Speedy Cherry Tomato Sauce

By Ann Fulton

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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 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 love. I’ve also included a few ways that we enjoy the recipe.

I particularly enjoy this rustic sauce 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 served as an excellent springboard for Tuna in Rustic Tomato Sauce. It’s an easy, one-pan dish that could 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, if desired. 



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. 

Speedy Cherry Tomato Sauce
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 5 minutes
Total Time: 15 minutes
Yield: 6 servings
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.

Yield: 4 - 6 servings; approximately 20 ounces of cooked sauce
  • 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; see notes)
  • 1 cup fresh mozzarella cheese, diced (about 8 ounces)
  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 total.
  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 and add the reserved pasta water, ¼ cup at a time, until the pasta is moist. Garnish with additional basil, if desired.

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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  1. Jim

    Wow, love the simplicity. I like to add a bit of red (or white) wine with some onion was well. That said, every time I pass the cherry tomatoes at market I think of this type red sauce!

  2. Nancy Lee Campbell

    Great easy recipe. Am going to make it tonight to go with skinned chicken thighs, fresh green string beans, tiny potatoes & cucumber salad. Have loads of cherry tomatoes from my garden & must use them up, plus have lots of fresh basil & other herbs from my garden. Think I’ll make several batches & freeze some. Thank you so much for such a great rustic tomato sauce.

  3. Lynn Kurtz

    This is a fantastic recipe that I used last year as well. My husband doesn’t like chunks of tomatoes so I throw it in the blender after cooking it. I sometimes add a small can of tomato paste to give it a richer color and texture. However, it is the perfect sauce either way!

    1. Ann Post author

      Thank you very much for your feedback, Lynn. I’m thrilled this has been a recipe to return to and love your solution to offer appeal to your husband!

  4. Charlotte

    I’m going to make this sauce now with the cherry tomatoes that were picked yesterday…it’s going to be delicious.

  5. Jane

    Great recipe and truly easy. I don’t like the texture of tomato peels. so when it was done, I pureed in blender, Excellant!

    Fresh garden cherry tomatoes – no need to puree.

    Store bought – don’t know where they are from or how old they are. If on sale – old for sure.



    1. Ann Post author

      Hi Jane, I’m delighted this recipe was well liked and appreciate the mention of pureeing. It’s a great option for those who prefer a smoother texture.

  6. Lynda B

    It was coming into Spring, and I’d been having a craving for that wonderful taste of cherry tomatoes sautéed in butter till they burst. I had some cheese tortellini I thought would be delicious slathered in the sauce, so off I went to search for a quick, easy recipe that would fit the bill. I ended up here and could not have been happier. This recipe is exactly what I was looking for, and it did not disappoint! Quick, easy, and delightful in its taste … I’ve made it three times in the last two weeks!! Thank you for sharing this recipe, as it’s become my favorite, hands down, whenever I get a craving for that exquisite taste of sautéed cherry tomatoes.

    1. Ann Post author

      Lynda, Your comment made my day! I’m delighted you’ve made this on repeat and appreciate all the thouhtful details. You’ve also made me hungry to serve the sauce with tortellini. Such a good combination!

    1. Ann Post author

      Hi Linda, I’ve had success freezing a variety of tomato sauces with no modification to the recipe. I used to freeze the sauce in Tupperware-type freezer containers, but more recently I’ve begun using canning jars, leaving a little head space at the top to allow for expansion. Feel free to use whichever container you prefer. Also, I like to cool the sauce completely in the uncovered freezer containers in the refrigerator. Then I add the lid when the sauce is cold and before I transfer to the freezer. That way, you won’t get ice on the lids from condensation.

  7. Beverly A Money

    I haven’t used this recipe yet but I’m going to use it tonight. It smells Wonderful! And it tastes it so good too!

    1. Ann Post author

      Hi Cyndi, Because the pH for tomatoes is borderline in terms of water bath canning (unless you add an acid like lemon juice), I recommend freezing it or high pressure canning.

  8. Michelle K

    Just read all the comments. Can’t wait to make several batches with a ton of cherry tomatoes from a neighor’s bounty. I was wondering how putting it through a strainer would work after cooking to get rid of some of the skins? We don’t want too many skins, but don’t mind some.

    We also plan to freeze a bunch, so I was happy to hear it freezes well, even with the skins which concerned me a bit!

    1. Michelle K

      P.s. I do wish it printed better on one page. (I find this alot with recipes!) I tried to put it to 70%, and it’s so it’s hard to read, yet I have a ton of wasted white space on the page, esp on the right side.

      1. Ann Post author

        I’m sorry for any aggravation. I provide the print option for convenience and try to balance the readability with other reader requests – all while working within certain templates. To get around this here and on other sites where you have a similar issue, you could cut and paste the recipe text onto a Word document or email. Oftentimes, this simple action will reformat the type into something that’s more concise. Or you could simply delete the extra spaces once pasted. Hopefully, this will help somewhat.

    2. Ann Post author

      Hi Michelle, How wonderful that a neighbor shared! I’m glad you found this recipe (coincidently I made two batches this morning), and I hope you enjoy it as much as we do. The skins do soften nicely and provide a good bit of the structure to the sauce. You could try straining, although I’ve blended a similar recipe with great results.

  9. Dave

    This was OUTSTANDING. My wife and I both agreed that this sauce would rival that of a high end authentic Italian restaurant or grandmas Italian kitchen. Thank you for sharing.

  10. Michael

    Once again fresh and simple ingredients win the day. I made some pappardelle to use and cooked it in the sauce. I loved it!

  11. Michael

    I’ve been using your recipe for 3 years now. I look forward to making this sauce every year when the tomatoes come in from the garden. Thanks for putting this out! I would like to note that some tomatoes are naturally sweet enough where you don’t need to add any sugar at all. Not adding the sugar to the recipe also allows you to eliminate 1/2 the amount of salt needed. It’s a bit healthier this way, and honestly lets the flavors of the tomatoes really shine!

    1. Ann Post author

      Michael, I love that you’ve returned to this recipe year after year! The small bit of sugar may certainly be omitted, and I appreciate your taking a moment to mention. I hope you enjoy many batches this season!

  12. Jim

    Thanks for the recipe. Often at grocer I see these colorful large cherry tomatoes and wonder if I could simply make marina with them along with garlic (onions?) and other in your recipe. I often have to add a bit more sugar, also I heard lemon juice (little) is good for balancing? Going to try soon and since have larger group, may supplement with can crushed tomatoes…(oh, and perhaps some red wine!)…

    1. Ann Post author

      Hi Jim, Coincidently, I made a half batch of this last night with tomatoes that needed to be used and served alongside zucchini fritters. It was a good combination! Store-bought tomatoes, especially in the off-season, can be less sweet than height-of-the-season tomatoes, so you may like an extra pinch or two of sugar with them. You can add lemon juice, although the tart addition may make you feel like you want a touch more sugar, too. A light squeeze would be nice, as would a drizzle of balsamic vinegar – or red wine as you say. Onions are certainly fair game, too. I’d cook them down a bit before adding the garlic. I tend to keep this sauce easy, and it never disappoints. Hope you enjoy as well!

    1. Ann Post author

      Hi Patrice, The pH would be borderline low for the hot water bath method, so I would recommend high pressure canning to be safe. The sauce does freeze well, too.

    1. Ann Post author

      Hi Lauri, I haven’t canned this myself, but I would recommend high pressure canning for tomatoes, as their pH is low and an acid like lemon juice usually needs to be added with the hot water bath method. Also, this sauce does freeze well if you have the freezer space!