Big Little Recipes

Creamy, Cheesy, 2-Ingredient Tomato Sauce

This Big Little Recipe is a no-brainer for a weeknight (like, ahem, tonight).

February 22, 2022

A Big Little Recipe has the smallest-possible ingredient list and big everything else: flavor, creativity, wow factor. That means five ingredients or fewer—not including water, salt, black pepper, and certain fats (like oil and butter), since we're guessing you have those covered. Inspired by the column, the Big Little Recipes cookbook is available now.

If espresso martinis and fanny packs can make a comeback, why not sun-dried tomatoes? This wrinkly, tangy ingredient peaked in the ’90s, then fell out of favor in the decades since. But it never left my pantry.

Tomatoes are chock-full of glutamates, the amino acid behind umami. Transforming them from juicy orbs to little nuggets concentrates that meaty, savory flavor, not unlike beef jerky without the beef.

Amid a shelf of convenient tomato products—whole peeled, diced, pureed, paste—sun-dried are the most convenient. The most accommodating when you’ve had a long day. They don’t need to be sautéed or simmered or seasoned. They just need to be opened.

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Top Comment:
“I just added everything to the cream cheese/tomato mix and mixed it up. It was perfect. Living in California , in a severe drought, I know that saving 1 1/2 quarts water may not seem much, but I figure if we all did that, it certainly wouldn't hurt. ”
— iamann

And in this recipe, chopped. Toss in a bowl, smash into cream cheese, and done. Like their names suggest, these two ingredients are all you need for an intensely creamy, cheesy tomato sauce.

It comes together in less time than it takes for water to reach a rolling boil. Which means you can spend the eight-ish minutes that the pasta is cooking pouring yourself a glass of wine and whipping up a crunchy topping.

Stream a slick of that sun-dried tomato oil—you didn’t think we were going to forget about it, did you?—in a skillet. Once it’s shimmering, add a spoonful of plump capers, which will puff and split, like popcorn. Sprinkled on top, these channel flaky salt, grated Parmesan, and crunchy bread crumbs all at the same time.

The hardest part is not eating them all before the pasta is ready. But lucky for us, the pasta will be ready in just a second.

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Put down those long grocery lists. Inspired by the award-winning column, our Big Little Recipes cookbook is minimalism at its best: few ingredients, tons of flavor.

Order now

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • 2nd Street Sue
    2nd Street Sue
  • sam
  • Cindy
  • Trevor Davies
    Trevor Davies
  • iamann
Emma was the food editor at Food52. She created the award-winning column, Big Little Recipes, and turned it into a cookbook in 2021. These days, she's a senior editor at Bon Appétit, leading digital cooking coverage. Say hello on Instagram at @emmalaperruque.


2nd S. February 21, 2023
I loved watching her.. it took the confusion I sometimes have with recipes.. She was articulate and made it clear that we could easily make this ourselves.. Can't wait to try.
sam March 8, 2022
Just curious if anyone else keeps getting this recipe in their Inbox. I've received it for the ninth time today. No other notifications from 52 are repeated, just this one.
Cindy March 8, 2022
I made this sauce - including the crispy capers - and holy moly, it's so, so easy and really very good! I know it's supposed to be on long noodles but I have some fresh cheese tortellini in the fridge and I'm going to make it again using that and I bet it will be even better!
Trevor D. March 7, 2022
This is delicious. I added a few Calbrian peppers to the sauce and toasted the capers in the pepper oil. It added a nice kick.
iamann February 27, 2022
Very tasty recipe. More than enough for 2 people.
Interesting discovery while making this with no cooktop. My kitchen is getting redone. With the trusty instant pot, I sauteed the capers first. Didn't bother rinsing the pot. Added only 2 cups of water, I Tbsp truffle oil, 1 tsp salt and 7oz of spaghetti, broken in half ( I thought 8oz was too much). The pasta cooked in the instant pot in 4 min with about 5 min of natural release time (regular cooking time would have been 9-11min). When I opened the pot I thought I wouldn't have enough extra water for the sauce. I just added everything to the cream cheese/tomato mix and mixed it up. It was perfect.
Living in California , in a severe drought, I know that saving 1 1/2 quarts water may not seem much, but I figure if we all did that, it certainly wouldn't hurt.
paseo February 24, 2022
This really is a good recipe - and so easy to scale up or down. And takes minutes to put together. A good one for an I don't know what to make for dinner night....

