Twice as Tasty

Pasta That Pops

Capture the distinctive sweetness of cherry tomatoes by cooking them into a sauce – now, fresh off the vine, and this winter from frozen

By Julie Laing
Photo by Julie Laing.

I make all sorts of sauces throughout the year from homegrown tomatoes freshly plucked, canned in jars, frozen in bags and even dehydrated. But there’s something special about sauces featuring cherry tomatoes. Their natural sweetness comes through in a way larger tomatoes rarely match.

“Cherry tomato” in my garden can mean all sorts of tiny varieties, not just the well-known Sweet 100. Dark purple, Italian golden and chocolate pear heirlooms can be mixed together or kept separate for distinctly colored sauces. My cherry tomato plants have just started to produce a handful of each type, so I’ve been using all the colors in impromptu meals, halving them to toss with hot pasta so that they’re barely cooked. Once the heart of the harvest hits, I’ll cook bowlfuls down into this intensely flavored sauce.

Even better, I freeze bumper crops of cherry tomatoes so that I can make this pasta sauce long after the vines have died. Cherry tomatoes are incredibly simple to freeze: pull the stems, gently wash off any dirt and seal the tomatoes in a zip-close freezer bag. To make the sauce, simply pour the whole, frozen tomatoes into the pan and cook them a couple of minutes longer than fresh ones.

As the whole tomatoes cook, they’ll pop and burst their skins. Reducing the released juices thickens them and deepens their flavor. I’ve found the juices cook down more quickly without the solids in the pan. The dehydrated herb blend I shared earlier this month is a natural choice for this sauce if you’re using frozen tomatoes. If you have fresh herbs, you can instead toss in up to 3 tablespoons of basil, oregano, parsley and rosemary at the same time as the chives.

Pasta That Pops

Serves 2-3

8 ounces pasta

28 ounces (about 6 cups) whole cherry tomatoes

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

2 cloves garlic, minced

1-1/2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar

1 tablespoon DIY Herb Blend

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

1 tablespoon minced chives (optional)

3 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese, or to taste

Set a pot of water to boil for the pasta, cooking it according to package directions. In a large, heavy skillet, cook the cherry tomatoes over medium heat for 7 to 10 minutes, until they pop their skins and release most of their juices. Set a colander over a bowl and pour the tomatoes into it to strain out the skins and pulp, letting the juice drain into a bowl.

In the now-empty skillet, melt the butter over medium-high heat and then add the garlic; cook, stirring, for about 1 minute, until lightly browned. Return the tomato juice to the pan, bring it to a boil and cook for about 10 minutes, until reduced to a thin layer of liquid.

Reduce the heat to low; stir in the balsamic vinegar, tomato solids, herb blend, salt and pepper. Once the sauce bubbles slightly, turn off the heat and add the chives. Serve over the pasta, topped with cheese.

Julie Laing is a Bigfork-based cookbook author and food blogger at TwiceAsTasty.com.

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