Type “homemade tomato sauce” into your Google search box and you’ll turn up nearly 400 million results. Some demand hours at the stove, others are fabulously unfussy. This smashed tomato pasta leans heavily towards the easy end of the spectrum. It calls for just five ingredients, takes about 10 minutes of hands-on time, and results in a sauce you’ll find yourself turning to again and again.
I know that’s been the case for me ever since I discovered the sauce back in my twenties. Now, decades of cooking experience later, I still use this technique for simple summer pasta dishes.
How to Make this Easy Tomato Sauce
The approach for this pasta is about as basic as it gets. If you have beginner cooks or kids at home, this is a terrific recipe for them to gain confidence in the kitchen. Here’s how it goes down:
- Cut ripe Roma tomatoes in half.
- Dress with olive oil and salt.
- Roast until soft enough to smash with a fork.
- Add a couple of spoonfuls of pesto.
- Toss with hot pasta.
Simple Tips for a Simple Recipe
Simple as this recipe is, there are a few tips that will guarantee success:
- Use ripe tomatoes: Summer is the best time to make this sauce, since tomatoes are at their peak.
- Start with good pesto: Of course, you can make your own (here is a terrific recipe), but if you don’t have time, I recommend refrigerated store-bought rather than shelf-stable pesto.
- Don’t hurry things along: Be sure to roast the tomatoes long enough to coax out their natural sweetness and make them easy to smash.
Variations on this Recipe
This is a recipe that lends itself to endless variations. Here are a handful to get your imagination rolling:
- Add a few cloves of sliced garlic to the tomatoes before roasting. Once roasted and smashed, skip the pesto and add 1/2 cup of roughly chopped fresh basil, an extra pinch of salt, fresh black pepper, and a glug of olive oil.
- Give this a tangy, savory spin by replacing the pesto with 1/3 cup chopped olives, a few tablespoons of capers, a few smashed anchovies, and a big pinch of red pepper flakes. Finish with crumbled feta instead of Parmesan cheese.
- Add a 15-ounce can of drained and rinsed cannellini beans or a cooked sliced boneless, skinless chicken breast to the finished sauce before tossing with pasta.
- Make this a creamy sauce by running the roasted tomatoes and pesto through a blender before tossing with pasta.
- Dot the finished pasta with fresh ricotta or little Mozzarella balls called bocconcini.
- Add a handful of baby arugula to the finished dish.
Simple Serving Suggestions
Since this meal is all about keeping it quick and easy, I like to stick with simple side dishes, too. A green salad with a tangy vinaigrette will do nicely. You can also put a sheet pan of vegetables tossed with olive oil, salt, and pepper in the oven while the tomatoes roast (this guide on roasting veggies may help).
Can You Make This Ahead?
Absolutely. My suggestion is to roast and smash the tomatoes ahead of time. Refrigerate in a covered container, where it will keep for up to 3 days. When ready to serve, warm the sauce on the stove while the pasta cooks. Add pesto to the warm sauce just before tossing with the pasta. It’s best if you keep the pasta and sauce separate until mealtime.
Make the most of your oven while it’s in use by doubling the sauce and storing the extra in the freezer, where it will keep for up to 6 months.
Recipes for Peak Tomato Season
- Tomato Ricotta Tart
- Tomato Galette with Parmesan Whole Wheat Crust
- Tomato Pie
- Tomato Cucumber Feta Salad
- Tomato, Onion, Avocado Salad
Preheat the oven to 350°F.
Roast the tomatoes:
Cut the tomatoes in half lengthwise. Arrange them cut-side-up in a 9×13-inch baking dish. Sprinkle the salt and drizzle the olive oil over the tomatoes.
Roast them until juicy and soft enough that they give with relative ease under the pressure of a fork, about 1 hour—cook time will vary depending on the size and ripeness of the tomatoes.
Cook the pasta:
When the tomatoes are nearly done, set a large pot of water over high heat and season it with enough salt that it tastes like the sea. Let it come up to a boil and cook the pasta until al dente following box instructions. Drain well in a colander set in the sink.
Smash the tomatoes and toss with pasta:
Use a fork to mash the tomatoes while still in the baking pan into a chunky sauce. Add the pesto and stir to blend into the sauce. Alternatively, put the tomatoes and pesto in a blender and blend into a purée—the sauce will be creamier. Taste and add more pesto and more salt, if needed.
Toss the cooked pasta and sauce together in pot or in a large serving bowl. Serve immediately with freshly grated Parmesan cheese.
Refrigerate leftover pasta in a covered container for up to 3 days. Reheat in the microwave or on the stove with a little water, if needed.
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