Bright tomatoes, fresh basil, and aromatic garlic and onions make this simple and elegant Cherry Tomato and Basil Pasta really shine. Add a drizzle of balsamic glaze for a touch of sweetness. Ready in just 20 minutes and oil-free, this vegan pasta dish is sure to become a family favorite!
This is the third recipe in my Quick & Easy Recipes For Busy People series. Be sure to check out the other recipes in this series, including Vegan Thai Curry and Easy Vegan Burrito Bowls. I decided to do this recipe series in order to reflect the way most of us cook during the week.
While it’s fun to experiment and try complicated techniques, we also need quick and easy go-to recipes that we can throw together on a busy weeknight. I know because these are the meals I prepare when I want something flavorful and delicious without a lot of fuss.
All of the recipes in this Quick & Easy Recipes series will:
- contain just 5 or 6 main ingredients (not counting pantry spices and optional garnishes)
- contain common ingredients that are generally easily accessible
- be versatile enough for you to make with what you can find
- take just 20 to 25 minutes to prepare
- be family-friendly, for those of you feeding kids
- be meal-prep friendly, for those of you looking to prep your lunches or dinners for the whole week
- require as few pots and pans as possible (who wants extra dishes?)
- be so delicious you’ll want to make them every week!
I love making this Tomato Basil Pasta! Not only is it one of the easiest vegan pasta dishes I know, but it's healthy and delicious. It's also very kid-friendly, which is an important factor. Plus, I just love how simple and elegant this dish is. Put on some opera and pair with a crisp glass of white for the full effect. Whether you're throwing together a quick weeknight meal or just looking for a break from complicated meals, you'll love this recipe.
You'll love this Cherry Tomato & Basil Pasta because it's:
- Super Quick & Easy
- Incredibly versatile
- Oven-free for hot nights!
- Seasonal & Fresh
- Simple & Elegant
- Absolutely delicious!
How do you sauté without oil?
There are different methods for cooking without oil. For this dish, I start sweating my onions in a hot heavy bottom, cast iron, or nonstick skillet. As the onions release their liquid, just give them a quick stir and they shouldn't stick.
Garlic does have a tendency to stick and burn if left too long, so I wait until the onions are nearly translucent to add that. After you add the garlic and it starts to cook, you can deglaze the skillet with a ¼ cup of your pasta water.
Add another ¼ cup of pasta water after you add the tomatoes. This will create a light sauce. As long as there is some liquid in the skillet, the veggies shouldn't stick.
What kind of Tomatoes should I use for the Vegan Tomato Basil Pasta?
This vegan pasta dish works best with ripe cherry or plum tomatoes. I like to pick out different colored tomatoes from the mix and match section of my grocery store, but if you can only find red tomatoes, that's no problem.
The most important factor is choosing ripe and flavorful tomatoes, which will be easiest to find in the summertime. If you want to make this dish in the winter, and you don't have access to flavorful tomatoes, feel free to swap with a can of cherry or diced tomatoes.
What's Balsamic Glaze?
Balsamic glaze is just a reduced and concentrated balsamic vinegar. However, most store-bought varieties add a sweetener. Some add a more natural sweetener (like grape must). But others just add sugar (or corn syrup!). When I lived in the US, I loved this Trader Giotto's Balsamic Glaze from Trader Joe's, which has a short list of ingredients and only uses grape must as the sweetener.
If you're looking to reduce the added sugar in your diet, you can also make your own balsamic glaze by simply adding a cup of balsamic vinegar to a small pot and simmering over medium heat for 15 to 20 minutes, or it is reduced to a glaze-like consistency.
How to Make Vegan Tomato Basil Pasta
This recipe is so simple! First, fill a large pot about ¾ full with water (salt if desired). Place the pot over high heat and bring to a boil.
As the water is warming, begin heating the skillet and prep the other veggies. Start by slicing the onion into strips (julienne strips). Add them with a pinch of salt to the skillet so that they start to sweat out.
For the garlic, I like to use two methods, which produces different flavors and textures in the dish. First peel and dice 4 cloves. Then peel and Microplane 2 additional cloves. The diced garlic will stay firmer and add more bite, while the Microplaned garlic will release more aroma, natural oils, and a sweeter flavor.
To easily peel the garlic, you can place it beneath a flat knife and give it a firm whack with the heel of your hand. Then cut off the stem and the rest of the peel should fall away.
There are fancier ways to chop garlic, but I usually just cut the clove in half, slice into thin strips, and then chop the strips into little cubes. I like my garlic chunky in this dish, but feel free to do a finer mince if you prefer.
Once the onions are almost done sweating (aka with they are starting to turn translucent) I add both types of garlic, stirring and keeping a close eye so it doesn't burn. (Deglaze with a small amount of pasta water if needed.)
