Turn a batch of cherry tomatoes, baby plum tomatoes and/or baby heirloom tomatoes into a tasty home made pasta sauce in less than an hour with this easy recipe! We don’t need to peel, blend or roast here, and the sauce is made in one pan.

Let’s turn a cherry tomato haul into spaghetti night!

If you are lucky enough to have a big batch of cherry, baby plum and/or baby heirloom tomatoes, whatever the color, you are less than an hour away from pulling off an amazing spaghetti dinner! With peak summer cherry tomatoes, you are in for a real treat.

The sauce is super easy to make in a saucepan with no peeling or blending required, we just enjoy the rustic and chunky finish. What makes this recipe extra special is how we layer up the texture: the majority of the tomatoes are cooked down into a thick sauce, while another couple handfuls are held back and added at the end to add some bursts of that fresh juicy flavor.

Which tomatoes work best in this recipe

  • Cherry, baby plum, or baby heirloom tomatoes are all fine here. Flavors and textures vary amongst different varieties but not in a way that really impacts the recipe. Some batches may end up thicker than others, some may end up sweeter, but I’ve never not been happy with the results here.
  • Any color of tomato is fine – as long as they are ripe – your sauce won’t be as bright red if you’re including a lot of other colors in the mix.
  • This sauce recipe is made entirely from fresh cherry tomatoes (no canned or jarred tomatoes required) so you definitely want those good, perfectly ripe, sweet and juicy varieties that come around when tomatoes are actually in season.

If you’re not sure your tomatoes are flavorful enough…

… but you still really want to make this sauce, let’s give it a try with the following modifications:

  • Double the sugar and add an extra teaspoon or two of balsamic vinegar.
  • Add some salted butter to the tomatoes while they cook.
  • Do not add the additional fresh tomatoes at the end (if they’re flavorless and watery, it will just dilute the flavor of your cooked sauce too much)
  • Be generous with the basil.
  • Check out my list of suggested add-ins for the sauce, and try one or two of those.

Ingredients: What’s important and what you can swap

  • Any Italian hard cheese is fine (pecorino, asiago, generic Italian hard cheese), it doesn’t need to be parmesan. DOP Parmesan is problematic for vegetarians due to its use of animal rennet, but there are other options available. I use a generic “Italian hard cheese” which slots in wherever parmesan would have, but I do add extra salt because I am aware the flavor is not as deep. I have not, however, tested this with a nondairy parmesan alternative, so I can’t make any guesses as to whether that would succeed.
  • Similarly, Worcestershire sauce would typically use anchovies, so vegetarians and vegans want a specifically vegan Worcestershire sauce which I find to be widely available. I do absolutely recommend using this – I tested this recipe several times and it never clicked into place for me until the Worcestershire sauce went in! If you have to omit it, think about adding some capers or even a teaspoon of soy sauce for the umami boost.
  • My balsamic vinegar is a fairly thick, viscous one – if yours is light and runny, you may want to use a little extra. Taste test and see what you think.
  • There is some flexibility with the dried herbs so use what you’ve got and you’re welcome to replace my mix with a heaped tablespoon of pre-mixed Italian herbs.
  • Your sugar can be brown or white, but I do prefer brown if it’s available.
  • Your onion doesn’t need to be red – a white or brown onion will be fine.

The best pan to make your sauce in

When cooking tomatoes over a long period of time, it’s essential to use non-reactive cookware. This includes stainless steel, ceramic or enamel pans. Avoid reactive cookware such as non-enamelled cast iron, non-stainless steel and aluminium.

To make this come together quickly, a large, deep saute pan with a lid is ideal. The sauce won’t be too deep in the pan, which means the tomatoes cook down and thicken a lot faster.

The pan pictured is a 12 inch granite Carote pan which I highly recommend. It’s very large but it would be OK to use something a little bit smaller. This pan is available globally at a great price from Amazon (FYI these are affiliate links):

Customizing your sauce

This recipe delivers a tasty, chunky tomato sauce with lots of good flavor, but there is no reason not to add your favorite things to it. Some great mix-ins would be:

  • Capers – add them alongside the garlic and lightly mash them.
  • Kalamata olives – rinsed and chopped. Add alongside the tomatoes.
  • Mushrooms – chopped or sliced. Add them after the onion is soft, then cook down before adding the garlic.
  • Chopped red chilli for an arrabiata style sauce – add alongside the garlic.
  • Sundried tomatoes – finely chopped, with a little spoonful of the herby oil they marinated in.
  • Spoonful of harissa paste – for a sweet and spicy kick.
  • A head of roasted garlic – add alongside the tomatoes.
  • Half of a ball of fresh mozzarella mixed through at the end will add a creamy edge and a little bit of cheese stretch within the sauce. It does dilute the flavor a little, which is why I recommend only using half of the ball.

