Speedy Cherry Tomato Sauce

By Ann Fulton

This quick and easy sauce is a versatile summertime staple and a delicious way to use an abundance of cherry or grape tomatoes. It will even make the most of off-season cherry tomatoes. 
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A versatile summertime staple, this quick and easy sauce is a delicious way to use an abundance of cherry or grape tomatoes. It will even make the most of off-season cherry tomatoes. 

 

This is the sort of easy summer cooking I love: basic, fresh ingredients coming together as something altogether pleasing in a few short minutes.  

Although perfect over pasta–and I have included a simple, “every-night” recipe along with the sauce instructions below–this sauce is incredibly versatile.  

You can use your imagination to create quick, flavorful meals based on what you enjoy. I’ve also included a few ways that we enjoy the recipe.

I particularly enjoy the rustic sauce served over roasted or grilled eggplant, zucchini, and mushrooms. In addition to traditional pasta, it pairs beautifully with zucchini noodles.

Or pick a grain of preference, be it quinoa or rice, and create your own alternative to the traditional pasta dinner. After cooking the grain, add the grilled or roasted veggies (even leftovers work well), stir in some of the chunky sauce, and add any other flavor boosters that may appeal. Mozzarella or feta cheese and Kalamata olives pair particularly well.

Speedy Cherry Tomato Sauce is also delicious as the sauce on this recipe for Deconstructed Eggplant Parmesan. Or go appetizer-style and use it as a condiment for bite-size (and addicting!) Crispy Baked Eggplant.

Versatile as it is, Speedy Cherry Tomato Sauce serves as an excellent springboard for Tuna in Rustic Tomato Sauce. It’s an easy, one-pan meal that can be modified with another variety of fish, or even shrimp or chopped chicken. Serve with crusty bread or break up the tuna and stir everything into hot cooked pasta. 

 

 

Recipe tweaks I’ve made since first posting this recipe:

  • Make it meaty. For variety, I occasionally start by first sautéing 12 ounces of sausage (turkey or pork), removing the cooked and crumbled sausage to a plate and then proceeding with the sauce recipe.
  • When I don’t have fresh basil, I add ½ teaspoon of dried oregano or Italian seasoning along with the salt and pepper.
  • For a super easy protein addition, I sometimes stir in a 5-ounce can of drained tuna at the end of the cooking time. I break up the tuna with a fork but keep it rather chunky. 
  • I’ve also added 2 thinly sliced shallots to the oil, cooking to soften, before adding the garlic. (More shallots would be good!) Then I toss in 12 ounces of cooked pasta, sprinkling with grated Parmesan or Pecorino Romano to taste. A little reserved pasta water is nice to have on hand to loosen the pasta after it has been sitting a while.
  • One more idea: A reader emailed me recently to say that she makes this sauce on repeat. When she has an abundance of zucchini from her garden she chops it and sautés it in olive oil until golden. (Higher heat and less stirring help to achieve this more quickly.) Then she removes the cooked zucchini to a plate, continues with the Speedy Cherry Tomato Sauce recipe, and stirs in the zucchini at the end. A sprinkle of crumbled feta would be lovely as well. 
 
This quick and easy sauce is a versatile summertime staple and a delicious way to use an abundance of cherry or grape tomatoes. It will even make the most of off-season cherry tomatoes. 

This rustic sauce is an ideal way to use an abundance of seasonal cherry or grape tomatoes. It will also make the most of grocery store cherry tomatoes, which are available year round.

This quick and easy sauce is a versatile summertime staple and a delicious way to use an abundance of cherry or grape tomatoes. It will even make the most of off-season cherry tomatoes. 

After briefly sautéing the garlic, the tomatoes are added.

This quick and easy sauce is a versatile summertime staple and a delicious way to use an abundance of cherry or grape tomatoes. It will even make the most of off-season cherry tomatoes. 

The flavorful sauce needs only the simplest of seasonings.

This quick and easy sauce is a versatile summertime staple and a delicious way to use an abundance of cherry or grape tomatoes. It will even make the most of off-season cherry tomatoes. 

Pressing on the tomatoes with a fork encourages them to break down and turn into sauce more quickly.

A versatile summertime staple, this quick and easy sauce is a delicious way to use an abundance of cherry or grape tomatoes. It will even make the most of off-season cherry tomatoes. 

Basil adds fresh flavor and color, but if you don’t have any, you could use a half teaspoon of dried Italian seasoning or oregano.

This 2013 photo shows a batch of the sauce made with grape tomatoes, which have a higher ratio of skin to pulp (meaning less moisture). The sauce will look slightly different depending on variety of tomato used and precise simmer time–but will always taste delicious! 

