Pasta with Fresh Tomato and Anchovy Sauce

Too many tomatoes. That’s something I didn’t think I’d ever be saying earlier on in the summer, or, least of all, during the colder months we’re heading into now. But currently, in the Northeast, it’s tomato mayhem. For the last several weeks, I’ve gotten more and more reinforcements of tomatoes from my CSA. I had my volunteer shift last week, and was given the task of sorting tomatoes. There were far too many for the (many of them vacationing) members to possibly take. And they’re far too many for me to possibly eat in a week.

So as soon as they get slightly soft, it’s time to sauce. Ultra-ripe, soft, and very sweet tomatoes beg to be put to this purpose. But I find that the smaller varieties — cherry, grape, sungold, and other diminutive types — make the best fresh tomato sauce of them all.

sweet cherry tomatoes

And in very little time to boot. You don’t have to remove cores or strange patches from their surface. You don’t even need to chop them — they’ll burst soon enough in a pan. However, I prefer to slice them in clean halves to speed up the sauce-making process. Try it in one deft swipe by holding another cutting board on top of them and pressing slightly, then running your knife underneath horizontally. Mass tomato guillotine.

Fresh cherry tomato sauce is great: mild, sweet, a more cheerful and fresh version of marinara. But I was in the mood for something with a little more depth. This doesn’t have to be achieved through hours and hours of simmering or lots of meat. You can get it from a little bit of anchovy paste.

minced garlic and anchovy fillets

It’s the magic factor in Caesar salad dressing, this tiny fish packed in oil. It’s also a player in puttanesca sauce, and many simple pasta preparations, with or without tomatoes. I think it not only gives a fresh tomato sauce the boldness of flavor that it lacks, but a richer consistency, as alone, the sauce can be watery if you don’t have the patience to cook it too long. Simply mince a fillet as you would a clove of garlic — and mince that, of course, too. If you can find a jar or tube of anchovy paste, no chopping necessary, just dab it on.

a savory sauce in process

Capers and chili peppers are optional additions that sit right with this Sicilian-styled dish. You might opt to skip them to focus on the fresh tomatoes, while they’re sunny and abundant this late summer. Their thin skins become intense red and intensely flavorful, almost umami, and the sauce takes on a jammy consistency after squelching out its juice. It all comes together quickly, and you can toss your al dente pasta right in the sauce to absorb excess liquid and lots of flavor.

Hence, last week’s tomatoes have been nearly conquered by sauce-making. This week’s are getting out of control in my kitchen. There are just too many heirloom tomatoes to deal with right now. I never thought I’d be saying that — ah, summer.

Pasta with Fresh Cherry Tomato and Anchovy Sauce
(makes about 2 servings)

8 oz. dry pasta (any shape)
2-3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
pinch red pepper flakes (optional)
1 teaspoon capers, minced (optional)
2 anchovy fillets, minced (or about 1 teaspoon anchovy paste)
1 quart cherry, grape, or small variety of tomatoes, halved
salt and freshly ground black pepper
handful fresh basil leaves (optional)

Note: Look for anchovies packed in extra-virgin olive oil, which may come as flat fillets or rolled fillets, and are sometimes stuffed with capers.

In a saute pan, heat the olive oil over medium-high. Add the garlic, optional chili flakes and capers, and anchovies. Continue stirring for about 30 seconds, until very fragrant. Add the halved cherry tomatoes along with a pinch of salt and pepper. Cook uncovered, stirring occasionally, for 6-8 minutes, or until the tomatoes are softened.

Meanwhile, bring a pot of generously salted water to a boil. Drop in pasta and stir until the pasta is slightly under al dente.

Transfer the al dente pasta directly into the pan with the tomato sauce. Stir well to continue cooking the pasta to desired doneness. Taste for seasoning, adding any extra salt, pepper, or olive oil as desired. Remove from heat and garnish with the optional fresh basil.

Cost Calculator
(for 2 servings)

8 oz (half a box) pasta: $2.00
1 quart cherry tomatoes: $4.00
2 anchovy fillets (at $3.50/tin): $0.50
2 cloves garlic: $0.20
2-3 Tb olive oil: $0.25
optional pinch chili flakes and tsp capers: $0.25
fresh basil (from house plant): $0.25

Total: $7.45 

Health Factor

Five brownie points: This is a light yet hearty and satisfying dish. Its main component is tomatoes, which are chock full of antioxidants and numerous vitamins. When you make a sauce with them fresh rather than canned, you’re preserving many of them as well as saving yourself from extra sodium that’s added to canned ones. Enjoy it while you can! This recipe also incorporates (canned) anchovies, which are high in sodium but when used in such small quantity for flavor, you’ll need less salt to season the sauce. Also, you’ll get a dose of beneficial omega 3 fatty acids from this small portion of oily, dark-fleshed fish.

Green Factor

Six maple leaves: I managed to use up one week’s installment of local tomatoes from my CSA, but with the help of some imported ingredients: pasta and anchovies. At least garlic can be found abundantly grown locally here, too.

4 Responses

  1. Jena

    I love that you didn’t use cheese in this recipe. I’ve recently had to go dairy-free (something about dairy isn’t agreeing with my pregnancy hormones or something–makes me all phlegmy & coughy). I’m going to have to get some anchovy paste when my cherry tomatoes finally turn red. (We had to plant in June–summer came pretty late here.)

  2. Jena

    Made this tonight with tomatoes and basil from my garden. I didn’t have capers, but I read somewhere that preserved lemon can be subbed for capers in just about any recipe. My toddler & I both loved it! Thank you so much for a fantastic & easy harvest-time recipe. (We’re planning on making it again with the rest of the tomatoes from the garden.)

    Now, what do you recommend I do with the rest of that tube of anchovy paste? (I can’t use it in homemade Caesar dressing; it has to be in cooked things…)

  3. Cathy Erway

    Jena: I would add it to any tomato or veggie-based pasta sauces and even to minestrone soup, then if you get bored of pastas, try adding it in tiny amounts to sauteed greens — like broccoli, kale, arugula, spinach, etc. Just a tiny smear goes a long way in adding flavor, along with garlic. Cheers!

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