Fast Food

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Note from Frances: From time to time, Kristin and I will publish posts written by one or the other of us, but not both–though it remains to be seen if one of us can actually post something without the other feeling the need to reply! 

Last week, Clifton and I took a trip to Louisville, Kentucky, to pick up my beloved Bernina* to visit my parents. We had a lovely time and were sad to say goodbye.

It’s a nearly nine-hour drive from Louisville back to Durham. Back in the day, when we were traveling with Jack and Will, we packed sandwiches and snacks for the drive home, since a lot of the trip is through the West Virginia mountains, with limited dining opportunities. We tried to make it home by 7PM at the latest. Twenty or so minutes away from our house, we’d call Randy’s Pizza and order dinner.

We could have done that last week, but Clifton and I had eaten pretty robustly at my parents’ place, and we definitely didn’t need a pizza. But we wanted something warm and comforting when we got home. So I decided to make Marcella Hazan’s simple marinara sauce. 

Do you know Marcella? She was the queen of Italian cuisine, a winner of the James Beard Lifetime Achievement award, and a wonderful cookbook writer. She published several recipes for marinara sauce over the years, but the one I made on Thursday night is the version I love best, though I’ve made some tiny tweaks. I use the halved onion listed in the ingredients, but while Marcella instructed that the onion be cooked with the tomatoes and then discarded, I dice it and saute it in a tablespoon or two of butter, then add the tomatoes. I chop up the tomatoes with the side of a metal spatula as they’re cooking and usually don’t cook them as long as the recipe calls for (forty-five minutes). I tend to cook mine for twenty, the length of time it takes my pot of water to boil and my whole grain spaghetti to cook. 

When the pasta is almost done, I add two more tablespoons of butter to the sauce (Marcella started the whole thing off with 5 tablespoons). I don’t know why the butter makes the sauce extra delicious, but it does.

When the spaghetti is done cooking, I drain it and then stirred it into the sauce. I typically serve it in bowls, with generous handfuls of parmesan. Comfort food at its best!

When I told Kristin about this dish on Friday, she seemed dubious that a pasta sauce made with zero garlic, basil, oregano or other herbs could still taste wonderful. It’s weird, right? But I swear by the simplicity of this marinara. I absolutely love it. 

So, here’s the whole thing in recipe form:


4 Tbsp butter, divided

½ a medium onion, diced

28-ounce can of San Marzano whole peeled tomatoes

12 ounces pasta


Set a pot of water to boil. Saute the diced onion in two tablespoons of butter, then add tomatoes and bring them to a simmer. Chop up tomatoes with the edge of a spatula as they cook. Cook the pasta for ten or eleven minutes or until al dente and then drain. While the pasta is draining, add two more tablespoons of butter to the sauce. Stir the pasta into the sauce and stir and stir until it’s covered in wonderful buttery tomato-ness. Serve in big bowls with lots of grated parmesan. 


*My mother is also a quilter and has the very charming habit of giving me her old sewing machines. The first machine she gave me was her Bernina 1230, after my father gave her a Bernina 550 QE. Then, in 2019, my father gave her a Bernina 770, which was too cumbersome for my mother to carry with her on her guild retreats. So she asked for her 1230 back; in exchange, she would give me her 550 QE. Now, most normal people would be thrilled by the upgrade. I was not. I loved my 1230. Loved, loved, loved it. It was simple, solid and straightforward. No bells, not many whistles. It was the perfect machine for technologically-challenged me.

But I couldn’t refuse my mom’s request. So I gave her back her 1230 and she gave me her 550 QE, which I did not love. I got used to it, but I’ve never felt any affection for it. It’s computerized and fancy, and the people at Bernina World in Raleigh think I’m nuts for not preferring it to the older, simpler machine. 

In any event, my mom isn’t going on many retreats in these Covid times, so she offered to give me the 1230 back. Obviously, this wasn’t the reason Clifton and I went to visit my parents, but it definitely sweetened the deal. And I got to keep the 550 QE, but it’s already in a corner, while the 1230 is back in baby’s arms.

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  • Frances in Wales

    Buttery-tomatoes with pasta? Sign me up! It is a fantastically straightforward recipe, and therefore the chances of me actually trying it go up by several hundred-fold, lol

    It must be lovely to share your interest in quilting with your mum. Machine-gifts are a definite perk, but being able to join together in a hobby must be fun. I am interested to know if her style is similar to yours though?

    The relish you feel on being reunited with the 1230 is palpable – I hope you have many happy hours together!

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