Food

The Nora Ephron Tomato Sauce I Make Every Year

The Nora Ephron Tomato Sauce I Make Every Year

I live for Tomato Month. (The salads! The soups! My god, the sandwiches.) But there is one particular tomato recipe that I wait all year for: Nora Ephron sauce…

The Nora Ephron Tomato Sauce I Make Every Year

The real name is ‘linguine alla cecca,’ and it appears in Ephron’s 1983 novel Heartburn — a thinly veiled fictionalization about the brutal end of her marriage to Carl Bernstein. Of course, Ephron’s writing is always delicious, but this book is even more fun for us culinary types as it is highlighted with a handful of excellent recipes, woven into the story. This one was a summer staple in my house growing up, and now I make it myself every year, without fail. Why? Because it is so, so good: A hot pasta dish with a chilled, raw tomato sauce that is, as Ephron writes, “so light and delicate that it’s almost like eating a salad.” But make no mistake, the bright, fresh, juicy flavor is unforgettable.

Nora Ephron sauce is incredibly easy to make; the hard part is the waiting. It is crucial that you wait until PEAK tomato season, when the tomatoes are huge and tender and almost purple-y red. I stake out my farmer’s market every year, waiting for the tomatoes to be Ephron-ready. You’ll know it when you see it. When you do, grab an armful of them, then clear your evening. It’s time.

Nora Ephron Sauce
(aka, linguine alla cecca, adapted from Nora Ephron’s Heartburn)

5 super-ripe and BIG tomatoes
A fistful of fresh basil (maybe 3/4 cup), washed and torn up
1 large or 2 small cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed with the back of a knife*
About 2/3 cup of olive oil, more if necessary
A good pinch of salt
A box of linguine (or spaghetti or capellini — as long as it’s long and slurpy, it’ll do)

*I know, when a recipe calls for one clove of garlic I usually throw in five. But trust me — do not add more here.

With a paring knife, core the tomatoes and score them (i.e. make a few shallow cuts into the skin from top to bottom. This is so the skin will peel off easily after you blanch them).

Blanch them: Bring a pot of water to a boil and fill a big bowl with cold water. Drop the tomatoes into the boiling water for about a minute, then lift them out with a slotted spoon and plunge them immediately into the cold water for 30 seconds or so. Once, they’re all done, take the tomatoes out and peel the skin off. (The skin should come off pretty easily.)

Put the tomatoes into a big bowl, toss in basil, garlic, salt and olive oil. Smash it all up with a wooden spoon, a whisk, a fork — or your (clean!) hands if you feel like it. The result will be a fragrant, gluppy, not at all smooth sauce. HAVE FAITH.

Stick the bowl in the fridge for about an hour and go find something to do. A cocktail perhaps?

Bring a pot of water to a boil (you can use the pot of tomato-y water if you haven’t tossed it!), and boil your pasta. Once it’s done and drained, get your delicious, not-smooth sauce out of the fridge, fish out the crushed garlic, and toss the pasta in the sauce until it is well coated.

Plate it, scoop plenty of extra sauce on top, and serve. Do yourself a favor and put a napkin around your neck for this one.

The Nora Ephron Tomato Sauce I Make Every Year Recipe

Thoughts? Have you ever made it? Will you?

P.S. Why I’m never alone when I cook, and how would you describe yourself in five words?

  1. Debbie Damelio says...

    My husband used to shred some ricotta salata onto his plate (a BIG mound, actually), then put the HOT pasta on that to melt it and then the tomato pulp on the very top! DELICIOUS!

  2. I trekked across town today to get the requisite tomatoes for this and am so glad I did — I loved it! So much flavor but also SO light?! Next time I’d scoop out more of the tomato seeds early on, but that wasn’t a dealbreaker by any means. Thanks for sharing, Kelsey!

  3. Julie says...

    This looks divine….. I’m interested to hear from any Italian friends out there of their opinion on refrigerating the tomato mix, or squishing it with your clean hands, covering and leaving in the counter.

  4. allison says...

    At our house we make something similar (diced giant ripe heirlooms, salted… then add olive oil, basil, and a bit of aged balsamic) but we serve it as a cold tomato soup with rosemary focaccia and a cheese board.

  5. merleb says...

    Just made/ate it…so GOOD!

  6. I am definitely guilty of putting in a ton of garlic cloves so thank you for this clarification!

  7. Hello summer! Thanks for the reminder for this summer pasta sauce. I’ve been making a similar version for years from the Barefoot Contessa using cherry tomatoes. This was delicious, though a bit more work, made with fresh from the farm Yakima, WA beefsteak tomato’s. Like Ina’s recipe, I covered in plastic and left it on the counter for a few hours before I was ready to use. I’m using the leftover sauce today for bruschetta. Yum.

