Why It Works
- Cherry tomatoes are extra sweet and have plenty of pectin, making them great for a fast and easy sauce.
- The sauce cooks down in the same amount of time it takes to boil pasta, for a quick and easy fresh meal.
There's a basic tomato rule of thumb when you're shopping at the supermarket: The smaller the tomato, the better, especially during the off-season.
Larger tomatoes are picked while still green; if they were allowed to ripen on the vine (as all tomatoes would be in an ideal world), they'd bruise themselves under their own weight during shipping. Cherry tomatoes, on the other hand, are picked when much closer to fully ripe. Their small size means that even when ripe, they're tougher.*
*That's the square-cube law in action! Given the same density, smaller objects will be tougher for their size than larger objects, because as an object grows, its mass increases geometrically faster than its footprint. It's what makes Ant-Man a force to be reckoned with, and a 35-foot Twinkie physically impossible. Or something.
Of course, it also helps that many cherry tomato varieties are bred to be both sweeter and higher in pectin than larger, beefsteak tomatoes.
All of these factors—better flavor, more sweetness, and high pectin content—mean that cherry tomatoes are fantastic for making a rich, thick, flavorful sauce. Even better: It takes only four ingredients and about 10 minutes, start to finish—less time than it takes to cook the pasta you're gonna serve it with.
I start by sautéing a few cloves of sliced garlic in plenty of extra-virgin olive oil over moderate heat in a skillet. The idea here is to infuse the oil with flavor, not to brown the garlic. You can use minced garlic if you prefer, but I like the simplicity of slicing.
Once the oil is fragrant and the garlic has softened, I add some cherry tomatoes. About a pint for every two servings is the right amount. Now the hard part: Stir the tomatoes until they turn into sauce. It's really that easy.
As the tomatoes heat up, they start to steam from the inside, eventually bursting their skins and releasing their juices. Those pectin- and sugar-rich juices eventually emulsify with the olive oil, turning into a creamy sauce in a matter of minutes. A little salt and pepper and a big handful of chopped herbs (basil, parsley, thyme, or a mix) are nice additions.
You can cool the sauce and keep it in the fridge until you're ready to use it, but why wait?
While those tomatoes are cooking, I cook some pasta in a separate pot. And remember: There's no need to use a huge amount of water. Using just enough water to cover the pasta will give you identical results, and it has the advantage of heating up much faster and producing starchier pasta water, for better-textured sauce.
Once the pasta is just shy of al dente, I add it to the sauce, bringing it to a hard simmer to finish cooking. As I toss it all together, I add a big splash of starchy pasta water from time to time to maintain a nice, creamy consistency in the sauce. Just before serving, I stir in some finely grated Parmesan cheese, which adds to that creaminess.
Four ingredients for the sauce; six ingredients total including the pasta and cheese. Fine, eight, if you want to count the salt and pepper.
The beauty of this sauce is that it's terrific with perfect, in-season cherry tomatoes, but it's also great with the supermarket cherry or grape tomatoes you can get any time of year. There are some days when I feel like simmering a slow-cooked tomato sauce all day long, but there are other days when I just want to make something fresh and tasty, fast.
It's good to know that on those time-strapped days, I'll never have to compromise on flavor and freshness.
Quick and Easy Pasta With Cherry Tomato Sauce
1 pound (450g) dry pasta
4 medium cloves garlic, thinly sliced
6 tablespoons (90ml) extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 1/2 pounds cherry tomatoes (about 2 pints; 675g)
1 ounce fresh basil leaves, roughly chopped (about 1 cup; 30g)
Freshly ground black pepper
Parmesan cheese, for serving
Place pasta in a large skillet or sauté pan and cover with water and a big pinch of salt. Bring to a boil over high heat, stirring occasionally. Boil until just shy of al dente, about 1 minute less than the package instructions recommend.
Meanwhile, heat garlic and 4 tablespoons (60ml) olive oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium heat, stirring frequently, until garlic is softened but not browned, about 3 minutes. Add tomatoes and cook, stirring, until tomatoes begin to burst, about 10 minutes. You can help them along by pressing on them with the back of a wooden spoon as they soften.
Continue to cook until sauce is rich and creamy, about 5 minutes longer. Stir in basil and season to taste with salt and pepper.
When pasta is cooked, drain, reserving 1 cup (240ml) pasta water. Add pasta to sauce and increase heat to medium-high. Cook, stirring and tossing constantly and adding reserved pasta water as necessary to adjust consistency to a nice, creamy flow. Remove from heat, stir in remaining 2 tablespoons (30ml) olive oil, and grate in a generous shower of Parmesan cheese. Serve immediately, passing extra Parmesan at the table.
You can substitute the cherry tomatoes with in-season or supermarket grape tomatoes.
|Nutrition Facts (per serving)|
|Servings: 4 to 6|
|Amount per serving|
|% Daily Value*|
|Total Fat 15g||20%|
|Saturated Fat 2g||12%|
|Total Carbohydrate 62g||22%|
|Dietary Fiber 4g||14%|
|Total Sugars 5g|
|Vitamin C 17mg||85%|
|*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.|