Jenny February 23, 2022
Great recipe. Video could have been edited down to five minutes.
Rochelle W. March 8, 2022
Absolutely, but then again, one of the things I so enjoy about Emma’s recipes, is her charming, entertaining videos. Part of ‘the presentation’ if you will….
Tjoone February 23, 2022
Can I make this a vegan recipe with coconut oil based cream cheese or almond?
paseo February 24, 2022
Why don't you try and let us know...
Greta B. February 22, 2022
I love the instructor! She has a an unpretentiousness and presence about her in the video. I will be following her shows! @Food52- She is a gem!
KS February 23, 2022
Try her cookbook—it’s fun and original.
KS February 22, 2022
I want to make this immediately. And regularly. Question: I always have large amounts of wonderful but dry sun-dried tomatoes on hand. I seldom have the jars. Is there any way I can use my dry tomatoes? Can I soak them in olive oil? Maybe heat them slightly to encourage them to get juicy? Thanks.
rlsalvati February 24, 2022
We sometimes get sun-dried tomatoes from our CSA, I put them in a jar, cover with olive oil, and let them sit for a couple weeks in the pantry. I move them to the fridge once I start fishing out the tomatoes. Covering them with warmed olive oil would probably be even better. Maybe add herbs?
Carla L. February 22, 2022
Wonderful,easy recipe! And it's always nice to watch Emma cooking her easy recipes. I would never have thought of using sundried tomatoes in the sauce, but what a game changer! Thank you!
Paula A. February 22, 2022
Does anyone know if cream cheese can be frozen? That could make this a real pantry dish for me...
Jes February 22, 2022
You can freeze it, but it will change the texture to more of a ricotta consistency because of the water content. I’d imagine that wouldn’t be a problem with this recipe - you could always use a bit of the pasta water to smooth it back out.
Paula A. February 22, 2022
Thanks. Good suggestion about the pasta water.
Frank February 22, 2022
I'll never understand the reason for titles of "2 ingredient this or 3 ingredient that," when they all take 5, 6 or more ingredients. Why say it takes less ingredients then it really takes? Your not scoring points saying the lowest number of ingredients if it's wrong. Be proud of your recipes, most of them I love, but PLEASE don't trick me into reading an article when you start out with a fib.
Lauren C. February 22, 2022
It says 2 ingredient sauce - and the sauce is, in fact, 2 ingredients. Capers are optional and pasta is, well a given?
ddougevans01 February 22, 2022
Not the right person for the video...
Cindy February 22, 2022
I think she's adorable - the videographer might need a little help though :) Definitely going to try this. Wish I had cream cheese on hand - always have the tomatoes, pasta and capers but the cream cheese isn't something I keep in the fridge on the regular. Next shopping trip though!
Jerl R. February 22, 2022
The videographer rocks. He's (?) a part of the package and captures the essence of Emma. I find the presentation (so) personable - and Emma, I could watch and listen to you all day!

Renee K. February 22, 2022
What makes you say that? She is clear with her instructions and demonstrations, enunciates perfectly, and is cute to boot.
mary J. February 22, 2022
Shame on you.
Rochelle W. March 8, 2022
I guess this is one of those ‘taste is in the eye of the beholder’ sort of things…..I always find her videos absolutely entertaining and probably wouldn’t bother even trying the recipes without her.
rox L. February 23, 2023
I think her hubby video's for her
sam February 22, 2022
Nice, simple recipe, I do a similar one and yes, I start with garlic and red chili flakes in oil before anything else! Adding capers is new for me (thanx, Emma).
You can substitute creme fraiche for a slightly different take.
Emma you have a lovely way of speaking, so pleasant and endearing :)