Pasta with cherry tomato sauce

Continuing on the tomato theme, I figured it’s time to blog about my latest favorite pasta dish. It’s dead easy, lightning-fast, and more delicious than it has any right to be. I’ve been making it at least once a week since tomatoes showed up at the farmer’s market, and feeding it to anyone and everyone who shows up at my house.

This is the simplest of sauces–just cherry tomatoes, olive oil, and seasonings. Using cherry tomatoes means you can make a delicious fresh tomato sauce at almost any time of the year. Because they’re allowed to ripen further before shipping, they’re sweeter and less mealy than any other tomato you can find at the supermarket. They’re also higher in pectin, making for an especially luxurious sauce texture. And, of course, during tomato season, this recipe goes from “darn good for five ingredients” to “totally sublime” if you use really good tomatoes. (I used golden tomatoes for the pictured batch of pasta, hence the adorable yellow hue.)

As always, the beauty of a recipe this simple is that it’s a perfect jumping-off point for all kinds of variations. I’ve certainly never made it the same way twice. During tomato season I’ll sometimes use chopped heirloom tomatoes, which make for a lighter and gauzier sauce. If I don’t have basil around, I’ll swap in fresh parsley or mint, or chopped scallion tops, or both. I’ll bump up the chile flakes for an arrabiata-ish kick, or leave them out altogether. I’ve added fennel seeds, celery salt, dried chives; all of these are delicious, but none of them are necessary.

In terms of adding protein, I love serving this with eggs–a classic and wonderful partner with tomatoes. If I’m feeling fancy, I’ll poach or soft-boil the eggs and plop a couple gooey-yolked beauties on top of each plate of pasta. For a quicker and easier option, I’ll hard-boil a bunch of eggs in the pressure cooker and serve them alongside. Cheese is also, obviously, great; Parmesan is a no-brainer, but I’ve also used goat cheese, dolloped onto each portion and swirled in for a creamy-tangy finish. Again, none of this is obligatory–just a nice extra flourish.

cherry tomato pasta

Pasta with Cherry Tomato Sauce (serves 4-6)

Adapted from Serious Eats

1/4 cup olive oil or garlic-infused oil

1 1/2 lb (about 2 pints) cherry tomatoes

1/4 tsp crushed red chile flakes, or to taste

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

1 lb dry pasta (any shape you like; gluten-free if needed)

1 cup chopped fresh basil leaves

Extra virgin olive oil for drizzling

Grated Parmesan cheese for serving (optional)

Put a pot of water on to boil for the pasta. In a large skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Add tomatoes, chile flakes, salt, and pepper, and cook until the tomatoes start to burst; you can help them along by squishing them against the bottom of the pan (my favorite part). Continue cooking for about 5 minutes, until the tomatoes have broken down and the sauce is thick and creamy.

Meanwhile, cook the pasta 1 minute less than the package directions, or until it’s just a little firmer than al dente. Ladle off 1 cup of the cooking water, then drain the pasta and add to the skillet with the sauce. Add about half of the pasta water and cook, stirring, until the pasta is fully cooked and the sauce has thickened to coat the noodles. If the pan looks like it’s drying out before the pasta is done, add a splash of pasta water.

When the pasta is ready, stir in basil, then remove from the heat. Serve immediately with olive oil for drizzling over each plate, and lots of grated Parm if desired.

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