Men, Gas, and Measuring Cups

Harper's CornerJessica Harper
By Jessica Harper
August 2009

"Why don't men buy gas? Or ask for directions, let alone recipes? What's a great measuring cup for the visually challenged? These and other burning questions are addressed in Jessica's third column, Men, Gas and Measuring Cups."

Now that it's August and fabulous tomatoes are everywhere, I'm in the mood for Louie's tomato sauce. Louie was a guy who figured in one of those family moments that was highly irritating at the time but yielded a nice recipe.

See, my husband has a thing about buying gas. It's sort of like asking for directions: he won't do it until the situation is dire. As you can imagine, this sometimes gets him in trouble, as it did when I was in labor, minutes away from giving birth to our second child. Luckily for Tom I was in too much distress to hit him with a frying pan when he pulled into a gas station on the way to the hospital.

He got in trouble again recently when our big fat rental car conked out on highway 95 just shy of our Connecticut destination. Tom coasted down an exit ramp, at the bottom of which the car just stopped, refusing to go one inch further, stubborn as my husband.

A speedy guy in a pickup truck honked behind us. When Tom threw up his hands to indicate helplessness, Mr. Speedy screeched around us, yelling "Jackass!" at my husband, saving me the trouble.

Then we got lucky: Louie showed up. Louie is a middle-aged guy who looks and behaves like Clarence, the angel in It's A Wonderful Life. After he pushed our car to a shady off-road spot, he drove Tom to the gas station to fetch a couple of gallons.

Tom told me later that on their way, Louie had related the mini-series of his life: he was divorced and unemployed, had just had a fight with his girlfriend and was on his way home to make tomato sauce.

Tomato sauce? In a lineup I'd never have picked Louie as the guy who makes tomato sauce. If I'd been in the car, hearing this directly, I'd have pressed him for details. Was cooking a form of post-spat therapy? Was he making a tomato sauce as a peace offering for the girlfriend or was he just, you know, hungry? If the former, then why tomato sauce? Why not chocolate cake? If the latter, then why not a simple PBJ sandwich? Who taught him to make tomato sauce? The ex?

And then, of course, I'd have raised the most obvious question: "What's your recipe for tomato sauce?"

But it was my husband who had this conversation with Louie, and for him, this is a question that, of all the questions in the entire universe, he would be least likely to utter. The question, "Can you tell me how to get to the Boston Hotel, since it's two a.m. and I am completely lost and my wife will shortly hit me with a frying pan?" is right up there in the realm of never-to-be-spoken, but asking for a recipe is in a whole other league. Tom would not even know how to put the words together.

So, he was riding shotgun with a man who had a recipe to share and the opportunity zipped right by. I am left to imagine how Louie would have made tomato sauce.

Below is a recipe that I feel is Louie-ish, if not exactly his. I include it here with gratitude for the kindness of a stranger who got our big, fat rental up and running before I had time to locate a frying pan.

1 1/2-2 pounds tomatoes, roughly chopped
1 large sweet onion, chopped
3 Tablespoons butter
Kosher salt to taste

In a large saucepan, melt the butter over low heat. Add the chopped onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft and translucent, about fifteen minutes. Add the tomatoes and raise the heat to medium. Simmer the mixture for about twenty minutes, until the sauce is somewhat reduced and concentrated. Add salt to taste (1/2-1 teaspoon).

Pour the sauce in a food processor and pulse until it is as smooth or as chunky as you like it.

Serve the sauce over pasta with grated Parmigiana-Reggiano cheese.

P.S. For those of you PXEers who, like me, are visually challenged, I have a hot tip.

I am currently writing a cookbook, and am therefore doing a fair amount of cooking. While I go through this recipe testing process, I'm noticing more than ever the minor frustrations of cooking with reduced vision; I'm always on the lookout for kitchen accessories that make things easier.

Some of the stuff that's available seems useful, some does not. One item that looks very promising (I have ordered it but have not yet actually used it) is Cuisinart's measuring cup.

I don't know about you, but one of the more annoying things I experience in cooking is measuring liquids. I pour water, say, in a Pyrex measuring cup and for the life of me, I can't read the markers. I hold the cup up to the light, look at it sideways and then from the bottom, I wiggle it around, I speak to it (not in a nice way), and finally just figure, whatever's in there is close enough. The Cuisinart cup, I'm hoping, will put an end to the embarrassing spectacle of me cursing at a glass of water and straighten things right out.

Check it out here: Once I've tried it, I'll get back to you. Feel free to let me know what you think of it. Now go make some tomato sauce!


For more articles by Jessica Harper, visit and