Summer Pasta With Burst Cherry Tomatoes

Is it just me or has this been a weird summer? It has, right? I feel like it took me until late June to even dig through my closet to find a pair of sandals. Then it got really hot for maybe twenty minutes, and now it’s chilly again.

Matt and I were sitting on the deck last night, the sun was setting through the trees, making the leaves shimmer and glow as though lit from inside. Soon the white wood boards on the side of the house turned a deep golden pink. It was incredibly lovely. I was tempted to grab my camera but I decided just to enjoy the moment. Just experience it, you know? So we sat there, drinking a glass of rosé, a sleepy pup* at our feet, just enjoying the quiet. Matt looked at me and I looked at him.

“I’m freezing”, I said.

“Bloody hell, me too. Let’s go inside”, he said.

So we made dinner and watched an episode of  “Utopia“, season 2 (highly recommended).

(*Here’s a picture of Arya looking longingly at a hot dog).

Summer Pasta With Burst Cherry Tomatoes

Speaking of dinner… It may have been chilly but at least the tomatoes still believe in summer. I always used to think of tomatoes as an early summer crop but really, the best ones come in August, even September. While I would like to say that all these lovely tomatoes came from our garden, we just don’t have enough coming in yet so I bought a gorgeous quart of mixed heirlooms (from local Fishkill Farms, conveniently for sale at the best new store in town, Beacon Pantry) and added a few tiny sun golds from our garden to it.

Summer Pasta With Burst Cherry Tomatoes

Pertty tomaters.

I’m calling this a “summer pasta” not just because it’s fresh and light, but it’s also quick to make so you don’t have to worry about heating up your kitchen. Basically the sauce is ready in the time it takes to boil the pasta water. In colder months, it would work almost as well with little grape tomatoes, which always seem to be available.

The dish was inspired by a Melissa Clark recipe for the New York Times, though I’ve lightened it up a bit and substituted basil for the mint. Her version also calls for dollops of fresh ricotta which sounds delicious but I didn’t have any and found the results plenty rich and satisfying without it.

Summer Pasta With Burst Cherry Tomatoes

Summer Pasta With Burst Cherry Tomatoes
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
Serves: 4-6
Ingredients
  • 1 pound curly pasta
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, more for drizzling
  • 6 ounces pancetta, preferably thick cut, diced*
  • 4 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
  • Pinch of red pepper flakes
  • Sea salt
  • Black pepper
  • 1 quart mixed cherry or grape tomatoes, cut in half
  • 1-2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 cups whole basil leaves, torn
  • 4 scallions, thinly sliced
  • *(for vegetarian version, leave out pancetta, but add ⅓ cup pecorino cheese)
Instructions
  1. Bring a large pot of heavily salted water to a boil. Add pasta and cook until al dente (1 minute less than package instructions). Drain pasta, reserving a cup of the hot pasta water.
  2. If the tomatoes are different sizes (like the farmer’s market mixed heirlooms), cut the cherry-sized ones in half and leave any small ones whole, so they’re all roughly the same size.
  3. Meanwhile, heat a large skillet over medium-high, add oil and give it a swirl to coat the bottom. Add the pancetta and cook until it starts to render and turn a little brown, about 2 minutes. Add garlic and red pepper flakes and cook until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes and stir until they are coated in the oil. Season with a little sea salt and pepper, to taste. Cook until the tomatoes shrivel up slightly, release some juice and brown a bit at the edges, about 5 to 8 minutes.
  4. Add the drained pasta to pan with the tomatoes and toss (if the mixture looks dry add a little pasta cooking water a few tablespoons at a time). Cook over high heat until the pasta finishes cooking in the sauce. Add the butter and toss until it melts and coats everything.
  5. Turn off the heat and top with a generous mound of fresh basil and scallions. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt and more pepper before serving.
  6. Note: If you want to make the dish vegetarian, leave out the pancetta and toss ⅓ cup grated pecorino in with the butter.