Roasted tomato pasta sauce

June 6, 2009 at 7:55 am (B_minus (2 stars, okay), Cook's Illustrated, Derek's faves, Italian, Quick weeknight recipe, Starches, Summer recipes)

Sitting on my counter yesterday were a number of cherry tomatoes that had started to go a bit soft.  They were still good, but not fresh enough to eat out of hand.  I thought I would turn them into a nice (and fast) pasta sauce, by roasting them in the oven on a cookie sheet.  I roughly followed the instructions in a Cook’s Illustrated recipe, but I halved the recipe and made a few changes.


  • 1 shallot, sliced thin [try 3]
  • 4 Tbs. olive oil [try 3 Tbs.]
  • 2 pounds cherry tomatoes (about 3 pints), each tomato halved pole to pole [try 2.5 pounds]
  • 1/2 tsp. fine sea salt + 1 Tbs. salt for pasta water
  • 1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes [try heaping 1/2 tsp.]
  • 1/4 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 1.5 tsp. sugar
  • 1 Tbs. balsamic vinegar
  • 4 cloves garlic, sliced thin [try 6]
  • 1 pound whole wheat rigatoni [try 10 oz]
  • 1/4 cup torn basil leaves
  • parmesan cheese, grated


  1. Adjust oven rack to middle position; heat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Slice the shallots thinly.
  3. In a large bowl, gently toss the tomatoes with the olive oil (except for 1 tsp., which you should set aside), salt, pepper flakes, black pepper, sugar, vinegar, and garlic. Spread in even layer on rimmed baking sheet (about 17 by 12 inches).  In the same bowl, toss shallots with the remaining teaspoon oil; scatter shallots over tomatoes.
  4. Roast until edges of shallots begin to brown and tomato skins are slightly shriveled (tomatoes should retain their shape), 35 to 40 minutes. (Do not stir tomatoes during roasting.) Remove tomatoes from oven and cool 5 to 10 minutes.
  5. While tomatoes cook, bring 4 quarts water to boil in large stockpot. Just before removing tomatoes from oven, stir 1 Tbs. salt and pasta into boiling water and cook until al dente. Drain pasta and add to the large bowl you used for the tomatoes. Using a metal spatula, scrape the tomato mixture into the bowl on top of the pasta. Add the basil and toss to combine. Serve immediately, sprinkling cheese over individual bowls.

My notes:

I didn’t have enough tomatoes so I halved the recipe.  Still, I didn’t have enough cherry tomatoes so I also used some small, dark-brown tomatoes I had bought for sandwiches.  I mis-read the shallot instructions, and just mixed the slices in with all the other ingredients, rather than lying them on top of the tomatoes.  The (halved) recipe calls for 1/2 pound of pasta but I thought that seemed like too much for the amount of sauce, so I made 1/3 pound.

My tomatoes cooked significantly faster than they were supposed to.  I think it was due to a combination of factors:  I halved the recipe, so the cookie sheet wasn’t as full;  I left the fan on in my oven; and my cookie sheet is a very dark black.  According to CI, the halved recipe was supposed to serve 2 to 3, but I thought that the amount of sauce was a little skimpy even for two people. For two people I think next time I would use 1.5 pounds tomatoes, and up all the other ingredients by 50%, except the olive oil.

The sauce was quite good–the tomatoes were still quite pulpy and clung to the pasta, but despite not really being saucy they did taste like a sauce.  I was afraid that the tomato skins would be tough or annoying, but I didn’t even notice them.  The sauce had a very roasted flavor, from the browned bits of shallot and tomato skin.  I would make this recipe again, but next time I would serve something else substantial and low-calorie alongside it.  I think I could eat infinite bowls of pasta and this tomato sauce without feeling full.  Maybe a white bean soup or a chickpea salad would be a nice accompaniment, or a big bowl of steamed vegetables tossed with lemon juice and fresh herbs?

Attempt #2:  On a second try I made the full recipe, but it still didn’t really fill my cookie sheet, so next time I’ll try 2.5 pounds of tomatoes.  I didn’t have shallots, so used a small red onion instead, which was also good.  I served the pasta sauce with polenta and a dish of zucchini and eggplant and egg in a little Thai red curry.  It was a nice dinner.

Update Aug 3, 2012:  I used 2.25 pounds of large cherry tomatoes (actually called “pearl” tomatoes), and cut the oil slightly to 3.33 Tbs.  I increased the chili flakes to a slightly heaping 1/2 tsp., and used only 10 oz. of pasta, but otherwise followed the recipe as stated.  It came out well.  The tomatoes clung to the pasta and made a nice (but slightly oily) sauce.  The sugar and vinegar gave the sauce a nice sweet and sour element.  Derek loved it.  He said it tasted like a pasta he’d get for lunch at Apero, the little Italian-run shop near our house.  I thought that there could be slightly more tomatoes for 10 ounces of pasta (probably 2.5 pounds), but Derek thought the ratio was perfect, if anything a tad too saucy.  He said if I increase the tomatoes to 2.5 pounds I should increase the pasta to 12 ounces.  I liked the shallots a lot.  Next time I’ll use three.  And I’ll use only 3 Tbs. of olive oil.    Note to self:  Make sure not to cook the tomatoes too much.  The halves should get slightly shriveled but maintain their rounded shape, not collapse and shrivel up completely.  I think it helped that I used a light grey cookie sheet this time, not my black one.

