This is one of the easiest Italian pasta dishes I make and I hope you add it to your own list of recipes.
I call it Pasta with Fresh Tomatoes and Garlic because those are the main ingredients. Brilliant recipe name – I know!
This pasta recipe is so simple anyone can make it. Not only is it super easy, but it can be ready in less than 20 minutes.
About the Tomato, Garlic and Olive Oil Sauce
The sauce is a very light sauce that uses 3 main ingredients in Italian cooking-olive oil, garlic and fresh tomatoes.
Roma tomatoes work best with the pasta
Although using small tomatoes like cherry or grape works great, if you choose to use larger tomatoes, I’d recommend varieties that are meatier in nature, such as Roma tomatoes.
Roma tomatoes are mid-size long tomatoes about 3 inches in length. They are often used for sauces because they are not watery, but have thicker pulp and tomato ‘meat’ inside.
This allows for more pieces of tomato which is what we want when topping the pasta with the Roma tomatoes.
There are many types of Roma tomatoes, and I recommend growing them in your garden if you can. Another variety of tomatoes is San Marzano tomatoes which are larger, growing as long 5 or 6 inches!
This is one of those recipes that you can modify here and there with the quantities. Don’t be shy – trust me!
Any variety of garlic will do for this recipe, but it needs to be fresh garlic. Avoid mincing or dicing the garlic cloves.
Instead we want to slice the garlic cloves thinly, allowing the flavor to gently diffuse in the sauce.
My mother-in-law gave me a good tip about using sliced garlic in recipes saying that this is a good practice especially when you have guests who may not enjoy a strong garlic flavor. They can avoid eating the garlic but will appreciate the hint of garlic mixed with the olive oil, tomatoes, and basil, if used.
To make this recipe, all you need are the following ingredients:
- Pasta. You can use short pasta like penne, or even long pasta. I’ve used all sorts with great success.
- Roma tomatoes or other as described above. Make sure the tomato variety you buy are meaty, although I’ve also used cherry tomatoes.
- Fresh garlic. Feel free to increase or decrease the quantity.
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Fresh Basil
- Grated Italian cheese (Romano preferred)
About the Olive oil
There is no room for compromise when it comes to the oil used. Use only extra virgin olive oil, not regular olive oil, and certainly never use vegetable oil or any other kind of oil. If it doesn’t have ‘olive’ in it, don’t bother proceeding with the recipe.
Olive oil, specifically extra virgin, has more flavor and provides the Italian flavor we love when mixed with the fresh tomatoes and fresh garlic. Not to mention the basil which we’ll talk about next.
If you have access to fresh basil, I strongly suggest you add it to the fresh tomato and garlic sauce. You can get pretty flexible, not limited to just a pasta, fresh tomatoes and garlic only recipe. The fresh basil really helps add another layer of freshness.
Do not use dried basil. That will not work.
However, if your fresh basil isn’t growing yet, or it’s out of season, hopefully you followed my instructions for freezing basil in ice cube trays for purposes like this.
Simply add a cube or two to the hot sauce pan and let the water evaporate. Your fresh basil, although not it’s typical texture as if freshly picked, will still provide the aroma we associate with our Italian garden herbs.
You can also learn how to grow fresh basil all year indoors so it’s always readily available to add to these type of pasta and tomato dishes.
Adjusting Tomato Quantities
If you have for example a bunch of summer tomatoes that you need to use up, use more than the recipe calls for and mash them down. Turn it into a more tomatoey-saucy dish. If you don’t have enough tomatoes, no worries, use what you have.
This is a recipe that reminds me of summertime no matter when I make it, especially when I add in the fresh basil – that just puts it over the top!
Keep in mind, you don’t have to use basil at all. If you prefer to just have pasta with fresh tomatoes, olive oil and garlic, you’ll still have a perfect recipe that ranks in my top favorites!
Short or Long Pasta?
I used to only use short pasta because I think it goes further. Of course, don’t use elbow macaroni. I’ve used bow ties, rigatoni, penne, mini-penne, etc.
However, I frequently use angel hair or capellini pasta which are the thin variety of long pasta. The reason I recommend these long pastas is because their texture and weight are better suited for such a delicate sauce.
How to Make Pasta with Fresh Tomatoes and Garlic
Start by heating up a large pan of water. Add in a dash of salt and a drop of olive oil. The olive oil helps the pasta not stick together since we’re not using a typical heavier marinara sauce.
