Simple 6-ingredient pasta everyone should know

I’m in baking school, work at a bakery, and have a few regular freelance writing gigs.

When I get home from a long day of baking at school or work, the last thing I want to do is cook dinner.

Most nights I choose something frozen, but I make my favorite basic tomato pasta about once a week.

I make this quick and easy pasta when I’ve had a long day at work

tomatoes, garlic, lemon, nutritional yeast and butter

As simple as they are, these ingredients together make an impressive sauce.

Susie Heller

The recipe is nothing revolutionary: a sauce made with cherry tomatoes, butter, garlic, nutritional yeast, lemon juice and salt. I like to eat it with rigatoni because of how the noodles soak up the sauce, but any pasta will work.

Most of the flavor comes from the cherry tomatoes, which are cooked in butter over low heat for about an hour until they burst and produce a sweet, light sauce.

I almost always have everything I need for this pasta on hand, but it’s really best in the summer when the tomatoes are in season and naturally sweet.

This pasta dish impresses guests but is actually extremely easy to prepare

tomatoes, butter, garlic and yeast in a dutch oven

Any sturdy pot should work fine for this step.

Susie Heller

This dough looks impressive, but it actually takes little effort and comes together in about an hour.

Chopped garlic, whole cherry tomatoes, and 3 tablespoons of butter go in a heavy-bottomed saucepan, like a Dutch oven. I put a lid on the pan and let the tomatoes cook slowly for about 45 minutes.

At this point, the tomatoes should open up, creating a watery sauce. If any tomatoes remain whole, you can break them up with the back of a wooden spoon.

Meanwhile, I cook the pasta in boiling salted water until al dente (about seven minutes) and save about half a cup of pasta water before straining.

pasta in sauce

It may not look the best at this point, but trust the process.

Susie Heller

Add the pasta, nutritional yeast, remaining butter and some reserved pasta water to the pot with the tomatoes and cook over medium heat.

The sauce may feel thick and mealy – this is normal. Continue to stir, adding additional reserved pasta water as needed.

After a few minutes of continuous stirring, add a final knob of butter and the juice of a lemon.

I usually serve it with sautéed kale and crusty bread to soak up any extra sauce.

The real beauty of this recipe is that it is endlessly customizable.

pasta in a bowl

This simple pasta is great for summer and so quick to make.

Susie Heller

These pastas are easy to make and endlessly customizable depending on what you have on hand and what you like. I have yet to find a combination that is not good.

Blooming a tablespoon of miso paste in the reserved pasta water creates a mild, nutty flavor. Adding 1-2 teaspoons of gochujang, a Korean fermented red pepper paste, results in a spicy and sweet sauce. Finishing with a splash of heavy cream or coconut milk transforms the dish into something like penne alla vodka.

Parmesan cheese is also a great substitute for nutritional yeast, and is often easier to find at the store. Onions, green onion whites and shallots can all be used instead of or in addition to garlic.

You can even make the recipe vegan with any plant-based butter alternative.


  • 3 to 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 5 tablespoons salted butter, divided
  • 1 pint cherry tomatoes, whole
  • 1/3 can rigatoni, or any form of pasta
  • 1/4 cup nutritional yeast
  • 1 large lemon, squeezed
  • Salt and pepper to taste


  1. Peel and chop three to four cloves of garlic, and place them in a heavy-bottomed dish (like a Dutch oven) over low heat with the tomatoes and 3 tablespoons of butter. Cook covered for an hour, stirring halfway through cooking, until the tomatoes start to burst.
  2. Bring a pot of salted water to a boil over high heat and add 1/3 can of pasta. Cook until just under al dente, about seven to eight minutes. Drain the pasta, reserving 1/4 cup of the cooking water.
  3. Before adding the cooked pasta to the tomatoes, mash the remaining whole tomatoes with the back of a wooden spoon.
  4. Add the pasta, a little reserved pasta water, nutritional yeast and 1 tablespoon butter to the tomatoes, adding more pasta water as needed. Stir continuously until the water evaporates, creating a thick sauce.
  5. Finish with salt, remaining butter and lemon juice. Stir until the sauce coats the pasta and appears shiny.
  6. Serve in individual bowls with salt and pepper to taste.