A simmering pot of thick, hearty tomato sauce is a true glory of cold-weather cooking. But fresh tomatoes are best in the summer, when they bulge from their vines under the hot August sun into colorful, juicy rounds that dominate farmer’s markets and grocery stores until autumn.
A quick sauce made from fresh tomatoes is one of the sweetest ways to celebrate the season.
To make it, go outside and gather a few handfuls of cherry tomatoes, whole tomatoes, whatever tomatoes you (or your neighbor, or the grocery store) have. Cut them into even, bite-sized pieces. I like using sweet cherry tomatoes cut in half. Sauté a few cloves of garlic and a couple anchovy filets (optional, but promise me you’ll try them?) in shimmering olive oil, then add the tomatoes. Let the tomatoes bask in the pungent oil until their skins wrinkle and their juices condense. Don’t move them around too much, let them sweat blissfully until their edges start to char.
Then season the finished sauce (yupp, it’s already finished) with plenty of salt, pepper, and a pinch of red pepper flakes. Toss the sauce with pasta and you will have a perfectly lovely summer meal. So feel free to stop here, or, keep reading.
I like to add spoonfuls of creamy ricotta on top to smooth out the intensity of the sweet, salty tomato sauce (aren’t you glad you kept reading?). The dollops of milky, fresh cheese make the dish a bit more special without any additional effort. Pillowy puffs of white crown a deep red mountain of pasta, and you’re left with a simple summer dinner that looks like a masterpiece.
As a final touch, I garnish the dish with fresh basil, because that’s what I have in my garden, but you can also use mint or oregano. Any fresh herb will invigorate the rich, cooked flavor of the tomatoes. Make sure to tear (and not cut) the basil leaves so they don’t turn brown. Basil is tender and delicious but demands delicate care.
This dish is meant as an homage to the gifts of the season, but the fact that you enhance the tomato’s flavor with anchovy, garlic, and heat means that the recipe can work with out-of-season tomatoes any time of year. If this fresh sauce outshines your favorite wintery tomato sauce, you can really make it at any time. And I wouldn’t blame you.
- ½ pound dried pasta such as farfalle or penne
- Kosher salt as needed
- 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 4 anchovy fillets chopped, about 1 tablespoon (optional)
- 2 cloves garlic sliced
- 3 cups cherry or grape tomatoes halved
- Freshly cracked black pepper as needed
- 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- ricotta cheese as needed
- torn basil or mint leaves as needed
Cook the pasta in a large pot of well-salted water 2 minutes less than package directions. Drain and reserve 1 cup cooking liquid.
Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium-low heat. Add garlic cloves and anchovies and cook until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add tomatoes and cook, undisturbed, until the tomatoes start to burst and char slightly, about 8 minutes. Season with salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes.
Add pasta to the pan and finish cooking in the fresh tomato sauce, tossing lightly for about 2 minutes. Transfer pasta to a serving bowl and dot with spoonfuls of ricotta. Sprinkle with a few torn basil or mint leaves.
Make this sauce dairy-free by using Minimalist Baker’s Whipped Almond Ricotta. Mom is lactose intolerant so I always use this substitute, it’s delicious!
For a heartier meal, I would suggest cooking up some turkey or beef meatballs on the side. I love Melissa Clark’s recipe.
If you’d like a glass of wine, I would suggest Avignonesi Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. This medium-bodied, juicy wine was made for a red sauce pasta pairing.