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Recipe: Fletter's Favorite Fast Fresh Tomato-Basil Pasta

Recipe: Fletter's Favorite Fast Fresh Tomato-Basil Pasta

Fletter's Favorite Fast Fresh Tomato-Basil Pasta

by Dylan Sabuco
Photo by Dylan Sabuco
prep time
10 minutes
cook time
20 minutes
4-6 servings

Fun Food Story

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Fletter's Favorite Fast Fresh Tomato-Basil Pasta

Do you remember that jittery excitement of starting middle school (or "junior high" as it was called back in the day)? That was me, age 13, in sunny Encinitas, California. And like any teen drama worth its salt, this tale begins with a new friend named Kelly. One day, Kelly invited me to her house for dinner and a sleepover, and I was so excited!

So, I went to her house, and there we were, all crowded into her family's kitchen—me, Kelly, her little brother Robert, and their parents, Dave and Donna. Dave was at the helm, cooking up a pasta dish. He told me that this recipe was a family gem, handed down from his grandmother to his mother and finally to him. And the whole time, he was tossing tomatoes and tearing basil like an honest-to-God Italian chef. It was all so... familial. I grew up without siblings, and this felt like a scene right out of a family sitcom. I watched, completely entranced. I was so in love with this family!

Fast-forward to dinner: the pasta was a dream. Truly and simply delicious. Without even trying, I memorized the recipe. It was as though it snuck into my head while watching him. Many years later, when I started cooking meals for my own family, this was my go-to dish. It's the one my kids always clamor for. It's the one I put on regular rotation and my family lovingly named "favorite pasta." And it's the one my grown daughter Ava now makes for her sweetheart.

But let's go back to that dinner at Kelly's because dessert came next. Kelly's Mom, Donna, not to be outdone by her husband, leaped up from the table and asked, "Who's up for a healthy banana split?" "I am, I am!" Kelly and her brother called out. I watched as Donna prepared dessert. As she peeled and sliced the bananas lengthwise and tucked them into fancy parfait dishes, she explained, "This recipe is from MY side of the family!" She twisted off the lid of a jar of bright red maraschino cherries, adding, "It's my kids' favorite!" She carefully placed several cherries atop each banana. Then she reached for the final ingredient, the pièce de résistance, and I realized with utter horror that it was... mayonnaise! My brain did a double take. Kelly, sensing my inner "WHAT?!" and realizing that her family's most favorite, extremely quirky dessert was everybody else's nightmare, leaned in and whispered, "Please, don't tell anyone at school!" (I swear I never did, but I've told this story many times since high school, and now I'm sharing it with the whole world!)

So, years later, my husband Ryan and I returned to Encinitas for Kelly's and my 20th high school reunion. Naturally, a reunion with Kelly and her delightful clan was inevitable. They were all there—Kelly, her high school sweetheart-turned-husband, and their three energetic boys. Kelly's parents, Dave and Donna, were there, too. (By the way, they are also high school sweethearts—could this family be more charming?!) For fun, I called out to Kelly's boys, "Who's up for one of Grandma Donna's healthy banana splits?" All three of them yelled, "Me! Me!" And it dawned on me that not only did Dave's favorite pasta extend to another generation, but Donna's revolting banana split did, too. Favorites are favorites, and I guess there's no accounting for taste! 

So for you, dear readers, we've got two recipes from this story. This one is from Dave's family recipe—the most heartwarming pasta you'll ever taste! And the other is Healthy Banana Split Shakes, sans the mayo, I promise.

Happy & Healthy Cooking,

Chef Erin, Food-Geek-in-Chief

Fun-Da-Mentals Kitchen Skills

  • chop :

    to cut something into small, rough pieces using a blade.

  • knife skills :

    Bear Claw (growl), Pinch, Plank, and Bridge (look out for trolls)

  • measure :

    to calculate the specific amount of an ingredient required using a measuring tool (like measuring cups or spoons).

  • simmer :

    to cook a food gently, usually in a liquid, until softened.

