this slow roasted cherry tomato sauce is one of our favorite ways to eat pasta for the, oh, 10 months of the year when tomatoes aren’t very good. the magic of this recipe is that it takes the mostly flavorless little red circles in plastic clamshell boxes at the grocery store and transforms them into delicious, flavorful orbs of yum.
this process does take a little bit of advance planning as the magic transpires over the course of about 3 hours in the oven but it’s totally worth the wait and requires almost no effort on your part while it’s happening. in a nutshell, you sauté some onion and garlic, add basil, crushed red pepper, and more olive oil, then pour this over the tomatoes. three hours later, you boil some water for pasta then enjoy the best pasta with tomato sauce you’ve had since late last summer.
amazingly in the 4 years since i first tried this recipe, i’ve basically not changed it at all. (perhaps this is less amazing when you consider that the recipe source is an award-winning restaurant chef who collaborates with her husband on a cookbook and blog for home cooks…) this stands in stark contrast to my usual tendency to tinker and fiddle and swap and try adding this other thing.
the only thing i’ve really done is figure out the appropriate volumes of tomatoes and olive oil to use. the original recipe that i found was a little bit confusing with regards to how much of each of those we were supposed to use so the first time i made this, it was too oily for our taste. i’ve since figured out my favorite ratios and now reliably turn out delicious tomato sauce all fall/winter/spring long.
- 2 tablespoons plus ¼ cup olive oil
- 1 large white onion, diced
- 6 – 8 cloves of garlic, peeled and smashed but still mostly in one piece
- 18 fresh basil leaves plus ¼ cup fresh basil cut into thin ribbons once ready to serve (don’t cut in advance or the basil may darken)
- 1/8 – ¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper, to taste
- 3 pints or those 10 oz. plastic containers of cherry tomatoes, rinsed and dried
- 1 pound fresh short pasta
- 2 cups lightly packed baby arugula
- ½ cup finely grated hard italian cheese (i’m partial to pecorino romano, as always, but you could also use romano or parmesan)
- preheat the oven to 250° F.
- in a large skillet, heat the 2 tablespoons of oil over medium heat. add the garlic and onion and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onion is tender. remove from heat and stir in the 18 whole basil leaves and crushed red pepper.
- put the tomatoes in an oven-safe pan with a lip that is just big enough to hold the tomatoes in a snug single layer. distribute the onion mixture evenly over the top of the tomatoes. add the ¼ cup of oil and move the tomatoes around to make sure everything is coated in oil (the tomatoes will not be submerged in oil).
- roast the tomatoes under they are tender and a few are just starting to burst but they are not all falling apart. this should take about 3 hours. gently stir the tomatoes once around the 1.5 hour mark. (the tomatoes can be roasted up to 6 hours in advance.)
- once the tomatoes are done, cook the pasta in a large pot of water until just al dente; drain.
- while the pasta is cooking, cut the remaining ¼ cup basil into ribbons.
- if you cooked the tomatoes in advance, transfer the whole mixture to a large pot (big enough to add the pasta) and heat the tomatoes over low until hot. if the tomatoes came out of the oven just as the pasta was done, then add the pasta and tomatoes back to the now-empty pasta pot. fold in the arugula.
- serve immediately with the basil ribbons and cheese sprinkled over the top.
this recipe takes about 4 hours to prepare from start to in your mouth but the majority of that time is inactive oven magic time. the tomatoes can be roasted up to 6 hours in advance, which gives some flexibility to your meal planning.
adapted from, well, so i found this recipe in the best american recipes 2005 – 2006 cookbook, which credits the tomato festival cookbook by lawrence davis-hollander as their source. he credits the original recipe author as jody adams (who also graduated from my alma mater AND has a food blog, the garum factory, with her husband). to me, this is her recipe, despite the circuitous route i took to find it.