Lost Recipes from Save Me the Plums 4

April 5, 2019

This is from the chapter called Editor of the Year, which begins on page 215

“Ruthie,” Lou Di Palo cried when we walked through the door. He emerged from behind the counter, and as he gave me a brief, unaccustomed hug I inhaled his scent. He had the clean smell of cheese and toast. His brother Sal and sister Theresa contented themselves with small waves.

“We’ve known Ruthie forever.” Lou released me and turned his considerable charm on Tony. “In those days she was just a neighborhood kid who liked to cook. Who knew she would rise to such heights?”

“I used to come here,” I slipped effortlessly into the familiar comfort of this conversation, “and stand in the endless line while Lou romanced the Mafia moms.”

“You didn’t hear that.” Lou reached out, miming covering Tony’s ears.

“‘You like to cook,’ they’d say to me and then start reeling off recipes. I was standing right here when I learned to make that fresh pasta in my first cookbook.  And I still use the Sunday sauce I got from one lady.”

“I bet that was Mrs. Bergamini,” said Lou.


Mrs. Bergamini’s Fresh Tomato Sauce

This recipe relies on the irresistible taste of really good tomatoes, and it’s best in late summer, when tomatoes are at their peak. But in a pinch, you can use the rather insipid Roma tomatoes that are always in the market.  If you do, add a couple of canned San Marzano tomatoes; the texture will be wrong, but they’ll add flavor. In high summer, however, this is, to me, the best tomato sauce in the world.

3 pounds fresh tomatoes

Splash of olive oil (a couple of tablespoons)

Pinch of red pepper flakes

Salt and pepper

1 pound spaghetti

Handful of basil leaves, shredded

2 tablespoons of butter

3 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan


Boil a pot of water, and when it’s hot, toss in the tomatoes for a minute or so. Drain in a colander and run cold water over them to cool them down.

Peel the tomatoes.  Remove the seeds and liquid, saving them in a bowl.

Heat the olive oil in a pan. Add the hot pepper flakes, then squish the tomatoes in with your hands. Add a teaspoon of salt, and a few grindings of pepper, and simmer the tomatoes for about half an hour, smashing them with a large spoon every few minutes.  You want a chunky sauce.

Meanwhile put the seeds and liquid through a sieve, and add the liquid to the pot.

While the sauce cooks, bring water for pasta to a boil.  Throw in the dried spaghetti, and cook about ¾ of the way through; the timing will depend on the type and brand of pasta you use.

When the pasta is almost done, dip a cup into the boiling water and extract some water.

Taste the reduced tomato sauce and add salt and pepper to your liking. When the pasta is ¾ cooked, use tongs to scoop it into the reduced tomato sauce.  If the sauce has become too thick, add pasta water.  Allow to cook for another couple of minutes, until the pasta is perfectly al dente.  Stir in the butter, the basil bits and the grated cheese. Add more salt if needed.

Serve, to four ecstatically happy people.


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  • Ivy says:

    Hi Ruth, I just finished reading Save Me the Plums and I really enjoyed it. Thank you for taking us along on the journey of your time at Gourmet, and I look forward to continuing reading your work!

  • Thank you for this super simple, insanely good recipe.

  • Sandra Aumiller says:

    I am reading Save Me the Plums at this time and I will probably finish it today. On a lark I decided to google the Sunday sauce you mentioned. Thanks for the recipe and a big thank you for the delightful and well written memoir. I laughed out loud many times with a honking laugh my mother would have disliked.