As soon as the weather gets warm and the first crop of local cherry tomatoes arrives at my farmers' market, I put away my deep-sided saucepot—the one that I use for slowly simmered ragùs and thick marinaras—and pull out a shallow sauté pan. This pan, I've discovered, is the key to creating fresh and zesty summer sauces in a matter of minutes. No endless simmering is needed: just 20 minutes or so, until the tomatoes have collapsed into a thick and flavorful sauce.
While meaty red Romas are always a good choice for long-cooking sauces, cherry tomatoes are best for these fast-cooking summer sauces. In fact, these tomatoes are the tastiest and most convenient. Their zingy acidity translates into full flavor, and their thin skins mean you don't need to blanch and peel them, as you'd do for a more involved tomato sauce. In fact, I like the way the skins add to the visual and textural appeal of the finished dish. Smaller, sweeter grape tomatoes can work, too, but they're really better for salads—grape tomatoes aren't as juicy, so the sauce will likely be thicker, more pulpy, and less tangy.
While the sauce is cooking, bring a large pot of abundantly salted water to a vigorous boil and cook the pasta until al dente. Drain it well. Taste the sauce and adjust the seasonings if needed. Toss the pasta with three-quarters of the sauce and divide among individual serving bowls. Spoon a little of the remaining sauce over each serving and sprinkle on the cheese, if you like.
These sauces are for more than just pasta: they can be napped over grilled sausages, fish fillets, pork chops, or chicken, or use one as a topping for homemade pizza. See the four recipes that accompany this article for suggested pairings, as well as pasta and cheese options.
Make the sauces in four quick steps
A wide, shallow pan is essential to creating a fast summer sauce. I use a 10- or 11-inch skillet whose wide surface area and lack of depth allows the tomatoes to cook down quickly.
1. Start by heating garlic and extra-virgin olive oil over gentle heat.
You're not looking to brown or fry the garlic, but rather to let it
soften slowly so that the oil is infused with its flavor.
2. Next, turn up the heat a notch and add a couple of flavor
boosters—salty, spicy, or cured ingredients such as anchovies, hot
chiles, or pancetta. Here's where you can also add garden ingredients
like diced eggplant, bell peppers, and summer squash, which give body to
3. After a brief sauté, add the tomatoes, along with salt and pepper and any woody or dried herbs, such as rosemary or oregano. Turn up the heat again to bring the sauce to a lively simmer and let it cook for 15 to 20 minutes—just until the sauce is thick and pulpy.
4. For the final touch, remove the saucepan from the heat and stir in delicate fresh herbs, if you like. Serve right away over pasta, or as a topping for everything from chicken to pizza to salmon.