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This fresh tomato basil pasta sauce will win you weeknight awards for fast and easy! Use the cherry tomatoes that are in season in your garden, farmer’s market or local grocery store. Basil adds the flavoring that makes this simple recipe so elegant! It’s light and healthy, and is perfect paired with a good red wine.
Fresh Tomato Basil Pasta Sauce with Rigatoni Noodles
Easy to make homemade fresh tomato basil pasta sauce will become one of your favorite go to recipes! Serve with a side salad, and top with ricotta or mozzarella cheese for a quick and healthy weeknight meal. Stir in more ricotta to make it creamy, or add chicken or serve with sausage for more protein. Use cherry tomatoes or even mix in sun-dried tomatoes for a twist. Rigatoni noodles hold the sauce well, but feel free to use your favorite noodles.
—Want the recipe right now? Want to skip all the tips and tricks to making the perfect pasta sauce with cherry tomatoes and fresh basil? Simply scroll straight to the bottom!—
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I think the first time I stumbled upon a recipe for cherry tomato basil pasta was when I was in college and living in my own apartment. It was part of one of those 365 day calendars with a recipe a day. I promptly skipped that day, because back then, I thought fresh tomatoes were the grossest things in the world.
Oh how young, naive and stupid I was. It wasn’t like my mom hadn’t had a garden every year of my life where the tomatoes were as fresh as fresh could be, perfectly ripe, and altogether perfect. It was simply because I’d never learned to mix tomatoes with the flavors I enjoyed. Instead, they were sliced onto sandwiches and burgers. It wasn’t until years later, when a friend served tomato bruschetta that I realized that fresh tomatoes are not my nemesis. Since then, I’ve become a total convert. These margherita style tortellini skewers are an example of that!
I can’t recall my mom chopping fresh garlic at any point growing up. Don’t tell my kids, but I guess that means she’s a vampire. But tomatoes and garlic go together like peanut butter and jelly. If you look at a canned pasta sauce, you’ll spy garlic as a key component. I know some people swear by onions in a sauce as well, but I prefer to use shallots, very finely diced.
Then there is basil. Sweet, savory, earthy basil. I typically grow and cook with Genovese basil as it’s the easiest to find seeds for, or even full size plants at the grocery store. Nine times out of 10, this sweet common basil is what you will find in the fresh herb section. You can always experiment with other herbs like rosemary, oregano, or marjoram. That’s for when you really want to break out. For a classic fresh tomato sauce, stick with basil.
And yes, I chop my basil with a knife. Did I just hear you gasp out loud? Some people swear by not bruising it and just simply tearing it, and others flat out say it’s bad luck to cut basil with a knife. But I love the strings of basils that a good quality chopping knife makes, so I am living on the edge I guess! I know others that swear by these herb shears.
The tomatoes are the star of the show. I love the heirloom cherry tomatoes that come in a variety of colors. Something about those pops of color on the lightly colored rigatoni noodles just makes my heart sing. The best part is there is no reason to deseed them. If you are chopping up large meaty tomatoes (which by all means you can!), simply take the time to carve the seeds out. Cherry tomatoes make quick work of a tomato pasta sauce, with only one slice across the length of the especially large ones. If on the tiny size, skip slicing all together.
What ingredients do I need to make a Fresh Basil and Tomato Sauce? Do I need any special equipment to make basil and tomato sauce?
You’ll need just a few ingredients and cooking utensils to make a homemade tomato and basil pasta sauce.
- shallots if desired, a yellow onion if you have no shallots. Finely diced is the key
- garlic (fresh that is minced is best, but you can use jarred if needed)
- coarse ground black pepper
- a good quality olive oil – need tips? Read how to buy olive oil for beginners
- ricotta cheese -you can skip cheese if you want, or use cottage cheese in a bind. Shredded parmesan on top is a favorite too
As far as equipment goes, basic kitchen supplies will get you through. My favorite dish to make homemade tomato basil sauce is in my Le Creuset dutch oven . I know, I’ve balked at the price too. I was given my first one in 2005 and it’s still going strong. If you are serious about cooking, it’s one of the best investments you can make.
Stainless steel pans are non reactive, so you can feel confident cooking a tomato sauce, ie an acidic meal in the pans. My pans are 20 years old, and are used several times a week, so looking into the ones you want, and maybe splurging a bit will most likely pay off in the long run. They are total work horses for sure!
I like my sauce nice and chunky, but some people can’t stand that. If you want a silky smooth finish, I’d suggest finishing off with an immersion blender.
Can I make tomato and basil pasta sauce gluten free?
Great news! This recipe for fresh tomato basil pasta sauce is naturally gluten free! YAY! However, the noodles can throw that off! If you are dining with someone gluten sensitive, you can serve with gluten free noodles. The good news is that now there are many available! Dry noodles are totally okay. In some dishes I prefer fresh noodles though. Our family recipe for Italian sausage marinara is one dish that I prefer fresh noodles with. You might remember that I’m the only person in my family with celiac, so I simply boil 2 different saucepans of noodles. I drain mine first, then the regular noodles. The only downside to this is that I have one more dish to wash, but in the grand scheme of eating gluten free, this is no problem!
