Summer’s finally here and, at least in California, we already have some delicious tomatoes, specifically those of the cherry variety. Thanks to the kindness of our neighbors brave enough to venture out to our local farmers market, we were able to obtain a nice supply. More often than not, we enjoy these tomatoes raw, perhaps sprinkled with a little salt, drizzled with olive oil, and served along side slices of fresh mozzarella. Last night, however, I decided to so something a little different.
I wanted to see how these tomatoes would taste cooked with a minimal amount of ingredients. Not too many of my cookbooks had recipes that highlighted these gems, so I decided to go online. Most of the recipe I found used the tomatoes in a salad or roasted with poultry or as one among many ingredients in a sauce. But then I came across one I had seen a few years ago in Bon Appetit: “Burst Cherry Tomato Pasta.” They were the stars, the focus of the dish. Cooked only for about 20 minutes, until they started to burst, along with some smashed garlic, cloves, fresh basil, and red-pepper flakes, they yielded one of the best summer-time pasta dishes I’ve ever had.
The relatively brief cooking preserved the tomatoes sweetness, which was complemented by the floral notes of fresh basil and the heat from the red-pepper flakes. Smashing a portion of the tomatoes as they cooked made for a velvety sauce with plenty of texture from the tomatoes that remained just on the brink of bursting. When enjoyed with the pasta, those whole tomatoes seemed to explode with flavor on the palate.
One caveat: the quality of this sauce depends on the quality and the ripeness of the tomatoes. I’m sure the supermarket variety would yield a serviceable sauce, but if you’re lucky enough to have access to a farmers market or a green-thumbed neighbor, go for locally grown tomatoes.
As I was cooking for two, I pretty much halved the recipe. My chief deviation from it, however, was choosing to reduce the flame from medium to low for the final 10 to 12 minutes of cooking. I thought the higher flame would result in an overly thick sauce. I also skipped the final drizzle of oil at serving since I didn’t think the pasta needed it. Finally, I must confess that the southern Italian in me made me add just little extra crushed red pepper to the sauce.
Burst Cherry Tomato Pasta (adapted from the recipe in the August 2018 issue of Bon Appetit magazine, reprinted on their website.)
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
3 large garlic cloves, smashed
1 pound cherry or grape tomatoes
¾ tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
2 large sprigs basil, plus 1 cup basil leaves, torn if large
¾ tsp. kosher salt, plus more
6 oz. short fusilli or other tube pasta
1 oz. finely grated Parmesan (about ⅓ cup), plus more for serving
1. Heat ½ cup oil and garlic in a large heavy pot over low.
2. Cook, stirring, until softened and fragrant but not browned, about 2 to 5 minutes depending on the size of your garlic cloves. Try to extract as much flavor form the garlic without browning it.
3. Increase heat to medium and add tomatoes, red pepper flakes, basil sprigs, and 1½ tsp. salt.
4. Cook, stirring to coat, until tomatoes begin to burst, about 4 minutes.
5. Smash some but not all of the tomatoes with the back of a wooden spoon to help create a sauce.
6. Reduce the flame to low and then continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until a chunky, thickened sauce comes together and about half the tomatoes are completely broken down and half remain in tact, 10–12 minutes.
7. Taste and adjust seasoning. Pluck out and discard basil sprigs.
8. Meanwhile, cook pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water, stirring occasionally, until al dente.
9. Drain pasta, add to pot with sauce, and cook over medium heat, stirring, until coated, 1–2 minutes.
10. Remove from heat and stir in 1 oz. Parmesan.
11. Divide pasta among heated pasta bowls. Top with more Parmesan and ½ cup basil leaves. If you like, drizzle with oil.
Wine Pairing: Cerasuola d’Abruzzo, Provençal Rosé, Pinot Grigio