Around this time, the water will probably come to a boil. Add the pasta (I used whole-grain linguine, but choose whichever kind you like). Do not break your pasta! Seriously. Add it whole to the pot and then use tongs to fold it down after the bottom softens. Be sure to give your pasta a few stirs now and then so it doesn't stick. You should also turn the heat down just a tad so that the water doesn't boil over.
At this point, you can also add ¼ cup of pasta water to the onions and garlic to deglaze the skillet. Stir the onions and garlic, add additional spices (oregano, optional salt, and fresh cracked pepper), and then add the whole tomatoes along with another ¼ cup water.
The tomatoes will take a few minutes to soften up. Then use a potato masher to lightly smash the tomatoes, just enough to open them up to release their juices into the liquid. Add the balsamic glaze and half of your basil (torn or chopped) and stir to combine. This will create a light pasta sauce.
When your pasta is al dente (Italian for "to the teeth," aka it still has a little bite), reserve a ½ cup of the pasta water. Then drain, rinse, and return the pasta to the pot. Add a few tablespoons of pasta water back to the pasta to keep it from sticking, then gently fold the tomato sauce into the pasta. (The additional reserved pasta water is just in case your sauce has thickened too much.)
Finally, plate your pasta and garnish with the rest of the basil and another drizzle of balsamic glaze. Other optional garnishes include red pepper flakes, nutritional yeast, or vegan parmesan. Serve and enjoy right away!
If this recipe for Cherry Tomato & Basil Pasta speaks your language, you might also love:
- Southwestern Salad with Chili-Lime Tofu Nuggets
- Cilantro-Lime Avocado Dressing (Oil-Free!)
- Chick-fil-A Style Tofu Nuggets with “Honey” Mustard Dipping Sauce
- Vegan Palak Paneer with Tofu (Oil-Free!)
- Penne Pasta with Kale and Vegan Italian Sausage Crumbles
- Vegan Recipe for Kids
Cherry Tomato & Basil Pasta (Vegan & Oil-Free)
- 16 oz or 500g whole-grain linguine
- 5 cups or 700g ripe plum or cherry tomatoes
- 1 medium red onion
- 6 cloves garlic
- 1 cup fresh basil
- 1 tbsp balsamic glaze
- 1 15oz or 400g can of white beans
- 1 cup pitted kalamata olives
- Fill a large pot ¾ full with water (with an optional pinch of salt). Place over high heat and bring to a boil. Add your pasta of choice to the pot, turn down heat just a little to avoid overspill. Cook to al dente, according to package instructions (it can vary depending on the type of pasta). Set a timer so that you don't overcook the pasta.
- While the water is starting to heat up, begin heating a heavy-bottom, nonstick pan. Peel and slice a medium-sized onion into strips. Add them with a pinch of salt to the skillet so that they start to sweat out.
- Peel 6 cloves of garlic. I like to roughly chop 4 of the cloves and use a Microplane to grate 2 of the cloves. You could also use a garlic press.
- When the onions are translucent, turn the heat down to medium and add to the garlic to the skillet. Stir to combine. Keep a close eye on the garlic so that it doesn't burn. Let the garlic sear for 1 or 2 minutes and then add ¼ cup of the hot pasta water to the skillet.
- Wash the tomatoes and add to the skillet whole. Add an additional ¼ cup water to the skillet. Let the tomatoes soften up (3 to 4 minutes). Use a tomato masher to gently press the tomatoes so that they "pop" and release thier juices into the sauce.
- Season your tomato sauce with pantry spices. (I recommend 1 tbsp dried oregano, ½ teaspoon salt (optional), and fresh cracked pepper.) Tear or chop half of your basil leaves and add to the sauce. Add the balsamic glaze. Simmer 2 to 3 minutes longer and then remove from heat.
- When your pasta is al dente, set aside ¼ cup of the pasta water (you might not need it all). Remove the pasta from heat and strain the water. Add the pasta back to the pot with a few tablespoons of the hot water (to keep it from sticking).
- Taste your tomato sauce and adjust the seasonings if necessary. You can also add more of the hot pasta water to the sauce if needed.
- Add the tomato sauce to the pasta and use tongs to gently combine. Garnish with the rest of the basil (whole, torn, or ribboned) and another drizzle of balsamic glaze. Other garnish options include chili flakes, vegan parmesan, or nutritional yeast.
- Serve and enjoy right away.
- If you want to bump up the protein, I sometimes add white beans. Choose your favorite, rinse, drain, and add after you smash the tomatoes.
- For an even more flavorful kick, you could also add a handful of pitted kalamata olives.
- This dish works best with ripe tomatoes, so if you're cooking this out of season, canned or jarred cherry tomatoes might be a better option.
- I used whole wheat linguine, but feel free to use whatever you have on hand. Spaghetti, Penne, and Bow Tie are all great options.
- This could also work as a make-ahead pasta salad to eat cold for lunch. In that case, I would use a shorter, sturdier pasta like bow tie or penne.