How to make basil pasta sauce from scratch
Let’s get down to the nitty gritty!!!
You’ll start with chopping your veggies as shown above. That would involve finely dicing the garlic, and shallots. It’s up to you on how you’d like to slice the basil.
While you are doing all the prep work, start boiling the water for your noodles. You’ll want to place noodles when it’s at a full rolling boil, not when it’s just a little bit hot. This can make a world of difference when cooking pasta noodles. Fresh noodles take very little time. Dry noodles take longer. Consult the box for sure on how long to cook. Some people prefer al dente, some nicely soft.
Another trick is to add just about one tablespoon of olive oil to the boiling water to keep noodles from sticking. You’ll also want to salt the water for sure. Turn down the heat as well and try not to let the water boil over. The trick of laying a wooden spoon across to keep pasta water from boiling over has been debunked, so you’ll have to keep an eye on it. Stir every few minutes, no one likes a block of solid stuck together noodles!
Once your prep work is done, heat your pan with the olive oil in it. Never add garlic to a cold pan! You’ll want the oil piping hot. You can always throw in one small slice, and wait until it’s bubbling. Sometimes we get in a rush and don’t want to wait, but it’s worth it.
Also, don’t put your flame too hot. It’s easy to burn garlic and the nasty taste you are left with burnt garlic is not something you’ll want to add to this sauce! When sautéing garlic and shallots, you’ll want a low heat. If it starts to brown quickly, your flame is too high. Low and slow is the name of the game with this one. If you want more advice on making the perfect pasta sauce, this handy post on things you’re doing wrong when making pasta sauce is a great resource.
Once the shallots and garlic have reached the stage of perfection, you’ll stir in the tomatoes and some salt. Cover the pan to allow those tomatoes to break down from the heat and steam. You’ll simmer for about 8 minutes. Be sure to stop by the pan every few minutes to give it a good stir.
Next, turn the heat off and add in the butter. For me, I have an electric stove top (I know, I know, gas is my favorite, but our builder didn’t install it), so I need to move it off the burner all together. Otherwise it’s still cooking! Stir in the basil and pepper, and stir gently until all the butter is melted. I know it seems strange to use butter instead of olive oil, but I adore the combo.
Drain your noodles (but reserve a few tablespoons of liquid incase your sauce needs a bit of thinning!) and add them into the sauce. Top with any remaining basil strips. If you need a little more liquid, use the reserved noodle liquid.
You can top with ricotta cheese or fresh parmesan. Typically, if I’m using ricotta, I coat the noodles with it before adding to the sauce. Ricotta melts down a bit, and this allows it to really get in the rigatoni noodles. However, it doesn’t look as pretty in the pictures this way! Another tip is to stir it into the sauce before adding the pasta. You can pick your favorite of the 3 ways!
Always feel free to experiment with the sauce. This is just a basic tomato and basil sauce. Sometimes I add red and green bell peppers and a splash of balsamic vinegar to make a dish of sausage and peppers. Other times I skip the cheese and just serve on top of cheese tortellini. The options are endless! I want you to feel confident in a basic sauce so that you can feel open to creating your own versions. So pop that bottle of wine, throw on some tunes and enjoy spending time in your kitchen!
Looking for sides to pair this dish with? We serve with a side salad, a loaf of bread, some extra olive oil, and a good red wine!
Still undecided? Or tried it and loved it? Be sure to bookmark this page or pin this pin to your favorite pasta board so you’ll be able to make it again!
Recipe for Tomato Basil Sauce From Scratch:
Tomato Basil Pasta Sauce with Rigatoni
- 1 pound pasta noodles rigatoni
- 3 TBSP olive oil
- 1 shallot, small, finely minced
- 3 cloves garlic, finely minced
- 4 cups
red or yellow grape tomatoes or cherry tomatoes
- 1 TBSP butter
- 1/3 cup
fresh basil, loosely packed fresh basil, loosely packed
- 1/2 cup ricotta
- salt and pepper
- Cook the pasta according to the package directions. Drain and reserve ¼ cup of the pasta water.
- While the pasta is cooking, slice the tomatoes in half and chop the basil (save some to garnish with). Mince the garlic and the shallots
- Add the olive oil to a large skillet and place it over medium heat. Once hot, add the garlic and sauté for about 2 minutes until oil becomes fragrant. Watch the garlic so it doesn’t burn.
- Add the sliced grape tomatoes and a pinch of salt to the skillet. Stir to combine. Place a lid on the skillet and simmer for about 8 minutes stirring occasionally.
- Turn the heat off and add the butter, the chopped basil, and some freshly ground pepper. Stir until the butter is melted.
- Add the cooked and drained pasta and stir. If the mixture seems dry, stir in a bit of the reserved pasta water.
- Put pasta on plates and top with dollops of ricotta and fresh ground pepper. Garnish with basil and serve!