  8. Laura says...

    Wonder Valley Olive Oil is the most amazing! Please do a style profile on their founder!!

  9. Randy Murzynski says...

    I have been making pasta checca for over 30plus years… it’s not new! It’s amazing how people think they come up with a new dish and think they are being creative (especially celebrities).

    • Capucine says...

      Wait, but – she writes her recipe is from a 1983 book, she grew up eating it, and it’s actually Italian so therefore even older than 1983. That’s not passing old off as new, surely? It’s more like, ‘hey here’s this old recipe I make every August, try it!’. And you can be like ‘Hey, same, been making that classic ancient recipe my whole life too!’ Lots of room to be the cool custodians of awesome ancient recipes here! You can both bring it to my next potluck!

  10. Yesss. I love and make this often here in the tropics. Good to know it has a name ..lol!

  11. Anne Lauer says...

    This: *I know, when a recipe calls for one clove of garlic I usually throw in five. But trust me — do not add more here.

    Freakin Truth Sis…truth
    Same with a tablespoon of lemon juice. I mean lets use the whole lemon!

  12. Jess says...

    So I’m not alone in my overindulgence of garlic in recipes. Good to know.

    • Ali says...

      This is so delicious and easy. I didn’t have time to let it rest in the fridge for an hour—just about 10 min and it was still really fresh and flavorful. I added toasted pine nuts too. Yum!

  13. Laura says...

    This reminds me of the first “meal” my mother ever showed me how to make– the meal I STILL deem as my all-time favorite:
    -rigatoni
    -1 can of crushed tomatoes
    -a TON of mozzarella
    -THAT’S IT! *angels sing*
    Delicious!

  14. Meg says...

    Lazy version if you don’t have time to boil/peel/refrigerate: just throw tomatoes, olive oil, garlic, salt, and pepper in a food processor. So good and done by the time the pasta is ready.

    • liz says...

      Even lazier version – you can grate tomatoes with a large cheese grater. The skin slips off and stays on top of the grater and you can skip all the mashing! This was in cooking light ages ago and it’s a winner.

  15. Getting pretty heated in these comments about the most innocuous things. This recipe is simple and free-balled enough to not need any process shots, and the word, “gluppy”, is amazing and perfectly conveys the feeling of what this goosey dish should be. I’m excited to make this when my little tomatoes start to shape up. :)

    • Kelsey Miller says...

      Haha, thank you for your support of my use of “gluppy.” It is a crucial culinary term IMO. :)

  16. Molly says...

    Doesn’t this result in eating cold pasta….is it meant to be more like a pasta salad?

    • Kelsey Miller says...

      It’s warm because the pasta heats it up a bit, but not usually steaming hot.

  17. Brenna says...

    Can you freeze and store this sauce for colder months?

    • Jessica says...

      Not really, this is a summer/fresh tomato dish.

  18. Rudy says...

    This is my goto summer pasta. I dice up some juicy tomatoes, a glut of EVOO, a smash of garlic, some julienne basil, s/p and some diced up Brie…leave out on the counter (never frig tomatoes) for a couple of hours.

    Cook up some pasta like farfelle or cappatelli, drain and toss with fresh tomato sauce . Yum – melts the Brie.

    THE BEST

  19. jeannie says...

    I love the sound of this dish and have a big bowl of tomatoes sitting on my counter just begging to be used. I will try it tonight. Thanks, Kelsey!

  20. Kate says...

    This hasn’t been the best year for tomatoes here in the Midwest, sadly – too much rain in the spring, and late hot weather means they’ve been later than usual – but I’m determined to try this before the end of the month! Reminds me of the “tomato water” recipe from Food52 I fell in love with a few years ago. https://food52.com/blog/11127-michael-ruhlman-s-pasta-with-tomato-water-basil-and-garlic
    Cheers!

  21. Alyssa Cable says...

    While warm colored layers of scarves, pumpkin flavored everything and freshly sharpened pencils remind most people of fall, Norah does it for me. Nothing like sitting near a window reading a book while the leaves blow around in a foggy air, or wrapping myself in a cozy blanket watching a good Meg Ryan movie while something delicious bubbles in the background. Gah, now I’m so excited to make this sauce!

    • liz says...

      love this comment!! <3

  22. I’m always so jealous whenever Americans talk about the time of year that tomatoes get good. Doesn’t really happen in the UK :(

    • Genevieve M says...

