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. Sharon

    Made this for dinner tonight and have to tell you…it was delicious! Followed recipe but didn’t have fresh basil so just sprinkled some dried basil on and it was still great. Even used my seasoned cast iron skillet..didn’t want to do anything different from the recipe. My husband watched me and was making faces and said he was going to order a pizza and I said just wait, he was really glad he did. He loved it! It’s been several hours and he’s still raving over it. Thanks so much for the recipe. It’s a must have!!

    Reply
    1. Ann Post author

      I love your comment, Sharon, especially the part about your skeptical husband making faces and then loving it. So many of us can appreciate that! I’m delighted this was a hit. Thanks for taking a moment to let me know!

      Reply
    1. Ann Post author

      For a similar option without the skins, you could try the sauce with an equal amount of chopped plum tomatoes that you have skinned by briefly dipping in boiling water. Glad you enjoyed the flavor!

      Reply
  2. Melissa gibbs

    My mother’s garden is exploding with cherry tomatoes and these cute little hybrids called “chocolate sprinkles” I bought her the plants for Mother’s Day 2017. Along with basil from her garden this sauce was an excellent dish we prepared last night together! Only thing I added was a little sprinkle of Italian seasonings and a zucchini from her garden. My picky father even went in for seconds! We sautéed some organic chicken and made the sauce served with tri colored pasta and some mozzarella pearls. Delish! Thanks for posting!

    Reply
    1. Ann Post author

      First of all, I love that the tomatoes were a Mother’s Day gift (with a great name!) and that you cooked the meal together. The way you served the sauce sounds divine, and I’m thrilled it was a hit. Thanks so much for the terrific feedback, Melissa!

      Reply
    1. Ann Post author

      Hi Elva, I’m not sure of the pH of this recipe so lemon juice would be an added assurance if canning. In that case, you’d likely want to add a bit of sugar when ready to eat it.

      Reply
  3. Kelly

    Just made this sauce for the first time….first of all…I work long hours, and one of the things I love to do (as crazy as it sounds) is come home, turn on my favorite music, pour a drink, and cook! This was super fun to cook, didn’t take super long, and tasted delicious! I loved it! I made the sauce with zucchini noodles, but I can’t wait to make it for my husband with regular pasta as well! Well done Ann! I will definitely be saving this recipe and making it again!!

    Reply
    1. Ann Post author

      Hi Kelly, I think your evening routine sounds like the perfect way to relax after a long workday, and I’m so glad this recipe didn’t let you down! Thanks so much for taking a moment to let me know, and I’m delighted it’s a keeper!

      Reply
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  5. Sue

    I made this speedy sauce last night with your deconstructed eggplant parm, WOW!! It was amazing, my husband kept saying “there are so many interesting flavors.” Thanks for another wonderful recipe. Love your website

    Reply
    1. Ann

      I have yet to freeze this sauce, Heidi. I make it when I have enough tomatoes and then we eat it all…but I do think it would freeze very well.

      Reply
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  7. Elaine

    Ann this recipe was well timed. I had a big crop of cherry tomatoes wondering what to do with them. Now I know. Made this dish tonight and both my husband and I felt we were eating at a fine Italian restaurant. I roasted skinless, boneless chicken thighs and served the sauce on top of whole grain penne pasta, topped with the chicken and grated a little asiago cheese on top – perfection. So easy.
    Thanks for yet another keeper.

    Reply
    1. Ann

      There’s nothing like eating a 5-start meal in your very own kitchen, and I love your addition of roasted chicken thighs. Thank you for the great comment, Elaine…and stay tuned to a another recipe using cherry or grape tomatoes coming soon.

      Reply
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  9. Jenn

    I see a cast iron skillet up there, full of acidic tomatoes…HOW DOES YOUR SAUCE NOT END UP TASTING METALLIC?! I’m pretty new to cast iron cooking, but I’ve found that if I use vinegar or tomatoes in the dish, the whole thing will end up with a metallic taste. How do you avoid this?

    Reply
    1. Ann

      Hi Jenn,
      Maybe your skillet isn’t well seasoned. Try coating the clean pan liberally with oil (any cooking oil; I typically use olive oil) and baking it in a 350 F oven for two hours. This will season the pan more quickly. Then, every time you heat oil in it, the seasoning will be improved. You can also do the oven seasoning more than once. I hope this helps…I think once you do this you will really love your skillet. It becomes truly nonstick.

      Reply
  10. barbara Giacometti

    Bring on the Pasta!! looks fabulous Ann!

    Now, I must ask, where did you get your social icons across the bottom of your website? I am needing some serious updates on my blog and your’s looks great!
    Cheers,
    Barbara Giacometti!!!

    Reply
  11. Suzanne

    My 8 yo son, who “hates” tomatoes LOVES this recipe. He specifically requested it last week. It’s making our nightly routine – great for this vegetarian! Thanks, Ann!

    Reply
  12. Lanie

    this is so up my ally! going out to the garden right now to pick the tomatoes and make the sauce for the kids dinner tonight. Yummm

    Reply
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