Wednesday, July 6, 2011

True Believer: Lexie's Easy Lighthouse Linguine

Lexie needs some time alone. She's recently met Jeremy, a hotshot journalist, and she's found herself falling in love with him. Lexie has been in love before, and she's sure that if she gets involved with Jeremy, she'll end up getting hurt, just like she has before. Besides, Jeremy is going home to New York soon, and if she runs away to her beach house in Hatteras, she won't have to say goodbye to him. (Read more about Jeremy and Lexie here and here.)

Meanwhile Jeremy is perplexed by Lexie's sudden disappearance from Boone Creek. He has found himself in love as well, and is determined to let Lexie know his feelings for her. He knows he is leaving soon, and he doesn't want to return to New York without seeing her one more time. When he tracks her down to her beach house, Lexie decides--after getting over the initial shock of having him suddenly appear on the beach out of nowhere--to cook him pasta with her favorite sauce.

Lexie takes out two big cans of San Marzano tomatoes, a couple of onions, a stick of butter, and a great big pot to cook it all in. She pours the tomatoes into the pot, throws in the butter, and instructs Jeremy to cut the onions in half and add them to the sauce.

As she washed her hands, Jeremy peeked into the saucepan, frowning. "That's it? No garlic? No salt and pepper? No sausage? No meatballs?"

(This is exactly what my own half-Italian husband said when I told him what I'd be cooking. His mother is Italian, and she makes the best sauce ever. Complete with sausage and meatballs.)

She shook her head. "Three ingredients only. Of course, we'll pour it over linguine and top it with some fresh-grated Parmesan cheese."

"That isn't very Italian."

"Actually, it is. It's the way they've made it in San Marzano for hundreds of years. That's in Italy, by the way." (True Believer, p. 225)

Well, I don't know whether or not it's really a centuries-old Italian tradition, but Joe and I were both skeptical. "I'm sure it won't be as good as your mom's," I said, "but I'm making it anyway."

My first task was to find out what San Marzano tomatoes are. At first I thought it was a brand name, but I soon learned that it's a specific type of tomato that's grown in a certain part of Italy, and that you can find them in just about any grocery store. Almost all of the San Marzano tomatoes I was able to find were packed whole in the can, rather than pureed or crushed. I wondered whether or not Lexie's tomatoes were whole, and if they were, shouldn't she at least chop them first? I had almost decided to send Nick a message or a tweet or something, to ask him this very question ( there would be any chance of getting an answer! Dumb idea). In the end I opted to put the whole tomatoes in the food processor and chop them a little bit before putting them into the pot. (I do this when I make chili, after all--and I'm sure this is because my chili recipe originally came from the owner's manual from my food processor, and of course it's going to tell me to get whole tomatoes and use their machine to chop them up. I'll share that recipe with you here sometime; it's one of our favorites.)

I didn't know how big Lexie's cans of tomatoes were, so I decided to use three. I found out later this was too many--more about that in a minute.

The butter is beginning to melt...

Whoops, I dripped a little tomato sauce on my book!

I mixed a little bit of the sauce with the linguine to give it some color because it's what my Italian mother-in-law does.

Okay. Now to admit my mistake. As I'm working on this blog post, I've decided to do a Google search to find out if this is REALLY how they cook their sauce in San Marzano. Well, I didn't find out the answer, but guess what I found right away? This, from Deb in New York. It's a recipe for sauce, made EXACTLY like Lexie's. As far as I know, Deb didn't get the idea from True Believer or any other Nicholas Sparks book. I realize now that I should have done this BEFORE making the sauce (slaps forehead) because guess what? You DON'T have to put the tomatoes through the food processor; you just put them whole in the pot and they'll break down while they're cooking (although frankly I don't think it matters all that much whether you process them or not). I would also have known (slaps forehead again) to only use TWO cans, not three, because according to Deb's recipe from Smitten Kitchen, for every 28-ounce can, you should use half a stick of butter and one onion. Now I want a do-over; next time I'll know what to do, at least.

Lexie fixes a simple salad of lettuce, tomato, and olives, and whips up a dressing with olive oil, balsamic, salt, and pepper.

A little extra sauce to pour over the pasta...

A little Chianti...

...and some fresh parmesan and basil on top. I had the gluten-free rice fetuccini.

Lexie tells Jeremy the sauce would be done in an hour and a half, and that's about how long I cooked mine. It was good, better than jarred sauce, that's for sure, and it's definitely one to make again because it's so easy. (I made a mental note to make this on a Friday next year during Lent.) Even though Jeremy thinks it's the best he's ever tasted--even better than his Italian mother's--I will say that we still like my Italian mother-in-law's more than this one; although if I'd had the proper tomato-onion-butter ratio I might have a better comparison. Her sauce is a lot more work (even more than the one I made last fall), and worth the effort if you have the time. I know I've been promising to share it with you for months; I haven't forgotten. Soon, I hope.

Maybe when I make a sauce like Deb's, it WILL be better than my mother-in-law's.

Next Up: We'll visit The Rescue one more time with a rain-or-shine summer cookout.


  1. I just read this in the book today! I immediately searched the web to see if I could find the recipe and your post was the first one I came across! I can't wait to try this and I am glad that I am not the only one who read and needed to see for myself how good it is! =)

  2. My little brother and I loved it! He called it "miraculous". For a not-so-much cooking prodigy, this meant a lot!

  3. Are the tomatoes cut against the grain? Horizontally
    Or with the grain? Vertically

  4. I just put them through the food processor, but I don't think you need to cut them at all.

  5. OH, by the way, this is Sharon...I have a new blog at WordPress. :)