Separated from perfection by nothing more than a pinch of salt, ripe tomatoes inspire a very particular type of summer joy. In the last few weeks of the season, many of us consume them ravenously, as if storing sunshine for the cold months ahead.
You’ll still find plenty at their peak right now, but even when the best of the summer tomatoes are gone, cherry tomatoes can be counted on year-round to provide more texture than canned tomatoes and more taste than larger varieties.
“The big thing about cherries is that they pack more flavor than their larger brethren,” said Dr. Harry J. Klee, who studies tomato fruit development at the University of Florida. “Think of a larger tomato as the same amount of flavor with a lot more water.”
This spicy and saucy tomato pasta leans upon that diminutive fruit for an easy weeknight meal that delivers bright flavor with minimal effort. The sauce starts with just two fresh ingredients — cherry tomatoes and basil — and is finished with tomato paste and salty capers for a robust punch.
Tomato paste fortifies the fruit’s flavor, the same way a combination of fresh lemon juice and zest might intensify the flavors of a citrus dessert. The technique here is simple: While your pasta water boils, heat some olive oil, squeeze in some tomato paste, and cook until it darkens from brick red to a plummy shade of red wine. This effectively caramelizes the paste, exaggerating the tomato’s natural sweetness.
Sweat some garlic and red-pepper flakes — or Aleppo pepper, chiles de árbol, gochujang or any other spicy condiment you have on hand — then simmer with cherry tomatoes and a splash of pasta water, and your pasta sauce is ready in 20 minutes.
Toss in your cooked pasta — orecchiette will cup everything nicely, but any shaped pasta will suffice — and some torn basil, top with crispy fried capers and a dollop of ricotta, and you’ve got a quick pasta dish that will taste like summer no matter what season it is.