Small tomatoes can have big taste

September 10, 2009|By LYNNE ROSSETTO KASPER / Scripps Howard News Service

Dear Lynne: Nobody told me that little tomatoes come from huge plants, and the fruit multiplies like rabbits. Four plants and my fire escape is a jungle. They may be tiny, but these tomatoes are so sweet, so tart, so good, but using them is becoming a challenge. If I eat one more raw, I'll explode. Do you ever do pasta sauces with tiny tomatoes? If so, can I freeze the sauce? -- Janie in Minneapolis

Dear Janie: Oh, yes, on both counts. Little tomatoes with high flavors like yours make sauces that freeze beautifully.

This recipe is a starting point for you. Vary the seasonings, finish it with a little butter melted in at the very end, or even a spoon or two of cream, but do use big shallow pans so the tomatoes aren't piled in. They should be spread out so they can just about sizzle in the oil. That near-to-browning technique opens up all their big flavors.



o Makes enough sauce for 12 ounces of pasta to feed three as a main dish, and six as a starter.

This sauce celebrates the high flavors of little tomatoes like the grape varieties, the dark cherry and tiny currant types. Cheese is optional with this pasta since the tomatoes are the stars and they need nothing more.

The sauce holds in the refrigerator for four days, and freezes up to six months. If doubling the recipe, use two pans.

Good-tasting extra-virgin olive oil
1 small to medium onion, cut into 1/4-inch dice
Generous pinch hot red pepper flakes
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 large cloves garlic, sliced thin
2 to 3 pounds delicious small tomatoes, halved or not
8 fresh basil leaves, torn
12 ounces imported Italian linguine or spaghetti
5 quarts boiling, salted water

Generously film the bottom of a 12-inch straight-sided saute pan with the oil. Set it over medium-high heat and add the onion, red pepper, a generous sprinkling of salt and about six grinds of black pepper. Cook a few minutes, or until the onions soften.

Raise heat to high and add the garlic and tomatoes, using the back of a wood spatula to press the tomatoes (squashing them if necessary) into the hot oil so they sizzle. Let them saute a few moments until they are almost sizzling and then stir them. Press down again so they almost brown (caramelization is what you want, but do watch for burning). Stir again and cook another few minutes until thick and robust-tasting. Stir in the basil leaves, take the pan off the heat and cover it. Let it rest at room temperature from 15 minutes to 3 hours. The flavors will mellow.

To cook the pasta, drop it into the boiling water and cook, stirring, until just tender with still a little firmness to the bite. Before draining, take about 1/2 cup pasta water from the pot. Immediately drain the pasta in a colander.

Reheat the sauce, stirring in a little of the pasta water to extend it (about 1/4 cup). Add the hot pasta to the pan, toss to coat with the sauce and serve.

Lynne Rossetto Kasper hosts "The Splendid Table," American Public Media's weekly national show for people who love to eat, and is the co-author of "The Splendid Table's How to Eat Supper: Recipes, Stories, and Opinions." Ask questions and find Lynne, recipes and station listings at or call 800-537-5252.

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