Tomato season is my favorite time of the year. Specifically because of how much I love making this pasta recipe. Seriously, in the dreariness of winter I daydream about warm, sunny days making and eating this pasta dish (because I’m weird, and my life revolves around food). Not only does it celebrate the natural deliciousness of ripe tomatoes but it’s also super fast to put together, and the rest of the ingredients are stuff I always have in my pantry. This pasta recipe utilizes a combination of blistered, sautéed, and gently warmed tomatoes. The blistered tomatoes, with their caramelized skins, offer a deep, concentrated tomato flavor and their released juices coat the pasta. The sautéed tomatoes retain freshness and acidity while nicely incorporating with the textures of the other ingredients in the dish. Lastly, I like to include just a few barely-cooked, gently warmed tomatoes at the end mostly for aesthetics, because isn’t cross section of a perfectly ripe cherry tomato so gorgeous?
My secret ingredient for this—and any other tomato-based pasta recipe—is fish sauce. I know it’s a bit unconventional and even off-putting to some, but fish sauce is a such a complex flavor that instantly adds a robust umami that balances out the acidity of the tomatoes. After everything is cooked together, no one will be able to taste the fishiness—just a uniquely savory depth to your pasta dish that will make it seem like you used way more ingredients and spent way more time on it than you actually did. (If you are vegetarian or do not keep fish sauce on hand, you could certainly season with salt instead, and it will be tasty but the overall flavor of the dish will be simpler.)
The visual beauty of this dish comes from using lots of different kinds of little cherry/grape/pear tomatoes in different varieties and colors. But the gustatory beauty comes from the ripeness of the tomatoes, so for optimal success, use the sweetest, most flavorful tomatoes you can find. Everything else in this recipe can really be adjusted to personal taste.
Spaghetti with Cherry Tomatoes Three Ways
(Makes 4 servings…or 2 at my house)
- 12 ounces dry long pasta, such as spaghetti or capellini
- 2 pints cherry tomatoes
- 1/2 small onion, roughly diced
- 8 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
- 2 tbsp fish sauce
- 2-3 sprigs of basil
- olive oil
- grated parmesan or romano cheese, to serve
Divide the tomatoes into two roughly equal groups: The first will be ones that you’ll be cooking whole until they blister and pop, forming the foundation of the sauce. Halve the tomatoes in the second group with a serrated knife. Then, select a few choice tomato halves that you think will be particularly pretty or flavorsome and set those aside for the very end.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil, salt generously, and cook your pasta (I used “thin spaghetti” in the photos) until it is almost al dente. (You will continue to cook the pasta in the sauce later.) Reserve 1 cup of the pasta water and drain the pasta. I actually like to try to time it so that the pasta is ready at the same time as the sauce, so the pasta can be transferred directly into the sauce pan, but hey, it doesn’t always work out that way; so if you’d rather not stress, do this first and set the drained pasta and reserved pasta water aside.
Heat a large sauce pan (big enough to fit all the aforementioned pasta) on medium heat. Add a drizzle of olive oil followed by the onions, and sauté until they start to become translucent. Transfer the onions to a small bowl and set aside.
Return the pan to the stove and crank up the heat. Add a very generous glug of olive oil and when that is heated, carefully add your whole tomatoes. They should immediately start to crackle, so note that this may cause a little mess and danger as the tomato juice + hot oil splatters out of the pan. Cover and shake the pan around to move the tomatoes about and cook until all the whole tomatoes have exploded and have some noticeable browning. When this happens, add the bulk of your halved tomatoes, the sautéed onions, and your garlic. Reduce the heat to medium, and sauté uncovered until the garlic becomes fragrant, then add the fish sauce (or 2 generous pinches of salt) and pepper to your liking.
Add the cooked pasta to the pan and 1/2 cup of the reserved pasta water to help everything incorporate. Toss everything to combine and cook until the pasta is your desired doneness, adding more pasta water if things are not moving loosely in the pan or if there are bits stuck to the bottom. Turn off the heat and add the final remaining tomato halves, using the heat in the pan to warm them.
Plate the pasta (or opt to serve it in the pan!) and garnish with fresh basil. Serve with grated parmesan or romano cheese.
For more food ideas from me, check out my Instagram, @lilybubbletea.
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