Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil for the pasta.
Heat a large rimmed skillet or saucepan over medium heat. Once hot, add olive oil, minced garlic, and crushed red pepper flake (for milder spice, start with the lesser quantity — for a serious kick, go with the full amount!). Cook for 1 minute, stirring constantly, and watching carefully not to let it burn.
Add tomato paste and stir into the garlic and red pepper flake (a spoon or rubber spatula works best). Cook until fragrant and the tomato paste has darkened slightly — ~2-3 minutes.
Add crushed tomatoes, salt, and maple syrup and stir. Bring to a very low simmer. Cook, covered, for 20-30 minutes, or until the sauce has reduced slightly and the flavors are deepened.
Taste and adjust flavor as needed, adding more salt to taste, red pepper flake for heat, or maple syrup for sweetness / to balance the spice. A bit more tomato paste can be added for depth of flavor, but a little goes a long way. And if the flavors aren’t quite developed, simmer for just a bit longer (covered) to allow the flavors to deepen.
Meanwhile, when the water in the pot boils, add the pasta and stir to prevent clumps. Cook to al dente according to the package instructions. Reserve 1/2 cup of pasta water then drain the pasta.
Add the cooked pasta to the sauce and stir to coat. If your sauce looks too thick, add pasta water 2 tablespoons at a time until you have a silky sauce that clings to the noodles. You likely won’t need all of the reserved pasta water.
Serve as is or garnished with vegan parmesan cheese and fresh basil. Extra red pepper flakes on top add additional heat and a pop of color.
Store leftovers covered in the refrigerator up to 2-3 days, though best when fresh. Sauce is freezer friendly (when stored separate from the pasta) for up to 2 months. Reheat pasta on the stovetop, adding a bit of water to thin as needed.
*Spice-sensitive folks should start with 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes. *High-quality tomato paste is key! We recommend double-concentrated. *Nutrition information is a rough estimate calculated with 10 ounces rice-based gluten-free penne, the lesser amounts where ranges are provided, 1/4 tsp of the salt in the pasta water (because the full tablespoon isn’t absorbed into the pasta), and without optional ingredients.