Q. How much sauce does this recipe make?

I consider this sauce about right to pair with 300 grams / 11 ounces of spaghetti, to serve four.

If you want to scale the sauce up, go ahead, just make sure that you have a big enough pan. It will take longer to cook down and thicken, because it will be deeper in the pan, so allow for extra time too.

Cherry Tomato Spaghetti Sauce

Turn a batch of cherry tomatoes, baby plum tomatoes and/or baby heirloom tomatoes into a tasty home made pasta sauce in less than an hour with this easy recipe! We don't need to peel, blend or roast here, and the sauce is made in one pan.
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  • olive oil, for cooking
  • 1 red onion, finely diced
  • 26 oz (740 g) cherry tomatoes , whole
  • 4 oz (110 g) additional cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
  • 5 large cloves garlic, crushed
  • 2 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 tsp dried basil
  • ½ tsp dried parsley
  • tsp chili or red pepper flakes
  • 2 tsp balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tsp worcestershire sauce, a fish free version for vegetarians
  • 1 tsp sugar, double this if your cherry tomatoes aren't peak summer sweetness
  • 1 cup (75 g) parmesan or Italian hard cheese, grated, see notes
  • 1 bunch fresh basil, chopped
  • salt and pepper, to taste – be generous!


  • In a large, deep saucepan or saute pan, heat a layer of olive oil over a low-medium heat. Add the onions and saute until soft.
    1 red onion, olive oil
  • Add the garlic and saute for a few moments until fragrant.
    5 large cloves garlic
  • Add the red pepper or chili flakes, dried oregano, dried basil and parsley. Saute for a few moments until the herbs are fragrant and then move on to the next step quickly before they burn.
    2 tsp dried oregano, 1 tsp dried basil, 1/8 tsp chili or red pepper flakes, 1/2 tsp dried parsley
  • Add the whole cherry tomatoes to the pan, alongside the balsamic vinegar, Worcestershire sauce and sugar. Mix through.
    26 oz cherry tomatoes, 2 tsp balsamic vinegar, 2 tsp worcestershire sauce, 1 tsp sugar
  • Pour in another 3-4 tablespoons of olive oil and add salt and pepper to taste. Mix through and simmer, covered, over a low heat, stirring regularly, for about 30-45 minutes or until the cherry tomatoes have all broken down and formed a thick sauce. When you stir, feel free to mash the tomatoes a little to encourage them to burst open. The time it takes will depend on the heat they cook at + the size of your pan and how deep they are.
    salt and pepper
  • Add the cheese and basil and mix through until the cheese has melted, then add the fresh chopped cherry tomatoes. Remove from the heat and let it sit while you cook your spaghetti.
    1 cup parmesan or Italian hard cheese, 1 bunch fresh basil
  • Serve over hot spaghetti and top with additional cheese and/or basil for serving.


Cherry tomato quantities: I’ve given the exact amounts I used when making this sauce, but there is some leeway here. Different places offer different packaging quantities so you’re welcome to round up or round down a little to suit what you’ve got.
Parmesan quantities: I used one cup of loosely packed generic Italian hard cheese which is not too intensely flavored. It’s maybe on par with the flavor of an inexpensive store brand parmesan. If you have a very intensely flavored aged parmesan, you may want to reduce this to 1/2 cup or 3/4 cup to stop it from dominating the flavor. 
Doubling the recipe is possible but it will take longer to cook down into a sauce because it will be deeper in the pan. 
This recipe can be frozen for 4-6 months. Because it contains dairy, I would not recommend canning it.
Calories: 454kcal, Carbohydrates: 17g, Protein: 24g, Fat: 33g, Saturated Fat: 12g, Polyunsaturated Fat: 2g, Monounsaturated Fat: 17g, Cholesterol: 40mg, Sodium: 1013mg, Potassium: 626mg, Fiber: 3g, Sugar: 9g, Vitamin A: 1630IU, Vitamin C: 52mg, Calcium: 766mg, Iron: 3mg