Michael Ruhlman’s Tomato Basil Pasta with Tomato Butter

I heard about this recipe some time ago, and when I found it on Ruhlman’s web site I vowed to make it as soon as possible. Weeks passed. Months. Finally, a few weeks ago I gave it a shot and wow, I can’t believe I waited so long. This recipe is very easy to make and is packed with delicious flavor. The sauce is a buttery reduction of tomato water, and it’s topped with raw fresh tomatoes and basil, making it essentially salsa cruda but with the richness of a butter sauce. Super summery, and super delicious!

spaghetti with tomato butter

Ruhlman’s original recipe yields four servings. I have adjusted it for two, and made a few other small modifications (for example, I don’t use quite as much butter). I also clarified the instructions. This seems like a good time to post this, as apparently tomato water is “in” again.


  • Use truly ripe and juicy tomatoes; preferably not roma. Ironically, romas are typically best for sauce because of their lower moisture level, but for this recipe you want tomatoes that are quite watery.
  • You will need a fine strainer (preferably hand-held). Also a whisk (although a spoon will do in a pinch).

Michael Ruhlman’s Tomato Basil Pasta with Tomato Butter (Blork version)

Yield: 2 servings.


  • 2 or 3 ripe and juicy tomatoes, large dice
  • 1 teaspoon of coarse kosher salt
  • 180 g spaghetti
  • 4 or 5 cloves of garlic, sliced thin or minced – whichever you prefer (preferably fresh and juicy, not the cheap stuff from China)
  • About 1/2 cup of basil, sliced into ribbons
  • olive oil as needed
  • 40 g cold butter, cut into three chunks (Note: if you think that only the good die young, and you feel like a badass, use 50+ g butter)


  1. Put the diced tomatoes in a non-reactive bowl big enough to fit it comfortably and be able to stir without spilling. Mince a pinch of the basil and add it to the tomatoes. Season with the salt, toss well, and cover. Ideally you should let this sit on the counter for a couple of hours, but in a pinch 30 minutes will do.
  2. Put a big pot of salted water on to boil.
  3. Cook the pasta, drain it, and put it back in the pot. Oil the pasta to keep it from sticking to itself.
  4. In the meantime (3 or 4 minutes before the pasta is done) heat a bit of olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat, add the garlic and cook it until it is just beginning to soften (a couple of minutes). Do not brown it!
  5. Hold the hand strainer over the pan and dump the tomatoes into it so the water flows through the strainer and into the pan. Shake to get all the water into the pan, then return the tomatoes to the bowl.
  6. Whisk the sauce and bring to a simmer.  Add the butter one piece at a time while continuing to whisk.  Keep the sauce moving until all the butter is melted.  Turn off the heat. (As you’re doing this, give the pasta an occasional shake to make sure it isn’t sticking.)
  7. Add the pasta to the sauce and toss to coat evenly.
  8. Divide the pasta among two bowls. Top with the tomatoes and basil, scratch on a bit of freshly ground pepper, and serve. (Note: do not use Parmesan cheese with this dish.)


6 thoughts on “Michael Ruhlman’s Tomato Basil Pasta with Tomato Butter

  1. This is essentially one of my quick and easy lunch meals on weekends. Though my version is simpler (and less butter too). But essentially I have pasta (usually spaghetti or spaghettini) with butter and fresh diced tomatoes and a good salt. Just toss it all together. I make sure to use all of the juice from the tomatoes and usually add parmigiano on top too. So good and satisfying, quick and easy. Sometimes I’ll add a bit of lemon.

    And on another note, L is quickly on his way to being a pasta making champion by the time he is 5. That kid loves to make pasta.

  2. It’s so quick and easy, and open to variations galore. In my case I recommend against adding cheese to my version because it’s really very much about the butter/tomato water, and adding Parmesano would, I think, end up competing with the butter. But I think a less buttery version would play nicely with a bit of cheese.

    Lucky you to have a pasta champ in the house!

  3. Easy and quick! Cutting a little bit of Mozzarella into dices and adding them to the Spaghetti also adds some extra flavour!

  4. This belongs with the Poutine article which is no longer open. Apologies for posting it here:

    In an “An Ode to Poutine” aired on CBC’s “C’est la vie” (March 20, 2000) Fernand Lachance (of Warwick, QC) is credited as the originator of poutine at his Café Idéal in Warwick in 1957. “une bonne poutine” meant “a bloody mess”. Eddie Lachance popularized it and brought it to Montreal.

    In the category of “waddayaknowaboutthat”

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