Meanwhile, start preparing the ingredients by chopping the tomatoes in bite size chunks. Set in a strainer over a bowl to let the excess liquid drain. We want some liquid, so don’t worry about removing all the tomato juice. This is needed more for tomatoes that have a high water content.
The water is probably boiling now, so add in the pasta and give it a quick stir to help avoid any initial sticking.
In a large frying or saute pan, heat the olive oil over low-medium heat. Meanwhile, slice the garlic cloves into thin strips and add to the olive oil. Give a small stir so the garlic gets coated with the oil.
Next, add in the fresh tomatoes and stir again so everything is coated with the olive oil. The tomatoes will cook down some and that is fine. You do not need to cover the pan.
Let the tomatoes get heated through and reduce to a low simmer. We don’t want the sauce to dry out. This is why it’s okay to include some of the tomato juice.
Lastly, add in the basil which should be sliced. Of course if using the frozen basil, it won’t be. That’s okay. You can also even wait till you serve the pasta to top it with the fresh basil. You want to avoid cooking the basil down too much to where it loses it’s brightness.
Before draining the pasta, reserve about a cup of the pasta water in case it is needed if the tomatoes, garlic and olive oil sauce dries out a little. Just add a dash if needed.
Drain the pasta and add to the sauce pan and toss to coat it thoroughly.
Serve warm and top with cheese.
Side Dishes for Pasta with Fresh Tomatoes and Garlic
Considering that this is mainly a summer recipe, choose side dishes that are light and will compliment the starchy pasta. Using similar ingredients such as tomatoes and olive oil will help to bring a cohesiveness to the meal.
Here are some ideas that you can use.
- Simple Italian Salad with Olive Oil– an Italian salad always goes with pasta regardless of the season.
- Fresh bread – artisan bread or garlic bread is a good option.
- Bean salad – A refreshing white bean salad is a hearty side dish that is filling and adds fiber to the meal.
- Focaccia – try making focaccia bread as an appetizer.
- Garbanzo bean salad – this Italian salad is full of protein and fresh summer ingredients.
Other Similar Recipes
Pasta with asparagus and peas is also just as simple to make except it uses a light alfredo sauce and green veggies.
Pasta with asparagus and lemon uses a delicate light white sauce with lemon and asparagus. It’s perfect for a light and refreshing dish!
I hope you enjoy the recipe for pasta with fresh tomatoes and garlic.
Pasta with Fresh Tomato and Garlic
- 1/2 lb short or long thin pasta penne, rigatoni, etc. or thin long pasta
- 12 oz Roma tomatoes chopped you can use grape or cherry tomatoes
- 3 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 2 cloves fresh garlic sliced thin
- 1 handful chopped fresh basil
- reserved pasta water
- Bring a large pan of salted water and a small drop of olive oil to a boil.
- When boiling, add in the pasta and give it a stir.
- Meanwhile, heat the olive oil over medium-low heat in a large frying pan.
- When heated, add the garlic and simmer over low heat for 3 minutes making sure not to burn the garlic.
- Add in the tomatoes and stir to coat the tomatoes with the olive oil.
- When pasta is done, save some of the pasta water off to the side to use if the pasta is too dry.
- Add in the fresh basil a few minutes before adding the pasta.
- Drain the pasta and transfer to the tomato and garlic sauce (plus a little of the pasta water) in the frying pan and give it a good stir.
- Serve warm and top with grated Italian Romano or Parmesan Cheese.
- I chose to slice the garlic real thin for this recipe. This way I get the flavor and aroma of the garlic but it is not as strong as if I had used minced garlic. In addition, this way allows people to choose whether or not they actually want to eat the garlic.
- In the summertime when fresh basil is readily available, toss in a nice big handful of fresh basil about 3 minutes before you add in the pasta. Make sure to put some fresh basil leaves on the side to make a nice presentation.
- This goes great with a simple salad. By simple I mean simple. I love fresh greens tossed with good extra virgin olive oil sprinkled with fresh Italian cheese.
- Try to avoid thick pasta shapes because the sauce is a delicate one – not heavy.
If you enjoyed this recipe, you may also enjoy these other ones too!
Thanks for visiting and I hope you enjoy my recipe for pasta with fresh tomato garlic sauce!
Original post written Sept. 5, 2016. Updated January 28th, 2023.