santa Margherita and Portofino was just a very short drive around the point. A lovely place to spend the afternoon.

    1. Thank you France, for your nice compliment. I hope you get a chance to travel to Italy sometime in your future. It is a beautiful country and has such wonderful history to explore.

  17. What a perfect summer pasta! So beautiful, easy and delicious! Love the combination of flavors and textures, especially that little crunch of the pine nuts! Lovely recipe!

    1. Hi MJ, I’m so glad that you like this recipe. It really is so easy to prepare and has a delicious flavor from the tomatoes and fresh basil. You are right…the pine nuts do add a nice texture to the dish. Thank you so much for your nice compliment.

  18. Wouldn’t this be great with John’s homemade mozzarella? (No, I haven’t made it yet, but fresh mozzarella is something I don’t like to buy — too often disappointing.

    1. Hi Sharyn, Thank you for your comment. For the small amount of mozzarella that is chopped for this recipe, I think that the fresh store bought little balls of cheese will be fine. Let me know when you make the recipe that John posted…I’m sure it will be delicious.

    1. Thank you Razel, for the nice compliment. I’m glad that you like the recipe…simple ingredients that are usually available to most of us.

  19. My grape tomatoes are still green, but the vines are loaded! I just hate to ever waste a one, so I’m glad to have such a delicious recipe. I think I could eat this daily. It has all the right components…quality ingredients, inexpensive, and quick! 🙂 Debra

    1. Hi Debra, The funny thing with gardeners…it is usually feast or famine when it comes to tomatoes. We wait anxiously for the first ripe tomato then all of the sudden each plant is loaded with ripe ones. I’m glad you like the recipe.

    1. Hi Ambrosiana, This is a perfect dish for summer when tomatoes are at their best. If we were dining together, we would have to have a huge platter for our husbands to enjoy.

    1. Hi Natalia, I’m glad you like the recipe. This has been such a crazy year for our garden. I think our crop of tomatoes is going to be very small because the cool, wet weather has keep the blossoms from setting. Any blossoms now that turn into tomatoes will have a hard time ripening before our early frosts.

      1. Each year seems to be a learning experience. So much depends on weather, bugs and critters, etc. I hope you have good luck with your garden.

  20. You are so right: tomatoes and basil are one of the biggest culinary pleasures of summertime. Your pasta looks gorgeous: simple, but full of sunny flavours of Italy.

    1. Hi Sissi, I always am anxious for tomatoes, basil and corn each summer. Thank you for your compliment…I’m glad you like the pasta.

  21. Wait a minute – did you say $3.49/lb for the lobster? Scrreeeech…ready to jump on 495 & on up to the Maine Turnpike this minute.
    The pasta looks amazing – you always make everything look so sumptuous.
    Wonderful photo of Portofino Harbor also.

    1. Hi Diane, Thank you so much for your lovely compliment. The pasta is as good as it looks. Yes, lobster for under $4.00 a pound…cheaper than ground beef.

  22. Hi Karen, what a beautiful place that harbour looks to be… what it must be like to live in one of those little apartments on the water-front!

    Thanks for sharing your beautiful dish… I do so love the taste of fresh, ripe summer tomatoes with warm basil, torn fresh from the plant with paste… a perfect summer combination 🙂

    1. Thank you Charles, for your nice compliment. Fresh basil just pick from a plant not only makes a dish delicious but perfumes your fingers with a lovely fragrance. The harbor of Portofino is everything you could imagine. Wonderful colored historic buildings, wonderful shops and restaurants and a harbor filled with yachts. I think we all can dream about a little apartment…oh, if only the dreams would come true.

  23. What a beautiful plate of pasta! I just wanted to dive right in. Pasta with meat sauces is great in winter weather, but this time of year your recipe is exactly what’s called for! Pasta, plus the best of fresh from the garden – wonderful!

    1. Hi Marlene, Thank you for your nice compliment. I’m glad that you like this summer pasta recipe. Pasta is perfect all throughout the year…it is the sauces that we tend to change with the season.

    1. Hi Prairie Wisdom, Basil is such a great herb and so easy to grow. I hope you have good look with your herb garden and enjoy this dish. Thank you for your nice comment.

  24. One look at this made me want to toss my GF regime and take the pain…. it looks so delicious, i admit when i saw this in my reader, i couldn’t bring myself to look again! it’s just too tempting. 😉

    1. Hi Linda, I’m glad that you like the looks of this pasta dish. Sorry that i tempted you, perhaps you could use a gluten free pasta.

      1. karen, i could and would BUT have you ever tasted GF pasta? almost 50% of italians are celiac so they made good GF pasta from corn flour and rice flour but nothing…NOthing…is like real pasta…one of the things i most miss. 😉


      2. I’m sorry that you cannot enjoy regular pasta. No…I have never tried any GF products. I guess there really isn’t anything to compare to pasta.

    2. My father in-law is gluten intolerant and we have buckwheat pasta which is a pretty good substitute. It doesn’t seem to go as mushy as rice or corn pasta and keeps that really good al dente bite that wheat pasta has.

  25. Ciao Karen! I made this recipe tonight with a couple of compromises as i did not have spaghetti noodles and mozza balls, and it was still Fantastic with a different noodle and cubed mo! I also served it with grilled Pesto marinated Portobello mushrooms. YUM!
    Thanks for the great recipe! Trina

    1. Hi Trina, Thank you so much for taking the time to let me know that you tried the recipe and enjoyed it. Your mushrooms sound like they were very good.

  26. I saw this come through on email and couldn’t wait to read this post! What a fresh and delicious recipe Karen. Perfect for any season but love it for a summer meal.

    1. Hi Karista, This is a lovely recipe for summer when vine ripe tomatoes and basil are in abundance. Thank you for your nice comment.

  27. THis goes on the menu this coming week Karen, and pinned in the meantime. Simple wonderful ingredients like these combine to make the most satisfying delicious meals! (And your photo of Portofino, ohhh (sigh) glorious! I think we need to go there. Can I tell my husband it was your idea?)

    1. Hi Spree, Thank you for the pin. I think you will enjoy the spaghetti when you make it. I will be more than happy to tell your husband that I think you need to go to Portofino. It truly is a special place to visit.

  28. Karen, love everything about this post!!! Time soon for me to cook for myself again .. this is a dish for that lonely dinner. Good times are soon over.

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