      Agree you won’t find them at the supermarket, but you can get good tomatoes in some greengrocers or maybe farmers markets etc! They are only amazing if picked when already ripe and sadly supermarkets here favour shelf life over taste and pick before ripening.
      The tomatoes in France are the best though <3 <3

  23. Patty says...

    I love this recipe. My variation is adding cubed Italian Gorgonzola to the tomatoes and I let it rest on the counter, not the refrigerator. Not too much cheese, about 1/4 cup. Delicious.

  24. I *just* re-read “I Feel Bad About My Neck.” She was such an excellent writer!

    I do make this tomato sauce and we love it, but I actually didn’t remember it was in “Heartburn.” Time for a re-read of that, too!

    • Cher says...

      Ephron is my hero. Ironically just finished “I feel bad about my neck” as well. There will never be another Nora Ephron. I love her humor, writing and cooking stories as well and will make her bright and uncomplicated sauce with the luscious tomatoes from my garden. How Italian in it’s simplicity.

  25. What is meant by a box of linguini? 250 grams, 500 grams? A very imprecise measurement.

    • T. Scott says...

      In the U.S., most boxes of pasta are 1 lb. boxes. Goggle’s conversion app says this is 453.592 grams. Exact enough?

    • ANDREA says...

      In America, it makes sense. It’s generally 16 oz of dried pasta.

  26. Alison Winifred Smith says...

    Someone just said homemade mashed potatoes…is there any other sort?! Wait …I was in the UK the other month. .I have never seen so many ready meals,chopped fruit etc etc in all my life!!! What makes me laugh is all the super kitchen s people have or think they need and never use them

    • Karina says...

      Hi there
      I thought exactly the same whenever I visit the US. In comparison the UK still cooks a lot.
      Home cook here, London based :)

    • Martini says...

      That was me.

      By “home-made” mashed potatoes Nora meant cooking a real potato, such as a Russett and mashing it. Not the boxed, powdered potato flakes that have been sold by the millions on store shelves for decades now. Huge difference.

  27. Michelle Masterson says...

    I can’t wait to make this !

  28. Karin says...

    I make something like this, but I chop it all, including the garlic, in a food processor, add a tablespoon or two of balsamic vinegar with the olive oil, and toss in cubes of fresh mozzarella. The sauce doesn’t need to go in the fridge while marinating. I call it summer spaghetti.

  29. This makes me miss my grandma’s homemade sauce! I need to give this recipe a try and see how it compares!

    Paige

  30. Jess says...

    Can I make a general suggestion for Food posts? If you follow any good food blogs, you know that they always show PROCESS photos. Like “here’s step a, step b, etc” but in pictures. It helps us understand how to get from start photo of ingredients to end photo of magnificent looking food. There are so many yummy recipes I see posted on CoJ but I have so much trouble following the written instructions that I find myself wishing that more process photos were included.
    Just a thought…

  31. Jane Stuppi says...

    Lovedmaking it & loved eating these devine sauce.

  32. Martini says...

    Awww Kelsey, weren’t we so lucky to have had Nora? Wow.
    I have “Heartburn” laying in my “Reading Stack” of books by my bed.
    I have all of her recipes in it marked with sticky notes.
    My fav? Oh Lord, and Nora was so right…
    a bowl of hot home made mashed potatoes with a couple slabs of super cold butter in the middle of them.
    Nora says you must eat them in bed while dressed in your pajamas and to savor the cold butter against the hot mashed potatoes.
    For me, they are now my favorites.
    Thanks Nora.

    • Kelsey Miller says...

      That sounds. So good.

  33. Jill says...

    I would never refrigerate tomatoes! Leave those babies on the counter!

  34. Rachel says...

    This sauce was one of the first homemade sauces I ever made when newly married. It is divine.

  35. jane says...

    gluppy = gloopy?

  36. MJ says...

    “fish out the crushed garlic” wait what??

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      they’re large pieces of garlic, crushed with the back of a knife (versus chopped up) — hope that helps!

    • Owl says...

      Yes, I wondered the same thing… But it’s the “fish out” part that confused me, not the crushed garlic part! I’d be curious to know, as I am going to be making this! 😄

    • Jackie says...

      Yup, was confused by that too. Thanks for the clarification Joanna!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      they’re big garlic chunks, so you just pull them out of the sauce (they add the flavor but you don’t want them to actually be in the final sauce). hope that helps!

    • Karen says...

