This is the time of year when nearly every dinner we have features tomatoes in one form or another. Our garden is bursting with an abundance of small tomato varieties, including Yellow Pear, Sungold Orange cherry tomatoes and Sweet 100 cherry tomatoes, all of which are showcased in this fresh and easy Spaghetti with Hot and Garlicky Baby Tomato Sauce.

This is a quick-cook pasta dish which can be easily prepared in under 30 minutes from start to finish. The sauce and pasta take about the same amount of time to cook, and then the two are pulled together to create a pasta dish so delicious it belies its simplicity.

With only six ingredients in this light and brothy sauce, each plays an important role in the overall flavor experience. Fresh, juicy baby tomatoes, like cherry tomatoes, are essential for this dish. You can find a host of different varieties available right now at many of our area’s farmers markets and grocery stores, but steer clear of firm varieties like grape tomatoes.

Cherry tomatoes or any variety of juicy baby tomatoes can be used in this dish that also features basil, garlic and hot chili peppers. Sarah Nasello / The Forum
Cherry tomatoes or any variety of juicy baby tomatoes can be used in this dish that also features basil, garlic and hot chili peppers. Sarah Nasello / The Forum

Garlic and hot chili peppers are key to building flavor, but they are used only to infuse the sauce with their essence. For this occasion, I used a red serrano pepper from my garden, cut it in half lengthwise, and did the same with three cloves of garlic.

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The pepper and garlic halves are sauteed in extra-virgin olive oil and removed at some point before the pasta is added, depending on how much spicy heat you want. Even with a red hot chili pepper, the sauce only had a touch of heat — and if you prefer more intensity, you can simply add more peppers or a spicier variety like habanero.

Once the oil is infused, the baby tomatoes are added along with some of the pasta water (which helps to thicken and flavor the sauce). The tomatoes are cooked just until they begin to blister and release their juices to form a sauce. The result is a sauce that fully supports the fresh baby tomatoes without overpowering them with spice or heat.

At this stage, the cooked spaghetti should be ready to toss with the sauce. For small batches, I pull the noodles straight from the hot water once they are al dente and put them right into the sauce along with a bunch of fresh basil. For larger batches, I drain the pasta, put it back into its pot and pour the sauce over the noodles.

The pasta and sauce can be cooked simultaneously and tossed together just before serving. Sarah Nasello / The Forum
The pasta and sauce can be cooked simultaneously and tossed together just before serving. Sarah Nasello / The Forum

A generous sprinkling of freshly grated cheese is the perfect final flourish, and the creamy tang of salty pecorino Romano is my favorite for this recipe.

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As written, this recipe yields enough noodles and sauce to accommodate two to four servings and can be easily doubled or tripled. In fact, the measurements given are really just a baseline to start and you can adjust the quantities of each component as you wish.

Spaghetti with Hot and Garlicky Baby Tomato Sauce is a weekly staple in our house throughout the garden season, and I hope it’s just as much a hit in your home. Happy cooking.

Spaghetti with Hot and Garlicky Baby Tomato Sauce

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Serves: 2 to 4

Ingredients:

½ pound spaghetti

3 cloves garlic, peeled and halved lengthwise

1 hot pepper, seeded and halved lengthwise

½ cup extra-virgin olive oil

1 pint cherry tomatoes or a medley of small varieties

½ teaspoon kosher salt

¼ teaspoon ground pepper

15 to 20 small basil leaves (or torn pieces from larger leaves)

Pecorino Romano cheese, freshly grated

Directions:

Cook the spaghetti until just al dente, according to the directions on the package, about 8 to 9 minutes in boiling hot water. When the pasta is ready, remove the pot from the burner and do not drain.

As the pasta cooks, heat olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Once hot, add garlic and pepper halves and reduce heat to medium-low. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Dip a piece of bread or a spoon into the oil and taste — if the flavor is to your liking, remove the garlic and pepper now, or leave them in and remove before adding the pasta.

Add cherry tomatoes and increase to medium heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until tomatoes just start to pop and release their juices, about 3 minutes. Reduce heat to low and simmer gently until a thin sauce starts to form, about 3 to 4 minutes. If still remaining, remove garlic and hot pepper now and discard.

Use tongs or a spaghetti server/fork to lift the noodles from the hot water into the tomato sauce. Add ¼ cup of pasta water and the basil leaves; gently toss to combine. Cook over low heat until noodles are evenly coated, about a minute.

Transfer pasta and sauce to a platter or serving dishes and garnish with a generous sprinkling of freshly grated pecorino Romano cheese. Serve immediately.

If doubling the recipe:

  • When ready, reserve ½ cup of water from the pasta pot and drain the noodles in a colander. Put the noodles back into the pot and toss with 1 tablespoon of olive oil until evenly coated (to prevent sticking).
  • Add the pasta water to the sauce (along with the basil) and cook for 1 more minute. Pour the sauce over the hot noodles in the pot and gently toss to combine.

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“Home with the Lost Italian” is a weekly column written by Sarah Nasello featuring recipes by her husband, Tony Nasello. The couple owned Sarello’s in Moorhead and lives in Fargo with their son, Giovanni. Readers can reach them at sarahnasello@gmail.com.