Equipment Checklist

  • Large pot + lid
  • Liquid measuring cup
  • Dry measuring cups
  • Measuring spoons
  • Colander or strainer
  • Cutting board + kid-safe knife
  • Medium mixing bowl
  • Wooden spoon


Fletter's Favorite Fast Fresh Tomato-Basil Pasta

  • 1 C or 4 C water (1 C for class; 4 C for home)
  • 1/2 to 1 C olive oil
  • 2 to 3 C pasta of choice—I chose rigatoni! **(for GLUTEN ALLERGY sub gluten-free/nut-free pasta of your choice)**
  • 1 pkg cherry tomatoes, roughly 2 C **(for NIGHTSHADE/TOMATO ALLERGY sub 2 zucchini, chopped by kids)**
  • 1 handful fresh basil leaves
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1 vegetable bouillon cube
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
  • 2 T Parmesan cheese, optional **(for DAIRY ALLERGY sub dairy-free/nut-free Parmesan cheese or nutritional yeast)**

Food Allergen Substitutions

Fletter's Favorite Fast Fresh Tomato-Basil Pasta

  • Gluten/Wheat: Substitute gluten-free/nut-free pasta of your choice.
  • Nightshade/Tomato: For 1 pkg cherry tomatoes, substitute 2 zucchini, chopped by kids.
  • Dairy: Substitute dairy-free/nut-free Parmesan cheese or nutritional yeast.


Fletter's Favorite Fast Fresh Tomato-Basil Pasta


Erin Fletter is the Sticky Fingers food geek-in-chief and owner, and this dish has been in her life since she was 13. Nothing beats a recipe that is a core food memory. After making this simply delicious one-pot meal, you will see why, and it will probably be one of your new favorites. All you need to do is combine fresh tomatoes and basil, olive oil, and a bouillon cube in a big pot, along with your pasta of choice. And just like that, you have one of the most mouth-watering tomato sauces! I can't wait for you to dive in and try Fletter's Favorite Fast Fresh Tomato-Basil Pasta!

boil + chop

Start by boiling 4 cups of water and 1 big pinch of salt in a large pot. While the water comes to a boil, roughly chop 1 package cherry tomatoes, 1 handful fresh basil leaves, 2 garlic cloves, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper and mix them together in a medium mixing bowl. When the water is boiling, pour in 2 to 3 cups of your chosen pasta. Cook for 5 minutes, then drain the pasta into a colander. The pasta should still be hard.

measure + simmer

Measure 1/2 to 1 cup olive oil and add that to your large pot. Turn the heat to medium low and pour in all the pasta, tomato mixture, and 1 vegetable bouillon cube. Cover with a lid and cook for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the pasta is soft and the other ingredients have formed a chunky sauce.

sprinkle + serve

If you and your family are feeling cheesy, sprinkle with a tiny bit of Parmesan cheese. Time to dig in! This dish pairs perfectly with an additional sprinkle of Crunchy "Gremolata" Breadcrumbs (see recipe). "Buon appetito" (Bwohn ahp-peh-TEE-toh) or "Enjoy your meal" in Italian!

Surprise Ingredient: Olive Oil!

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Photo by masa44/

Hi! I'm Olive Oil!

"My name is Olive and I'm just one type of cooking oil or fat. However, I'm one of the very healthiest you can use! I come from olives, the fruit of the olive tree. Olive oil is often a pretty golden or light green color and has a unique flavor. You would be hard pressed (pressed, get it?) to find a better, tastier oil!"

