Less is more when it comes to summer produce. I think that this is especially true of ripe, sweet tomatoes. Today’s simple vegan burst cherry tomato pasta is proof.
A couple years ago, I discovered Marcella Hazan’s famous tomato sauce via Food52. I was skeptical of how only four ingredients could lead to a flavorful sauce. As soon as I tried it, I understood. The sauce isn’t bold like many traditional marinaras, but it’s a classic in its own way. It has an undeniable richness, thanks to the butter, but it’s minimalist enough to let the tomatoes shine.
The sauce here isn’t “Marcella sauce,” as I always call it. But it’s inspired by the combination of butter and fresh tomatoes. Unlike other tomato sauces that I make, including my beloved vegan pasta alla vecchia bettola, this one takes about 15 minutes to prepare. When you fold it together with freshly cooked pasta, it makes for a perfect summer weeknight meal.
Sometimes the simplest recipes can be the hardest to get right. This one has only 4 ingredients, and it took me a few tries to make it what I wanted it to be. None of my test batches were difficult to eat, and I polished off all of the leftovers happily. But this is the version that I enjoyed the most!
When I first made this vegan burst cherry tomato pasta, I was sure that two pints of tomatoes would be enough. The finished pasta was good, but it really tasted like spaghetti with burst cherry tomatoes dispersed throughout, instead of a saucy dish.
Three pints of tomatoes, on the other hand, sounded like a lot. But this amount, about two and a quarter pounds, is actually just right. It’s enough to create a true sauce, one that’s full of fresh, juicy pockets of tomato. The sauce is buttery, but also bright and sweet, just like Marcella sauce.
Because this sauce has so few ingredients, the butter does a lot of heavy lifting. It helps to carry flavor, and it also creates a silky, sweet, rich coating for the pasta. Those three tablespoons go a long way! If you prefer to use olive oil in place of vegan butter, that’s fine. But there’s something magical about the combination of butter and fresh tomatoes, and it’s worth trying.
I substitute dry herbs for fresh in pasta dishes all the time, but this is one recipe that benefits from fresh herbs. They compliment all of the fresh, summery simplicity of the dish, and they add color to the finished plates. If you have an herb garden, lucky you! I use oregano and basil here, but parsley would also be nice.
Yellow, gold, red—any color is fine. A range of sizes is fine here, too, from plumper to smaller, grape (oval) or cherry (round). I used half gold/yellow, half red. The pasta is all the more delicious if your tomatoes are really juicy and sweet, but bursting them deepens their sweetness, so they don’t have to be the finest or most perfect pint in order for the pasta to taste great.
Any vegan butter brand ought to work well here. I use Earth Balance often in my cooking, but I’m a big fan of Miyoko’s, Milkadamia’s, and a small local brand, the Buttah from Om Sweet Home bakery in New Jersey. If you don’t have vegan butter, you can swap three tablespoons of olive oil in its place.
I really love this quick, saucy vegan burst cherry tomato pasta with spaghetti or fettucine. But I’ve now had it with penne, cavatappi, and casarecci. All are delightful in their own way, and the flavors are the same no matter what.
I’d be lying if I said that the vegan burst cherry tomato pasta isn’t best right after it leaves your skillet or your pot. This is the kind of pasta dish that’s really meant to be eaten right away. The leftovers will definitely keep for a few nights—I know this, because cook for one—but you can easily cut the recipe in half if you’re only cooking for yourself or one other person.
I wait for tomatoes all year long. They’re my favorite part of summer as far as food goes, and they’ve always been one of my favorite things to eat. I make an effort to eat seasonally, but I’m not very strict about it. Except when it comes to tomatoes, which I love so much at their peak that it feels worthwhile to wait for that moment to come.
There’s so much about this particular summer that feels strange. Cooking with burst tomatoes this week did not. It felt familiar, a culinary ritual that I look forward to and cherish each July and August. What a nice, small piece of normalcy. I’ll savor it for as long as it lasts; I think this beloved quinoa dish is next!