I’ve traveled to Italy for more than thirty years, and I’ve never seen anyone make—or eat—what we call pasta salads. But I can’t tell you how often I’ve seen a gifted home cook make a salsa cruda—a beautiful sauce of chopped raw tomatoes, fresh herbs, a bit of garlic, and a healthy dose of extar-virgin olive oil—and toss it with hot pasta. Ripe tomatoes need to marinate only half an hour for their sweet juices to be coaxed into a delicious sauce, so this vibrantly flavored pasta dish comes together easily in the time it takes for the water to boil and the pasta to cook.
Start with great tomatoes and the right cut. You’ll get the best results if you buy ripe tomatoes at a farmstand or farmers’ market or get them from your own garden. They’ll be the tastiest and juiciest, since they’ve been picked at their ripest. How you cut the tomatoes is important, too. A half-inch dice is the perfect size, because it will give you a juicy sauce while maintaining the integrity of the tomatoes.
Add a good amount of olive oil. The oil serves a double purpose here. First, it combines with the juices drawn by the salt to make the sauce. No oil means no sauce, just tomato juice. Second, a good fruity extra-virgin olive oil will lend its rich flavor to the dish, giving it lots of body and depth.
Toss the sauce with hot pasta. This is key: The heat of just-cooked pasta helps release the flavors in the tomatoes and creates a better integrated dish than if you mixed the sauce with cold pasta.