Grilled Cherry Tomato Sauce

CLICHE ALERT! I find there are two types of people: those who want to eat pasta year-round, and those who don’t. Personally, I’ve been firmly locked into the year-round group since my first encounter with the glutinous wonderment of spaghetti when I was but a youngling.

The problem with these two groups of people, is – like hipsters and murderers – the first group will inevitably (usually unwittingly) create the second.

The first time it happened to me was with my dad. My father is my hero. But the day I realized that the stalwart, unflinching champion of the Murphy clan *gasp* didn’t like pasta, I was thrown into a state of confusion. How did he not want pasta every night? Why was it not his goal to recharge after a hard day of work with a heaping bowl of ziti soaked with red sauce? Why,  pasta gods, why???

Turns out the answer was because that’s what I always wanted. In my zeal to devour as much tube-shaped, tomato-covered gluten as possible, I created in him a real and lasting distaste for all things noodle.

Down the road, I would come to realize the error of my ways, and was therefor able to avoid the same issue when I noticed it happening with my wife.

What I’ve come to finally realize – through trial and error – is that I can still get my pasta fix as long as I vary the means of delivery. In simple terms: variety is the key to success. If I not only vary the type of pasta, but the sauce and serving method as well, those second-group people are ususally more amenable to repeated consumption.

I’ve also noticed that the issue tends to complicate itself during warmer months, as people are less likely to indulge in belly-warming comfort food when it’s upwards of 80 degrees outside. As such, I’ve come up with a few summer-friendly pasta recipes (including the one below, obviously) in an effort to push my favorite comfort food into the realm of back decks and iced drinks. Hint: the key is fresh, summery ingredients.

Take this one for a spin. I’ll bet you come back for more!

Ingredients (serves 2):

  • 2 cups cherry tomatoes
  • 1 shallot – sliced thin
  • 2 garlic cloves – sliced thin
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp pepper
  • 1/4 cup fresh basil – chopped
  • 1/2 cup fresh spinach – chopped
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

For serving:

  • Pasta
  • A protein, like meatballs (try my bird balls), or chicken breasts
  • Fresh-grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat the grill on high. If you have a grill tray – like this one – place in on the grill. If you don’t have a grill tray, you can use a piece of heavy-duty aluminum foil (which will certainly do in a pinch), or complete the same process in a large frying pan over medium-high heat.

If you’re going to serve this with pasta and a protein (chicken, meatballs, etc.) I’d get all that goodness started before you make the sauce.

Start by rinsing the cherry tomatoes, allowing them to drip-dry, and placing them in a medium sized mixing bowl.

Slice the shallot, and the garlic, and toss them into the tomatoes with the olive oil, and the salt and pepper.

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Once the grill (or the pan) is hot, add the tomato mixture.

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Stir the mixture frequently with tongs, making sure to flip the tomatoes, and move the shallots and garlic so they don’t burn. The skin of each berry should blister and eventually pop open.

Once the tomatoes have started to split open – but before the water starts to run out – remove them from the grill. Don’t leave the shallots and garlic behind, that’s all flavor too!

Fold the spinach, basil and vinegar into the grilled tomato, shallots and garlic. The tomatoes, which should be mushy, but still mostly whole at this point, will break down and provide the charred, watery base for your simple sauce.

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Taste it as you go, and if you need more salt, pepper, or vinegar – which will add an acidic balance to the sauce – go ahead and add them – sparingly – to the mix.

Throw a dollop of the sauce over a bed of pasta (and whichever protein you’ve chosen to use) and top it off with a dusting of fresh-grated Parm before serving it up. Enjoy!

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Beer recommendation: I find that pasta and tomato-based sauces tend to pair well with medium-bodied  and lightly-hopped beers, like amber ales, pale ales or ESB’s. Try something like New Belgium Fat Tire Amber, Deschutes Mirror Pond Pale Ale, or a classic like Redhook ESB. The medium-bodied breadiness of these beers is a wonderful accompaniment to the pasta, and each delivers just enough flavor to complement the acidity of the sauce without overwhelming your palate.

Seriously, try it out. I doubt you’ll be disappointed.

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