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A bowl of pasta tossed with cherry tomato sauce, pine nuts, basil and mozzarella.

Pasta with Simple Cherry Tomato Sauce

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5 from 46 reviews


Here’s a super simple but super flavorful summer pasta recipe: sautéed fresh cherry tomatoes, toasted pine nuts, basil, mozzarella, parmesan and orecchiette pasta. It’s a classic combination, and it couldn’t be more delicious

If you are looking to bulk it up with some meat, a natural addition would be some browned, hot or sweet Italian sauce. 


  • I love a short pasta for this recipe (as opposed to spaghetti or linguini), and I particularly like the Barilla orecchiette. Conveniently, the boxes are 12 ounces, which is what you need for this recipe. 
  • I have only ever made this with cherry tomatoes, but I imagine any ripe, juicy tomatoes you have on hand, will work just fine. 
  • I like the pearl-sized mozzarella balls, packed in brine. The slightly larger-sized balls, ciliegine, work fine, too, as would simply dicing up a large ball of mozzarella.
  • If making for children, consider omitting the crushed red pepper flakes or using just a pinch. 


  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 1 small shallot, thinly sliced 
  • 4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • kosher salt
  • 12 ounces pasta, such as orecchiette, see notes above
  • 1/3 cup pine nuts
  • 1/2 to 1 teaspoon crusted red pepper flakes (or less if serving to children)
  • 1 pound small, sweet tomatoes, halved, see notes above
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan (a little over an ounce), plus more to taste
  • 4 ounces small mozzarella balls, see notes above
  • 1/2 cup fresh basil, thinly sliced or more to taste
  •  fresh cracked black pepper


  1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Place the pine nuts in a small skillet and place over the lowest heat possible. 
  2. Meanwhile place the olive oil, shallots, and garlic in a large skillet. Season with a pinch of salt. Turn the heat to high. As soon as you see the oil beginning to shimmer, give the shallots and garlic a stir, cover the lid, and turn the heat to low. Cook for roughly 10 minutes, or until the shallots and garlic are very soft. 
  3. When the pasta water boils, add 1 tablespoon kosher salt. Boil the pasta till al dente, (11 to 12 minutes for the Barilla orecchiette, but check your package for the accurate time). 
  4. Meanwhile, uncover the lid of the pan with the shallots and garlic. Add the crushed red pepper flakes and stir briefly. Raise the heat to medium, and add the tomatoes. Season with a pinch of salt. Cook for 3 to 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes begin to break down. Add 1 cup of water and bring to a gentle simmer. Taste for seasoning. Add salt and pepper to taste. 
  5. Before draining the pasta reserve a cup or so of the pasta cooking liquid. (You may not need the pasta cooking liquid, but reserve some just in case.) Drain the pasta. Do not rinse or shake. Immediately transfer drained pasta to the tomato sauce and stir to combine. Turn heat to low.
  6. Check on the pine nuts. Increase the heat to medium and stir constantly until the pine nuts are toasted — do not walk away from the skillet for a second. Add them to the pasta once toasted.
  7. Add the parmesan cheese to the pasta as well as fresh cracked pepper to taste. Taste. Season with salt to taste if necessary. Add some of the reserved pasta cooking liquid if the sauce has thickened too much — I have yet to need the reserved liquid, but I always reserve some should I need it. Add more parmesan to taste if you wish. 
  8. When the sauce is tasting seasoned to your liking, add the mozzarella and basil, stir to combine, then serve immediately. Shave more parmesan over top if you wish. Crack pepper over top if you wish as well. 
  • Prep Time: 15 minutes
  • Cook Time: 30 minutes
  • Category: Pasta
  • Method: Stovetop
  • Cuisine: Italian, American