Gift Guide 2018: Smashing!!

December 2, 2018

Have you noticed the number of hip new recipes that call for a simple kitchen appliance almost nobody has anymore?

I’m talking about a potato masher.

In the last week alone I’ve come upon two recipes calling for this antique appliance.  An Alison Roman recipe for lemony  cauliflower with  hazelnuts, an  Ottolenghi recipe for couscous with shrimp and clams.  And I make my favorite tomato sauce with fresh tomatoes and a potato masher.  (The recipe is below.)

I don’t know about you, but when it comes to potatoes I long ago abandoned my mother’s potato masher for the far more efficient ricer.  (If you don’t have one, I recommend this particular one, which is easy to store and easy to clean.)  But I’m willing to bet most of your friends don’t own a simple potato masher, and this excellent Oxo masher is an extremely inexpensive way to remedy that. 

And now, for that tomato sauce recipe.  It’s one I got years ago from an old lady I met while standing in line at Di Palo’s in Little Italy. I abandoned it for the famously easily Marcella Hazan recipe, but lately I’ve gone back to this one which is so much better.

Because the recipe relies on the irresistible taste of really good tomatoes 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.

Mrs. Bergamini’s Fresh Tomato Sauce

3 pounds fresh tomatoes

Olive oil

Pinch of red pepper flakes

Salt and pepper

1 pound spaghetti

Handful of basil leaves, shredded

Unsalted butter

1/4 cup 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 a couple tablespoons of 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 potato masher 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 close to 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 a couple tablespoons of butter, the basil bits and the grated cheese. Add more salt if needed.

Serve to four ecstatically happy people.

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1 Comment

  • When ripe, juicy tomatoes are unavailable I roast them on a baking tray. Cut in half (cores removed), olive oil, salt and pepper, a few sprigs of rosemary and thyme cooked at around 300 F (150 C) for a couple of hours until shriveled but still juicy. Can also be used for a Caprese salad.
    P.S. Am re-reading your books. Pure joy!