Pasta with Sautéed Cherry Tomatoes, Basil, and Fresh Mozzarella

“Any tomatoes yet?” I say to myself as I anxiously await fruit from the plants I always get way too late. The backyard bunny buffet is open for dining on other plants but luckily they don’t seem to care for tomatoes. Silly rabbits. Maybe if they had the opposable thumbs needed to hold cooking utensils they’d discover tomatoes soften and sweeten with a little sautéing, making them a welcome part of a quick and easy warm pasta dish. (Also lucky for me is that the farmers’ markets and grocery stores have plenty of tiny tomatoes, as I have no idea when my bunny-snubbed late-bloomers will be prime for picking.)

This zesty recipe by Molly Stevens (author of All About Roasting, which won a 2012 James Beard Foundation Award) comes together in about the time it takes to boil water for the pasta. It’s as simple as sautéing a couple of pints of cherry tomatoes until they burst and release their sweet juices. Garlic and orange zest perfume the sauce and pair beautifully with the fresh basil. Be sure to buy fresh mozzarella—the denser processed stuff won’t provide the creamy consistency you want. Make the dish even more colorful by using a mix of red, yellow, and orange tomatoes, and keep in mind that the smaller the tomatoes, the more quickly they will cook.

Pasta with Sautéed Cherry Tomatoes, Basil, and Fresh Mozzarella

Serves 4 to 6

4 to 5 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
2 pints cherry tomatoes
2 to 3 garlic cloves, minced
Grated zest of 1 orange (about 1 tsp.)
Pinch red pepper flakes
Coarse salt
1 lb. spiral pasta (such as cavatappi or fusilli)
½ c. fresh basil leaves, cut into thin strips, plus a few more for garnish (optional)
8 oz. fresh mozzarella, diced into ¼-inch pieces
½ c. black olives, pitted and chopped (optional)

In a large sauté pan, heat 3 tablespoons of oil over medium-high heat. Add cherry tomatoes and sauté briskly, stirring and shaking frequently, until tomatoes begin to burst and release their juices, 5 to 8 minutes. Add garlic, orange zest, pepper flakes, and ½ teaspoon of salt. Sauté a minute or two longer, just until fragrant. Set aside in a warm spot.

Meanwhile, boil the pasta in a large pot of well-salted boiling water until al dente, stirring occasionally. Drain, reserving about ½ cup of pasta cooking water, and transfer pasta to a warm serving bowl. Add sautéed tomatoes, basil, mozzarella, and olives. Toss to combine. Drizzle with 1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil. If pasta seems dry, add a bit of reserved pasta cooking water. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Garnish with basil leaves (if desired), and serve immediately.

Mary Subialka is the editor of Real Food and Drinks magazines, covering the flavorful world of food, wine, and spirits. She rarely meets a chicken she doesn’t like, and hopes that her son, who used to eat beets and Indian food as a preschooler, will one day again think of real food as more than something you need to eat before dessert and be inspired by his younger brother, who is now into trying new foods.