Speedy Cherry Tomato Sauce
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 5 minutes
Total Time: 15 minutes
Yield: 4 - 6 servings; approximately 20 ounces of cooked sauce
When cherry tomatoes are plentiful, I adore this quick-cooking chunky sauce on pizza, pasta, roasted eggplant, or by the spoonful! Don't hesitate to get creative and use it over rice, quinoa, and/or sautéed zucchini. The flavors are even better the second day, so feel free to prepare in advance. If making ahead, sprinkle the basil on just before serving to retain its bright green color.
Ingredients:
  • ¼ cup (56ml) olive oil
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 4 cups cherry tomatoes*, halved or quartered if large (2 pints or 1 quart)
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • ½ teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
  • ¼ teaspoon sugar
  • ¼ cup lightly packed fresh basil leaves, torn into small pieces
If serving with pasta:
  • 12-16 ounces** fusilli, rotini, penne, or other short spiral or tubular pasta, cooked according to package directions (reserve a cup of pasta cooking water)
  • 1 cup fresh mozzarella cheese, diced (about 8 ounces) or freshly grated Parmesan or Pecorino Romano to taste
Instructions:
  1. In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the garlic and sauté 1 minute or until fragrant but not turning brown.
  2. Add the tomatoes, salt, pepper, and sugar. As the tomatoes cook and soften, mash them with a fork to help them form a chunky, rustic sauce. Cook the tomatoes for approximately 5-6 minutes or until the tomatoes have broken down and the juices are incorporated.
  3. Sprinkle with torn basil before serving.
  4. If serving with pasta, transfer the tomato sauce to a bowl with the pasta, and toss to combine.
  5. Stir in the mozzarella, if using, and add the reserved pasta water, ¼ cup at a time, until the pasta is moist. Optionally, you may grate cheese of choice over the finished pasta. Garnish with additional basil, if desired.
Notes:

I’ve also made this sauce with grape tomatoes and it’s excellent. They tend to have less moisture than cherry tomatoes, so the finished sauce will be slightly chunkier.

** Choose the amount of pasta based on whether you like your pasta extra saucy or not. I like a high ratio of sauce to pasta so use the lesser amount of pasta.

 

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Recipe first posted August 2013.

 

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Comments

  1. Jean Dises
    (5/5)

    A quick and easy pasta sauce that comes together while your pasta is cooking is always a win in my books I did find it a little salty and I’m wondering if it’s because I used grape tomatoes instead of cherry tomatoes and therefore had less moisture to absorb the salt. Regardless, salt can be easily adjusted the next time and there will definitely be a next time.

    Reply
    1. Ann Post author

      Hi Jean, Thank you for your terrific feedback, including the mention regarding the salt. Your point about the lower moisture in grape tomatoes is a good one, and the flavor of the salt would also be more pronounced the further the sauce is reduced. One last thought is if you happened to use table salt instead of the coarser kosher salt, as the sodium in that is somewhat higher. Regardless, I’m delighted it’s a make-again recipe and that you can easily adjust to taste the next time.

      Reply
  2. Wade Davis

    Can I freeze the finished sauce and how long will it keep in the freezer. The recipe I tried was easy and tasted great.

    Reply
    1. Ann Post author

      Wade, I’m so glad you enjoyed the recipe, and yes, you can freeze it for about three months. Longer than that, and it may get watery. If you do notice any wateriness, you can simmer it to thicken again.

      Reply
    1. Ann Post author

      No need, Jessica. The skins of the cherry and grape tomatoes cook down rather well and add texture, interest, and flavor to the sauce.

      Reply
  3. K

    Looks delicious…I’m going to give it a go, right now!
    FYI the photo shows the tomato sauce in a cast iron skillet. It’s never a good idea to cook something acidic, like tomatoes, in cast iron as it reacts with the metal and can cause the iron to leach into your food….not too terribly harmful but can add a metalic taste to food.

    Reply
    1. Ann Post author

      Thanks for the comment and I hope you enjoy! Coincidently, I just made a batch last night! The cast iron mention is a good one, and I’m glad you brought it up. It’s a bit of a myth that a cast iron pan can’t be used for tomato sauce. The key is that the pan is well seasoned. I regularly use my cast iron skillet for this sauce and there’s never a metallic taste. I wouldn’t store this or any other food in it, however. But truly, any pan will work!

      Reply
  4. Lynn Kurtz
    (5/5)

    I have used this recipe for two years now. It is the best! I freeze my cherry tomatoes every year. This recipe works great with frozen cherry tomatoes as well.

    Reply
    1. Ann Post author

      Hi Lynn, Not only do I love that this sauce has become a go-to for you, but I love that you freeze your cherry tomatoes. Why have I never done that? Thanks for your thoughtful comment and the very good idea!

      Reply
  5. Tracey Styles

    I agree with all of the comments … in that I have loads of cherry tomatoes in the garden and was looking for a sauce recipe to use them with pasta. This is perfect, and I am going to make it tonight. Thank you!

    Reply
  6. Charlotte
    (5/5)

    Was looking for a way to cook an easy sauce and use the last of some cherry tomatoes. This turned out fantastic and I’m going to use as a pizza sauce tomorrow night. Thanks!!

    Reply