Back to the basics: a classic tomato pasta sauce

Put a crop of sun-ripened tomatoes to good use in this simple pasta sauce recipe from Cucina Vivo chef Dayan Hartill-Law.

Italians are experts in the simple pleasures of life, and nowhere is this more obvious than in their cooking. Italian food is an exercise in taking exceptional produce and letting the flavours sing.

There might be no purer expression of Italian cooking than a classic tomato pasta sauce, with every twirl of the fork delivering strand-coating lashings of taste.

As Chef de Cuisine at Cucina Vivo at The Star Gold Coast, Dayan Hartill-Law brings the essence of the breezy Amalfi Coast to the Queensland coast. Dayan holds the utmost respect for the humble tomato, which was adopted by the Italians with gusto after it made its way over from South America in the boats of Spanish conquistadors in the 1500s.

“When cooked it is a wonderful item to aid digestion, but it also has its own intrinsic umami-laden flavour,” Dayan says. 

All the way back in the Middle Ages, Dayan explains, the tomato allowed the Italians to add flavour to their food at a time when the spice trade was faltering. As an array of tomato species flourished in the region’s Mediterranean climate, the fruit became synonymous with Italian cooking. “The tomato became quite industrious and allowed the Italians to also become quite industrious alongside it,” Dayan says. Many classic Italian dishes – from red pizza to eggplant parmigiana – call for a tomato sauce, but pasta remains its perfect match.

Although these days we’re all accustomed to getting tomatoes of the canned or greenhouse varieties year-round, Dayan insists that nothing compares to the sun-kissed natural crops of spring and summer. If, like Dayan, you’re lucky enough to have the space to grow your own fresh tomatoes, it will propel your pasta sauce into a class of its own. “You’ll find the natural sweetness of the ripe fruit will, when cooked, transform into that wonderful umami flavour, coating your palate with savoury deliciousness,” he adds.

Dayan’s go-to tomato sauce recipe is a favourite after a sunny morning spent in the garden. Made with ripe tomatoes plucked from his own backyard crop, Dayan regularly whips up this super-simple pasta dish for Sunday family lunch with the help of his kids.

Dayan’s cherry tomato pasta sauce

Serves 4 

Ingredients

  • 2 x 250g punnets cherry tomatoes or the sweeter solanato
  • 30ml olive oil
  • Sprig of fresh basil
  • 400g bucatini or spaghetti (dried or fresh)
  • 1 red chilli, thinly sliced

Method

Cut the tomatoes in half and fill the base of a 30cm fry pan, cut side down. Add a good glug of olive oil and a pinch of salt, then cover the pan with a lid and allow to steam over a low heat for 10-15 minutes. Once the tomatoes have steamed, carefully remove the skins with a pair of tweezers (Dayan recommends getting the kids involved in this step.) Once skins are removed, allow the sauce to cook down on a moderate heat for another 10-15 minutes. At the same time, bring a large pot of water to a boil and add your pasta. When it’s cooked, drain pasta and set aside. Once the sauce is reduced, add fresh basil leaves, another glug of olive oil and then roll through your pasta. Plate with some fresh chilli and enjoy in the sun.

Freshly sliced cherry tomatoes on a wooden chopping board.
Freshly sliced cherry tomatoes on a wooden chopping board.