  • Olive trees have been cultivated throughout the Mediterranean for thousands of years since the 8th millennium BCE (sometime between 8000-7001 BCE.) However, there is fossil evidence of wild olive trees originating millions of years ago and North Africans using the fruit as food and its oil for fuel around 100,000 years ago.
  • The Ancient Greeks and Romans used olive oil in their cuisines. Archaeological evidence shows that olive oil was made from olives in 6000 BCE. 
  • Olive oil has been a traded agricultural product since at least 2000 BCE.
  • The word "oil" came from a word that referred specifically to olive oil. It came from Middle English, from the Old French "olie," and from the Latin "oleum" (olive oil). The Latin word "olea" in the olive tree's Latin name is translated as either "'olive" or "oil."
  • Olive trees (Olea europaea) are long-lived evergreens with silvery green, leathery, narrow leaves and tiny, off-white flowers followed by fruit. 
  • An olive is a small, bitter oval fruit, green when unripe and black when ripe, used for food and its extracted oil. 
  • The fruit is too bitter to be eaten fresh. The phytochemical "oleuropein" causes the bitterness. To leach the oleuropein from the olives, they must be cured by treating the olives for a few days with lye, which is caustic, or for a few weeks or months with a brine solution before pickling or preserving them in their own oil. Most curing methods also include fermentation.
  • When extracting the oil from the olives, the whole fruit is ground into a paste and then pressed to separate the fruit's oil from its water content. After that, it goes through a filtering process unless sold as unfiltered olive oil, which looks a bit cloudy.
  • Cold pressing is an extraction method that does not use temperatures above 80 F. Olive oil processed by this method retains more of its nutrients and flavor. 
  • Olive oil grades are: Virgin, extracted by mechanical rather than chemical means; Lampante virgin, produced by mechanical means but needing further refinement to be edible—"Lampante'' comes from the Italian word "lampa," meaning "lamp," as it was once used for oil lamps—and can be refined or used for industrial purposes; Refined is olive oil processed to remove defects in taste, odor, or acidity; and Olive Pomace oil, extracted from the olive pulp after the first press with the use of solvents, and then refined and mixed with virgin olive oils. It must be labeled as Olive Pomace Oil.
  • International Olive Council (IOC) standards for quality from the highest to the lowest: Extra Virgin: cold-pressed and the purest oil with an excellent fruity taste and odor and a free acidity of 0.8 percent (amount of fatty acids in 100 grams of oil); Virgin: a reasonably good taste and smell with 2 percent free acidity; and Refined: oil that has been refined using charcoal and other chemicals to remove high acidity and defects affecting taste or smell. Refined olive oils might be labeled Pure or just Olive oil. 
  • The standards of the Agriculture Department of the United States, which is not part of the IOC, include Extra Virgin; Virgin; Refined; Olive Oil, a mixture of Virgin and Refined oils with a good to average taste; and Virgin Olive Oil Not Fit For Human Consumption Without Further Processing, a virgin oil with high acidity and poor flavor and odor. The IOC refers to this as Lampante oil. It cannot be sold and requires refining. 
  • Extra virgin olive oil, or EVOO, is used as an ingredient in salad dressings and raw or cold foods, as a dip for bread with garlic or balsamic vinegar, as a finishing condiment, and when cooking with smaller amounts of oil, like sautéing or shallow frying. However, because it is more expensive than virgin and refined olive oils, it is not generally used when more oil is required, such as in deep-fat frying.  
  • Extra virgin olive oil is considered a heart-healthy fat since it consists of primarily unsaturated fats, compared to saturated fats. It also contains polyphenols, antioxidants which help prevent cancer, and vitamins E and K.

History of Tomato Sauce!

Photo by amedeoemaja/
  • Tomato sauce is believed to have originated in Mexico during the Aztec Empire in the 15th century, although tomatoes may have been used in Mesoamerican cooking much earlier. 
  • A Franciscan friar who studied the Aztecs for 50 years may have been the first person to write about tomato sauce in the 16th century. Tomato sauce was first included in an Italian cookbook in the late 1600s, and it was first paired with pasta in a 1790 Italian cookbook.
  • To prepare tomato sauce, blanch fresh tomatoes to remove the skin, then core and seed them (optional). Chop the tomatoes (for a chunky sauce) or purée them (for a smooth sauce). Combine the tomatoes with other ingredients, such as basil, garlic, olive oil, onions, peppers, and salt, and then simmer everything for 30 to 90 minutes. 
  • Tomato sauce is part of a variety of foods, depending on what country or region they are from. It is a base for salsas, moles, and other sauces. It is a topping for meatballs, sausage, pasta, vegetables, fish, poultry, and other meats. Tomato sauce can also be added to soups and stews.