Cook’s Illustrated has an interesting sounding variant with goat cheese instead of parmesan (4 oz, about 1/2 cup crumbled) and 1 large bunch arugula, torn into bite-sized pieces (about 4 cups loosely packed).  The arugula is tossed with the hot pasta to wilt it, and the cheese is sprinkled over individual bowls.

With 10 pounds of pasta, 2.25 pounds of tomatoes, and 3.33 Tbs. of oil this recipe made four servings of about 425 calories each.  With one ounce of parmeggiano per serving it would total 535 calories (17% protein, 33% fat, and 50% carbs).

Rating: B (very tasty, but a tad ordinary)

Derek: A-

Update Aug 2019: I made this for dinner with very ripe, soft tomatoes from my CSA (not cherry tomatoes). I only roughly followed the recipe, but Derek liked it a lot. He said he loved the sweetness along with the salty brininess of kalamata olives (which I served with it).

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Thai-ish tofu and green beans with whole wheat pasta

June 6, 2009 at 7:04 am (B_minus (2 stars, okay), East and SE Asia, My brain, Pasta, Quick weeknight recipe, Starches, Summer recipes, Tofu)

I threw together this dish for lunch today, with various things I scrounged from the fridge.  I didn’t measure, so all amounts are a guess.  This recipe is similar to one I posted last year for green beans, red peppers, and tofu in a Thai chili paste, but its less fiery, and the addition of pasta and nutritional yeast and sesame seeds makes it taste a bit more co-op pan-Asian and a bit less Thai.

  • 2? Tbs. toasted sesame seeds
  • 2-4? tsp. oil
  • small onion
  • 1/4 – 1/3 pounds very firm tofu
  • salt
  • nutritional yeast
  • black pepper
  • 2 scallions
  • about 3 cups of green beans
  • 1/4? cup white wine
  • 1? Tbs. soy sauce
  • 1/4? cup water
  • 1/2-1? tsp. Thai red curry paste
  • 2 cups of cooked, chunky, whole wheat pasta
  • 1/2 cucumber (with peel), cut into 1-inch chunks
  • a small handful of mint and a small handful of basil, torn into small pieces
  1. Wash and snap green beans.  Slice the onion into rings.  Cube the tofu into 1-inch cubes.
  2. In a medium pan (I used a 3 quart slope-sided pan), toast the sesame seeds over medium-high heat.  When the seeds start to brown and smell fragrant, pour them onto a large plate or bowl.
  3. In the same pan, add enough oil just to lightly coat the bottom.  Heat the oil on medium-high until hot, then add the tofu and onion rings in a single layer.  Sprinkle on salt and nutritional yeast, and let cook until the bottom has browned.  Meanwhile, chop up a few scallions.  Use a metal spatula to scrape up the tofu and stir it around so another side gets browned.  When the tofu is brown enough for your taste, add the chopped scallions and sprinkle on more yeast and some black pepper.  Fry briefly just to wilt the scallions, then remove the tofu and onions to the plate with the sesame seeds.  Use your metal spatula to try to scrape up any cooked on tofu bits, but you won’t be able to get them all.  That’s okay.
  4. Keep the pan on medium-high and add a little more oil to the now-empty pan, and when the oil is hot add the green beans.  Stir-fry the beans briefly, until all the beans are slightly browned.  Then add the Thai red curry paste and the cooked pasta.  Stir to distribute.  Add a little white wine, soy sauce,  and water to deglaze the pan.  Immediately cover the pan and let the green beans steam for a few minutes, until they’re just tender crisp.  Meanwhile, cut up the cucumber and tear the herbs.  Remove the lid and cook on high until almost all of the liquid has evaporated, and all that’s left is a bit of glistening glaze.  Remove the pan from the heat, throw in the tofu and onions and sesame from the plate, the cucumber, and the torn mint and basil leaves.  Stir to coat everything with the glaze.
  5. Serve immediately.

This dish made a very satisfying lunch for two.  The basil was essential I thought.  The mint and basil combo was good, but if you just have basil that would work as well. (Thai basil would be especially good.)  The onion added a little depth and sweetness, and the little bit of curry paste added a nice bit of spice.  I also liked the earthiness that the sesame seeds added.  It might seem odd to add cucumber to a cooked dish like this, but it adds a moistness and crunch that is a nice contrast to the cooked green beans and soft tofu.   If you don’t have cucumbers, radishes or halved cherry tomatoes might also work well. If I make this again, the only thing I might add is a little garlic when I add the green onions.

I wouldn’t make this recipe with white pasta.  It really needs something more hearty.  If you don’t have whole wheat pasta, then maybe just serve it over brown rice or another whole grain.  If you don’t have curry paste probably any chili paste or even dried chili flakes would be fine. If you don’t have white wine then maybe use a little mirin or rice wine vinegar to add a bit of acid.  If you don’t have a very firm tofu, you might want to press some water out of your tofu.  The lack of moisture in the tofu really helps it to brown well.  Otherwise you’ll need to cook the tofu at a lower temperature and allow more time to cook all the water out, so that the tofu can brown.

I removed the tofu and onion from the pan before adding the green beans because I thought that if I didn’t the pan would be too crowded, and the green beans wouldn’t brown, and the tofu and onions would become soggy when I steamed the green beans.

Derek said this dish was delicious.  The vegetables were nice and crisp, the onions added a nice depth of flavor, and the tofu was excellent.  It was the essence of simple, ingredient-oriented cuisine.  “If only I could get this sort of thing at a restaurant in Saarbruecken,” he lamented.  Rating: A-.

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