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.
Thoughts? Have you ever made it? Will you?