Summer’s Best Tomato Sauce Isn’t Cooked; It’s Smashed

There’s a time and place for slowly simmering tomato sauces; but summer’s not it.
2 plates of pasta with sauce in 2 hands
Photograph by Peden + Munk, Food styling by Adriana Paschen, Prop styling by Ceci Garcia

Once summer rolls around, the last thing you want to be doing is cooking over a hot stove. It’s hard enough for your air conditioner to keep the place cool, and adding a simmering pot of tomato sauce into the mix only makes things worse. But just because it’s hot doesn’t mean you stop craving warm meals: It just means cooking at home needs to become quicker and cooler for both you and your electric bill’s sake. Enter one of my favorite quick, comforting dinners: this pasta with creamy no-cook tomato sauce.

Before we dive into the sauce itself, I’ve got some answers for the skeptics reading along: No, the sauce isn’t watery. And yes, it’s as rich and flavorful as any of its cooked tomato sauce counterparts. Here’s how to make it happen.

The base of any tomato sauce is—of course—the tomatoes. Here we are using halved cherry tomatoes. (More on that later.) Because the sauce isn’t going to simmer and concentrate on your stove, I recommend using tomatoes that are relatively sweet, but even less-than-ideal tomatoes will do the job. You’ll throw them into a large bowl and add a hefty glug of olive oil, a generous amount of chopped garlic, fresh basil, and a few spoonfuls of Calabrian chile paste. (I love the latter ingredient for its hot-tart flavor, but you can swap in about one teaspoon of red pepper flakes along with a tablespoon of miso if needed.)

The key to this sauce is abundance. Remember: The sauce isn’t getting cooked down at all, so you need to make sure each flavor is strong enough to shine through. I’m talking seven cloves of minced raw garlic, over a cup of chopped basil, and a half cup of olive oil. Yes, it might sound excessive, but trust the process.

Once all of your ingredients are thrown into a bowl it’s time to transform them into a sauce: Using clean hands (or a potato masher if you’re feeling squeamish) smash the tomatoes into the olive oil until they are broken down into a fine, sauce-like pulp. (Yes, smash!) Because you took the time to cut the tomatoes in half, you can smash away without worrying about any tomato juices squirting onto your shirt. The goal is to break the tomatoes down enough so their skins soften slightly and melt away into the sauce; this process takes about 10 minutes. The juices will emulsify with the olive oil and the flavors of the garlic and basil will get coaxed out. It’s a technique that’s both fun and practical; it’s playing with your food in a way that is fully warranted. And while it might be tempting to bust out your blender to make quicker work of the tomatoes: don’t. The sauce will turn out too liquidy and drown your pasta if you blend it.

Once your sauce base is smashed and ready, boil some pasta, drain it, then add it back into the hot pot. (This is the only cooking you’ll need to do.) Add some butter, Parmesan, and the tomato mixture, and stir until the sauce is creamy and emulsified. The butter and cheese will thicken up all of the tomato juice, transforming it into a flavorful and glossy sauce that perfectly coats the noodles. Serve with some extra cheese and basil: Dinner is done, your house is cool, and everyone is happy.