Let's Learn About Italy!

Photo by Marina Andrejchenko/
  • Italy became a unified country in 1861, only 150 years ago. It is sometimes called "bel paese" or "beautiful country."  
  • Italians invented the piano and the thermometer! 
  • In ancient Roman mythology, two twin brothers named Romulus and Remus founded Rome, Italy's capital city. The myth says the twins were abandoned and then discovered by a she-wolf before being found and raised by a shepherd and his wife. Eventually (and after many exciting adventures), they found themselves at the location of Palatine Hill, where Romulus built "Roma." The Italian wolf became Italy's unofficial national animal. 
  • In the 1930s and 40s, Mussolini, Italy's prime minister, and dictator tried to eliminate all foreign words from the Italian language. How did he do that? He just changed them! For example, in soccer, "goal" became "meta." Disney character names changed, too: Donald Duck became "Paperino;" Mickey Mouse became "Topolino;" and Goofy became "Pippo." Although they're not banned anymore, these words and names have stuck. So now if you go to the Italian Disneyland, called Gardaland Park, you will see Topolino and Pippo! 
  • About 60 million people call Italy home, and it is 116,350 square miles, slightly larger than the US state of Arizona. If you compare that to the United Kingdom, 67 million people live there, and it is about 94,350 square miles. So, the UK is smaller than Italy but has a bigger population! 
  • The Italian flag is green, white, and red. These colors represent hope, faith, and charity.
  • The average Italian eats close to 55 pounds of pasta annually. If you think about how light pasta is, that is a considerable amount! There are more than 500 different types of pasta eaten in Italy today. 

What's It Like to Be a Kid in Italy?

  • Kids begin school at 6 years old. They grow up speaking Italian, but they learn English in school, so many become bilingual in Italian and English.
  • The most popular sport for kids is football (soccer). The Italian word for soccer is "calcio," the same word they use for "kick." A favorite of younger kids is "Rody, the bouncing horse," a plastic horse that a small child can hop onto and bounce around the room. Rody was invented in Italy in 1984.  
  • The family ("la famiglia") is a central characteristic of Italian life. Children have great respect for their older relatives. It is traditional to name the first male child after the grandfather and the first female child after the grandmother.
  • If kids live close to school, they can go home and have lunch with their families! Lunch at school might be pasta, meat with vegetables, a sandwich, or a salad with lots of ingredients. Families typically eat dinner later (7 to 8 pm), so kids end up staying up later, too!
  • Between lunch and dinner, kids often enjoy "merenda," which is an afternoon snack that translates to "something that is deserved." It is really a mini-meal that can include both savory and sweet foods. Examples of savory foods are a salami or mortadella sandwich, a slice of rustic bread rubbed with a cut, raw tomato, or "pizza bianca" (white pizza without tomato sauce). Types of sweet foods eaten during merenda are "gelato" (a lower-fat type of ice cream), any kind of cake, or biscotti dipped in warm milk.

THYME for a Laugh

What did one soup lover say to another?

"I'm crazy pho noodle soup!"

That's Berry Funny

What is a seagull's favorite herb? 


The Yolk's On You

If you combine olive oil, basil, pinenuts, and Parmesan, you get pesto. What do you get when you mix olive oil, spinach, and sweet pea?

You get the classic cartoon: Popeye!

THYME for a Laugh

What crime fighting duo hangs out at the noodle shop? 

Batman and Ramen!

THYME for a Laugh

Mother: "Where's the olive oil?"

Son: "I drank it."

Mother: "You drank an entire bottle of olive oil?"

Son: "Yes, olive it."

The Yolk's On You

What did the basil say to the chef? 

Stop pesto-ing me!

THYME for a Laugh

What is worse than finding a worm in the apple that you are eating? 

A half of a worm in your noodle soup!

The Yolk's On You

What do you call a fake noodle? 

An impasta!

The Yolk's On You

What is the dress code at a pasta convention?


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