      Nah, I’d eat them

  37. Meredith says...

    YUM this looks so good! And thanks for the garlic tip, I always add extra, too. :)

  38. Clare says...

    Wonder Valley Olive Oil sighting! Best olive oil around!

    • I do one similar to this, too! Without the blanching and peeling, because that seems like so much work! Why do people hate tomato peels so much!?

    • Jessica says...

      O think tomato peel can be hard on sensitive stomachs. They don’t bother me, but my husband can’t have them so now I always peel.

  39. Carrie says...

    So you don’t mince the garlic, only crush it?

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      yes, just kind of squish it.

  40. Jenn says...

    The phrase “Ephron-ready tomatoes” shall now take up permanent residence in my lexicon. Beautiful, Kelsey! And congratulations!

    • Kelsey Miller says...

      Thank you! :)

  41. Robin says...

    I just made this a few nights ago using the recipe from Mark Bittman’s cookbook “How to Cook Everything”. So good! I can’t eat enough juicy ripe heirloom tomatoes. My favourite way to eat them is by layering a piece of lightly toasted, heavily buttered sourdough with basil, tomato and goat cheese, and then top with salt and pepper. Heaven.

    • Sasha L says...

      Oh Robin, you are my soul mate! We’ve been eating this exact tomato basil goat cheese toast 3x a week all summer! The key is truly a good sprinkle of salt on those tomatoes.

  42. Stephanie says...

    Do you heat up the sauce before you toss it with the noodles? Or is this a cold pasta dish?

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      good question! the warm noodles heat it up a little, so it’s medium temp and tastes super fresh.

  43. Jessica says...

    My trick for summer tomato sauce is what you do with them when they are no longer really slice-able. You know, the “water balloon” stage, when the giant beautiful tomato you got at the farmer’s market seems like maybe it’s about to turn into goo on your counter but you dare not refrigerate it (texture!) and there’s no way to use only half (because: goo):
    Cut the very thinnest round slice off the blossom end – the side without the stem – and rub the tomato on the big hole side of a box/cheese grater. INSTANT TOMATO PUREE!
    A quick simmer with a crushed garlic clove or two, a couple tablespoons of butter, a bit of harissa, salt and basil (added at the end!) and you have an amazing summer sauce.
    I wish I could credit whoever gave me this tip, but I’ve long forgotten.

    • Susie says...

      Yum!

    • Lesley S says...

      YES! This is such a great trick! I make the above raw tomato sauce with the grated puree. I love to toss the super hot noodles with this sauce and some ciliegine. The sauce warms a little and the mozzarella melts a little. So delicious.

  44. Katie says...

    Sigh, I miss Nora Ephron.

    • Claire says...

      I really do too.

    • Mallory says...

      Sometimes when I’m feeling sad, I’ll read her piece “What I won’t miss” and “What I will miss” that she wrote just after her terminal cancer diagnosis. Such profound sadness, joy, humour, and love. Reading it always reminds me that life is beautiful and painful and precious.

      https://www.theguardian.com/film/2012/jun/27/nora-ephron-likes-and-dislikes

    • Marianne says...

      This looks delicious! I love every one of your articles, Kelsey. Congratulations on your baby!

  45. Ann says...

    *paring

    • Kelsey Miller says...

      Oops, fixed!

  46. Oh my gosh, I can’t believe I’m seeing this here! My friend and I co-host a podcast and we recently did an episode on Heartburn. He said this was the one recipe he wanted to try and I agreed. I guess the universe is telling me to get around to it already! (The podcast is called That Book, if you’d like to look it up – we talk about those books you see everywhere but have never gotten around to reading!)

    • Kaylie says...

      Ooo what a fun podcast premise, thanks for hosting it and letting us know!

  47. hali says...

    It’s recipes like this that make me love being human! Long live tomatoes!

  48. Shelle says...

    Well, I guess I am getting up early and going to the farmer’s market this Saturday.

  49. Tam says...

    This sounds good, I’m adding it to my list! I’ve been making Marcella Hazan’s super-simple tomato sauce lately. It’s a big can of whole peeled Italian tomatoes, a bunch of butter or olive oil, and salt cooked at low heat for about 45 minutes. Reminds me of the simple, silky sauces in Italy. Yum!

    • Amy says...

      And a halved onion! (Are we thinking of the same sauce? I love it so much!)

    • Mouse says...

      Unbelievably good. I read raves about it for years and somehow never made it, and then……yes, they are all true. Marcella H rules.

    • Kelsey Miller says...

      That one is TRULY one of the best recipes of all time.

  50. Aki says...

    Paring knife…not pairing knife. xo