After years of renting, buying my home meant that I could finally grow tomatoes and, for the first few Summers, I grew only Roma (plum) tomatoes. Come August, I’d start making pasta sauce using my very own crop. I never had enough of them to make a big pot of Bolognese, but that didn’t mean I couldn’t make a sauce. Several years later, I started growing cherry tomatoes along with the Romas. I soon learned that these little tomatoes made a very good sauce and I’ve been hooked ever since.
Before getting to the recipe, let’s talk about some of the ingredients. The recipe starts off with the rendering of either bacon or pancetta. I keep both in my freezer door. If I wish to use bacon for this recipe, I unwrap one end of the bacon package and, with a sharp knife, cut three or four 1/3 inch strips off of the end. When cooked, these will separate into smaller pieces, similar to lardons. When I buy pancetta, I ask for two or three slices about 1/3 of an inch thick, but what I actually receive are slices anywhere from 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick. For this recipe, I use 1 or 2 pancetta slices, depending upon their thickness. Speaking of bacon, it is a source of salt for this recipe, as is the pasta water added in the end. This is why I do not salt the dish until the very end. Similarly, the red pepper flakes bring heat and I wait before using any pepper in the dish. As for the tomatoes, I’ve used a variety of types with this recipe. The advantage of using cherry or grape tomatoes, however, is that they are relatively good tasting all year-round, unlike their normal-sized cousins. As for the rest of the ingredients, use as much or as little as you like. In other words, make the recipe your own. Vegetarians, for example, would omit the bacon/pancetta but may need to add another tbsp of olive oil. And lastly, as always, the wine is optional.
* * *
Cherry/Grape Tomato Pasta Sauce Recipe
total time: approx. 30 – 45 minutes
- 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 1/8 tsp red pepper flakes, or more to taste
- 2 – 3 slices of bacon, or, 1 or 2 slices of pancetta, diced large – omit if vegetarian
- 1 medium onion, sliced
- 3 – 4 cloves garlic, diced or grated
- 3 oz. (approx) red wine
- 6 or 7 button or crimini mushrooms, sliced, or more to taste
- 2 – 3 tbsp tomato paste
- 2 – 3 cups cherry tomatoes (approx 3/4 lbs), grape tomatoes may be substituted
- 3 tbsp fresh basil, chopped
- 3 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped – more for garnish
- grated parmesan cheese
- salt & pepper, to taste
- 1 lb pasta
- Fill a large pot (at least 4 quarts) with water and place over high heat. Once boiling, add salt and cook your pasta, timing it to be ready when the sauce is cooked to your liking. The pasta should be slightly undercooked and will finish cooking when it is mixed with the sauce. Reserve 1 cup of the water in which the pasta was cooked.
- Place olive oil in a frying pan and heat over medium-high heat.
- Add pepper flakes to frying pan and cook for 2 minutes. Add the bacon/pancetta and cook until fully rendered, about 6 minutes — less if not frozen.
- Add onions and cook until translucent, about 5 – 7 minutes.
- Add garlic and continue cooking for no more than 1 minute. Do not burn the garlic.
- Add the wine and reduce until most has evaporated.
- Add mushrooms and sauté for about 5 more minutes.
- Add tomato paste and sauté until the air is scented with the smell of roasted tomatoes, about 2 – 3 minutes.
- Add the tomatoes, cover, and reduce heat to medium-low.
- Check the pan after about 5 minutes to see if the tomatoes have started to burst. When about 1/3 of them have burst, use a potato masher or broad wooden spoon to carefully smash all the tomatoes. The tomato juices are very hot and will burn if allowed to squirt on you.
- The sauce is now ready when you are. Its taste will vary depending upon how long you allow the tomatoes to cook.
- Add the basil and parsley and stir. If necessary, add some of the reserved pasta water so that your sauce has the consistency that you prefer.
- Season with salt & pepper, to taste.
- Add the cooked pasta to the frying pan, mix to coat, and cook until pasta is al dente, about 1 – 2 minutes.
- Serve immediately, garnished with parsley and parmesan cheese.
I’ve seen variations of this recipe prepared by a few of TV’s chefs. Rachael Ray added a twist that I first saw a few years ago. She roasted the tomatoes before adding them to the other ingredients. Although I do not remember her specifics, I pre-heat my oven to 425*, place the cherry tomatoes on a baking sheet, sprinkle them with a little olive oil, and mix them by hand to help coat them all with the oil. The tray is placed in the oven and the tomatoes roasted for about 20 minutes or until they burst. I then remove the tray from the oven and add its contents to the frying pan instead of the raw tomatoes. This is an alternative definitely worth trying.
* * *