You’ll Never Guess the Secret Ingredient to My No-Cook Tomato Sauce

updated Dec 17, 2019
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(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

Before I get to that secret ingredient (or even to the no-cook tomato sauce that will change your life, I promise you), let me set something straight, for the record: This isn’t actually my no-cook tomato sauce. It belongs to my friend’s mom Peg, or Mrs. Schultz, as I still call her some 30 years later.

Amelia and I were friends and so were our moms, something I never quite understood. It was an unlikely pairing. Mrs. Schultz was everything my German mom was not. She had short, spiky hair and butterfly glasses, wore Birkenstocks and crazy patterned running tights — outside the house. (Mind you, this was in the ’80s and well before the advent of Lululemon and the era of Athleisure. It was long before Birkenstocks were cool the first time around.)

She also told us if we smelled, let us take baths with Howard the dog, and didn’t get upset if we made a big mess in the kitchen. My mom’s kitchen, as far as I could tell, miraculously produced meals with not a splatter nor a spill. For this reason — and because Mrs. Schultz worked as a caterer — it was at the Schultz’ home beneath a bright blue neon sign that said “Let’s Eat” that I learned to cook.

I don’t remember most of the recipes that Mrs. Schultz taught me, but I do remember her no-cook tomato sauce. It’s dead simple for starters, so there’s not much to remember. But it stuck in my head because it’s so true to Mrs. Schultz’ ethos. She taught me that cooking doesn’t have to be hard and it definitely doesn’t have to be perfect — but it always helps if there’s one unique and surprising twist. Ready for it?

The secret ingredient is … Brie cheese!

Here’s how I remember it: It was summer and it was hot — too hot to cook really. But as Amelia and I were teenagers, we were always hungry and pasta is a good answer for the enviable metabolism of youth. Tomatoes were in season and so formed the basis of the sauce. Add some minced garlic, salt and pepper, fresh basil, and several good glugs of olive oil and you could be done. To really make it a showstopper, though, tear up some brie cheese and toss that in, too. Camembert works, or anything a little funky and already a little ooey-gooey.

Let all the flavors meld while your pasta cooks. When it’s time, just drain and stir in your sauce. The heat from the pasta will melt the cheese, while the room-temperature sauces will cool the pasta so you’ve got a dish that’s kind of magical and just right for a summer night when you still need to fill your belly.