8 & $20: Spicy Pantry Pasta with Capers and Pan-Roasted Tomatoes

Made mostly from long-lasting staple ingredients, this tangy, sweet and savory pasta with a kick is ready in under an hour

8 & $20: Spicy Pantry Pasta with Capers and Pan-Roasted Tomatoes
Many ingredients in this dish can be swapped out for similar items you have on hand, such as the garnish of chopped parsley, which can be omitted or replaced with another herb. (Julie Harans)
Apr 14, 2020

Eight ingredients, plus pantry staples. That's all it takes to make an entire meal from scratch. Add in a good bottle of wine for less than $20, and you've got a feast for family or friends.

There’s never been—and hopefully never will be again—a better time for a pantry pasta recipe. As most of us are stuck inside with limited access to groceries, a quick dinner made from ingredients you probably already own is especially valuable. But this recipe is helpful to have in your back pocket for everyday dinner crunches, too.

There is one key ingredient here that you’ll probably have to purchase—Calabrian chile paste—but it’s generally readily available on Amazon and various online Italian markets. This versatile paste is worth seeking out because it provides both flavor and texture in a single product. It’s made with special hot peppers hailing from the Calabria region of Italy, combined with oil, salt, vinegar and sometimes herbs like basil. It has a two-year shelf life when refrigerated, so you can keep it on hand to give dishes some kick for months to come.

For this recipe, that magical mixture serves as a shortcut to a cohesive sauce when combined with the juices from burst pan-roasted cherry tomatoes. It’s all built on an umami-rich foundation of garlic and capers sizzled in oil, creating a Puttanesca-like profile, then finished with a generous helping of grated parmesan (another ingredient worth keeping on hand, as it keeps well in the fridge and freezer). Between the salty capers and tangy-spicy chile paste, you don't need any additional seasoning from salt, pepper or other herbs and spices, making the dish even more fuss-free.

Don’t worry if your tomatoes or herbs aren’t looking so fresh; on the contrary, this is actually a perfect opportunity to use those on-the-verge ingredients. While cherry tomatoes are best, you can substitute diced tomatoes of any kind if that’s all you have. You just might need to add more reserved pasta water to the skillet to keep the garlic and capers from browning too much and to reach your desired texture for the sauce.

An Italian red wine was a no-brainer here, but I wanted one that would highlight the herbal undertones and be smooth and easy-drinking enough to fit the simple, rustic meal. Cusumano Nero d'Avola Sicilia 2017, made with Sicily’s leading red wine grape, Nero d'Avola, is a strong choice and a remarkable value. It has that balance I was looking for, with a hint of herbaceousness, a mix of black and red fruits, and refreshing tartness. At $12 and 88 points, it’s just the type of low-cost, high-benefit wine we could all use right now.

Spicy Pantry Pasta with Capers and Pan-Roasted Tomatoes

Pair with a medium-bodied Sicilian red wine with herbal notes, such as Cusumano Nero d'Avola Sicilia 2017 (88 points, $12).

Prep time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: 30 minutes
Total time: 40 minutes
Approximate food costs: $15


  • 1/2 tablespoon salt
  • 8 ounces thin spaghetti
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 cloves garlic, sliced
  • 3 tablespoons capers, drained and patted dry
  • 2 cups whole cherry tomatoes (about 10 ounces)
  • 2 tablespoons Calabrian chile paste
  • 1 cup grated parmesan cheese, plus more for topping
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped parsley for garnish (optional)

1. In a large pot, bring 1 1/2 gallons of water to a boil with 1/2 tablespoon of salt. Add pasta and cook for 6 minutes. Drain, reserving 6 tablespoons of the pasta water.

2. Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and capers and sauté for 3 minutes, stirring often, until garlic starts to brown. Be careful, as you’ll get some splatter if your capers aren’t thoroughly dried. Add tomatoes and cook until some of them burst, about 7 to 9 minutes, adding reserved pasta water—for a total of 3 tablespoons—every few minutes.

3. Add the pasta. Stir in the Calabrian chile paste, 2 tablespoons of pasta water, and cheese until the pasta is fully coated. Gently break up any still-whole tomatoes with a spatula or wooden spoon. If the sauce is too thick, stir in 1 additional tablespoon of pasta water. Plate pasta and finish with parsley and more grated cheese, if desired. Serves 4.

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