Pasta with Fresh Tomato Sauce
How to turn a basketful of ripe tomatoes into an easy dinner.
Serving Size: 4 to 6
Tomato lovers wait all year for this moment, where plants in the garden are struggling with the weight of those gorgeous red (or yellow or orange) orbs, and the tables at the farmers’ markets are threatening to buckle under the load. We slice and eat them as fast as we can….but we still can’t keep up, nor can we get enough.
This is when is fresh tomato sauce comes into play, turning a basketful of ripe tomatoes into an easy dinner.
Sometimes I just chop up the ripest tomatoes and toss them with hot pasta, a bit of garlic and oil, and a handful of slivered basil, and call it a day. But if you want to make your tomatoes into a real sauce, all it takes is a few extra ingredients and a little time. The blanching of the tomatoes (giving them a dunk in boiling water, and a bath in ice water) is a quick way to rid yourself of the tomato skins, which means a more luxurious sauce. If you have a food mill, and plan to put the sauce through the mill when it is cooked, you can skip that step: the food mill will prevent the skins from going through into the sauce.
You can really cook the tomatoes for as little or as long as you want, and you’ll still have a lovely clean sauce. When I am feeling a little more focused, I like to take out about half of the sauce after 10 minutes, preserving the sweet-acidic freshness of a barely cooked tomato, and then let the rest of the sauce go for longer, so that it reduces and concentrates and becomes deeper in flavor. Then the two versions are reunited and whirred together, and the result is a sauce with both depth and brightness. Not in the mood for that extra step? Just cook the whole thing for about 20 minutes, blend it up, and call it a day.
Also, if you prefer a chunky rustic sauce, just skip the blending step altogether. You can use absolutely any tomatoes you like. Some are more meaty, some have more water and seeds, and the sauce’s consistency, flavor and color will vary according to what kind of tomatoes you use. And if you have the opportunity to mix different varieties of tomatoes then you’ll get a blend of different notes of sweetness and acidity. The tiny bit of sugar bumps up the natural sweetness of the tomatoes; it’s a nice touch.
However you make it, this is the quintessential summertime pasta meal.
Pasta with Fresh Tomato Sauce
- 4 pounds ripe tomatoes (about 14 plum tomatoes)
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 onion chopped
- 5 cloves garlic, minced
- ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)
- ½ teaspoon sugar
- 1 teaspoon chopped thyme leaves
- 6 large basil leaves, chopped or shredded
- 1 pound dried pasta, any kind
- Kosher or coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- Freshly grated Parmesan cheese to serve
1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Fill a large bowl with ice water.
2. Make an x with a sharp knife on the bottom end of each of the tomatoes. Drop the tomatoes into the boiling water, cook for 60 seconds, then remove with a slotted spoon to the ice water. Let cool for a minute or two minutes.
3. Place the tomatoes on a cutting board with a groove to catch the juices, and dump out the ice water, reserving the bowl. Peel off the tomato skins, then roughly chop the tomatoes, discarding the stem and any white core. Transfer the chopped tomatoes to the bowl with all of the juices.
4. Return the same pot that you cooked the tomatoes in to the stove over medium heat. Add the olive oil, then add the garlic and onions and sauté, not allowing the garlic and onions to get more than lightly golden, for about 5 minutes, until soft. Stir in the red pepper flakes if using and season with salt and pepper. Add the tomatoes and all of their juices, and turn the heat up to high. Bring to a rapid simmer, add the sugar, and cook for about 10 minutes until the tomatoes start to break down. Remove about half of the tomatoes with a slotted spoon and set aside in that very same bowl. Continue to simmer the rest of the tomato mixture for another 15 minutes until it thickens further and some of the liquid evaporates. Stir the reserved tomato mixture back into the pot along with the fresh herbs. Check and adjust the seasoning.
5. While the tomato sauce finishes cooking cook the pasta according to package instructions. At this point if you like a chunky sauce you can simply drain the pasta, return it to the pot, and toss with the sauce to combine. Or you can use an immersion blender to puree the sauce as smooth as you’d like right in the pot, or carefully transfer it to a food processor or blender and pulse or puree the mixture – in batches if necessary — until it reaches the desired consistency.
6. Serve in a large shallow serving bowl, or in individual bowls. Pass the Parmesan for those who want it.