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. 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.

    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!

  2. Lynn Kurtz

    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.

    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!

  3. 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!

  4. Charlotte

    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!!