Burst Cherry Tomato Pasta

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.)
Ingredients

 

Ingredients

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

Smashed garlic
Grated Parmigiano

Directions

1. Heat ½ cup oil and garlic in a large heavy pot over low.

Garlic and oil

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.

Garlic after 2 minutes
Garlic after 5 minutes

3. Increase heat to medium and add tomatoes, red pepper flakes, basil sprigs, and 1½ tsp. salt.

Tomatoes, basil, red-pepper flakes, basil sprigs

4. Cook, stirring to coat, until tomatoes begin to burst, about 4 minutes.

Tomatoes about to burst

5. Smash some but not all of the tomatoes with the back of a wooden spoon to help create a sauce.

Smashing some of the tomatoes

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.

Smashed
Finished cooking

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.

Tossed with the sauce

10. Remove from heat and stir in 1 oz. Parmesan.

Adding the cheese
Tossed with the cheese

11. Divide pasta among heated pasta bowls. Top with more Parmesan and ½ cup basil leaves. If you like, drizzle with oil.

Plated with basil leaves

Wine Pairing: Cerasuola d’Abruzzo, Provençal Rosé, Pinot Grigio

9 thoughts on “Burst Cherry Tomato Pasta

  1. We made this recipe last night (using gnocchi instead of the fusilli), and wow, total home run! Spectacular sauce that complimented the gnocchi perfectly. Oh and we also used the “southern Italian” suggestion of extra crushed red pepper and agree that made it even better…..

  2. Hi, Roland! Our friends, Tricia and Eric, introduced us to your blog. Your meals look amazing, and we’ve been enjoying the stories within each post too! Looking forward to following you and trying out some of your recipes soon!

  3. Ingredients call for 1/4 cup oil. Directions say to sauté garlic in 1/2 cup oil. We opted for a healthy third of a cup. Delicious! Made with sun gold tomatoes that were good, but wouldn’t have lasted the night. Thanks for the recipe.

    1. Thanks for pointing out the error; the ingredients should have listed the 1/2-cup of olive oil. Your 1/3 cup sounds indeed like a healthy compromise. So glad that you enjoyed it.

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