Simple pasta with tomatoes and garlic

I used to have a funny relationship with pasta. I loved it almost above all food, and yet I was frequently too scared to cook it.

I think it all went a bit belly-up for me after visiting Italy for the first time, when I realized just how bloody marvelous it can be. It wasn’t all bolognaise and carbonara after all. No… it was subtle and simple; gentle on the palette one moment and then an explosion of flavor another. It was often less about the sauce and more about the starch. It was sophisticated yet with an air of having been nonchalantly thrown together by mama in the kitchen. It was almost relentlessly wonderful and far beyond anything I could conjure in my kitchen.

Or so I thought.

Then one day I had nothing much left to cook with. The sum total of the ingredients at my disposal was a handful of old tomatoes (wrinkled and worn by neglect), some rather tired looking parsley in the crisper of the fridge and a handful of garlic cloves (which seem to replenish themselves when you’re not looking, don’t you find?). And, naturally, a packet of pasta lurking at the back of the pantry (linguine, in this case).

I don’t know if what followed constituted anything worthy of an Italian table, but it tasted great.

And that, after all, is all that matters.


  • A handful of tomatoes (withered a bit) and chopped roughly
  • Two or three garlic cloves, sliced very, very thinly
  • A sprinkle of dried chilies
  • Sea salt and black pepper
  • Very roughly chopped parsley or any other herb that you have that you think would work with this
  • A splash of good balsamic vinegar (if you happen to have some)
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Fresh or dried linguine or spaghetti


  • A large saucepan for the pasta
  • A skillet for the sauce


  1. Bring a lot of water to the boil for the pasta. Add salt if you like. (I don’t bother with oil.) Cook the pasta, timing it carefully to coincide with the sauce that follows.
  2. Very gently heat the skillet. You don’t want it too hot. Add a lot of olive oil, easily enough to cover the base of the pan. Add the garlic slices. They should bubble slightly, not sizzle. You don’t want them to cook much… just heat through and soften a little. This might take a few minutes.
  3. Add the tomatoes and let them warm through.
  4. Sprinkle some chili flakes over. Enough to provide a hint of heat (or more if you like).
  5. A glug of good balsamic vinegar seems to bring out the flavor of the tomatoes to me (I don’t mean that to sound too cheffy… it really does!).
  6. Season well and add the parsley.
  7. When the pasta is a minute or so ahead of being done, drain it and add it to the sauce. You can add a bit of the starchy water too to help it on its way… a tablespoon may well be enough.
  8. Gently turn it over in the sauce so it gets thoroughly coated.
  9. Plate immediately and throw on a bit of fresh parsley for good measure and a turn or two of black pepper.

What you should know

This makes a perfect lunch to me. Keep the portion small. You really don’t need much. And it only takes 10 minutes from start to finish. I daresay you could grate some fresh Parmesan over, but I really don’t think it needs it.

Re: Simple pasta with tomatoes and garlic

Excellent recipe. It works quite well with tomatoes that are nice and fresh as well. No need to wait until they are wrinkled.

Also, don’t use a cast iron skillet as iron reacts with tomatoes and turns them sour.

Re: Simple pasta with tomatoes and garlic

Both excellent points… thanks Andrew.

Re: Simple pasta with tomatoes and garlic

Excellent. I made this last night with to serve with some short rib ravioli from our local Italian market. I usually use onions, but decided to stick to your directions. At first I was concerned that the sauce was too sour and watery. But after I cooked the ravioli I let it sit in the sauce for a few minutes and the pasta absorbed the sauce like a tasty sponge. The end result was sublime. Thanks.

Re: Simple pasta with tomatoes and garlic

Very nice. I love a good tomato sauce recipe. Your looks simple and quick. I find making sauce fresh cuts down on the salt. Cans have way too much. This way I can salt to taste.

Re: Simple pasta with tomatoes and garlic