Why It Works
- Sweet and bright cherry tomatoes quickly cook down, and burst into a rich, emulsified fresh-tomato sauce, thanks to their natural pectin content.
- Stirring umami-rich XO into the tomato sauce gives it the savory depth of an all-day ragù, but in a fraction of the time.
It's no secret that we love condiments around these parts, particularly ones that are able to shine on their own but can also play a supporting flavor role when added to a dish. Rich and savory XO sauce is a quintessential example of condiment versatility—it's like a culinary cheat code for flavor, and it's worth having in your fridge at all times.
This quick and easy pasta riffs on Kenji's blistered-cherry-tomato sauce with a half cup of XO stirred into the mix. XO gives the sauce the umami depth of a long-simmered ragù, without sacrificing fresh tomato flavor or hours of your time.
- Kosher salt
- 1 pound (450g) short pasta, such as casarecce or gemelli
- 1/4 cup (60ml) extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 medium shallots (80g), thinly sliced
- 4 medium garlic cloves (20g), thinly sliced
- 1 1/2 pounds cherry tomatoes (about 2 pints; 675g)
- 1/2 cup (140g) XO sauce, store-bought or homemade
- Pinch finely ground dried Thai chilies or red pepper flakes (optional; see note)
- 1/2 ounce fresh basil leaves (1 loosely packed cup; 15g), roughly chopped
- 1/2 ounce fresh mint leaves (1 loosely packed cup; 15g), roughly chopped
In a pot of salted boiling water, cook pasta until just shy of al dente (about 1 minute less than the package directs). Drain pasta, reserving 1 1/2 cups (360ml) cooking water.
Meanwhile, in a large skillet, heat olive oil over medium heat until shimmering. Add shallots, season lightly with salt, and cook, stirring frequently with a wooden spoon, until shallots are softened but not browned, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and continue to cook, stirring frequently, until garlic is softened as well, about 2 minutes longer.
Add cherry tomatoes, shaking skillet to distribute them in an even layer, and cook, stirring and swirling the pan frequently, until tomatoes begin to burst, about 5 minutes. You can coax the tomatoes into bursting by pressing down on them with a wooden spoon, but leave some tomatoes whole for juicy pops of flavor in the finished dish.
Continue to cook and stir tomato mixture until it forms a creamy, emulsified sauce, 3 to 5 minutes longer. Add XO sauce and ground dried chilies (if using), stir to combine, and season to taste with salt.
Add pasta and half of the reserved cooking water (3/4 cup; 180ml) to skillet with cherry tomato sauce. Increase heat to high and cook, swirling and tossing skillet constantly, until pasta is al dente and sauce is thickened and coats noodles, about 1 minute. If the sauce over-reduces (it should pool around the edges of the skillet), add more pasta-cooking water in 1/4-cup increments to loosen it.
Remove from heat, stir in basil and mint, and season to taste with more salt. Serve immediately.
XO sauce packs a healthy amount of spicy background heat on its own, but an extra pinch of ground dried chilies or red pepper flakes will give the sauce more punch. Adjust the heat level of the sauce to your liking. For a milder tomato sauce, you can omit the dried chilies entirely.
Make-Ahead and Storage
This pasta dish comes together really quickly and is best enjoyed immediately.