This most simple tomato sauce uses 4 ingredients, takes 2 minutes to prepare, 45 minutes to cook, and tastes unbelievably sumptuous. (Skip to recipe.)

simple tomato sauce

I was wondering what all the hype was about.

Every time I clicked, I came across another blog that raved about the wonders of this seemingly simple tomato sauce. Like Molly’s and Julie’s and Food 52‘s. All sources point to Marcella Hazan as the origin of this recipe, in her book ‘Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking’.

All I can say is, Thank you Marcella Hazan! This recipe lives up to all that’s been said about it, and more. So I won’t go on and on about it. But I do need to tell you a little bit about how wonderful this simple tomato sauce is, or you might not try it, and that would be your loss, I say.

It is rich and velvety and so very tomato-ey, but not too acidic at all. Somehow, the butter performs magic on a can of tomatoes and an onion, and you have a tomato sauce that is so much more than the sum of its parts. Yes, only three ingredients (not counting salt), but don’t underestimate the power of transformation. Sitting down to a simple bowl of perfectly boiled pasta and this sumptuous tomato sauce will transport you somewhere else; somewhere sun-drenched with maybe a crumbling Roman ruin, a vista of rows of cypress trees on faraway golden hills, and the strains of an Italian violin serenading you in the background. (Or at least someplace warm – anything that gets me out of our -27°C weather – even if it’s in my head, my tummy, and my tastebuds!)

My usual tomato sauce involves olive oil, and garlic, and maybe some ground beef, and a long list of lovely Italian spices and vegetables, and don’t get me wrong – we all do love that version. But this new, simple, yet oh-so-luscious sauce has won a place in my heart. (Speaking of hearts – the bright tomato-red sauce over white pasta would make a lovely starter or main dish for a cozy Valentine dinner. As a main course, all it needs is a fresh green salad, maybe a few slices of nice dry Italian salami and crusty bread to nibble with it, and a glass of good vino!)

simple tomato sauce

the cast of characters

My aim with this blog has always been to post new recipes that I’ve developed and fiddled with and tweaked, but sometimes a recipe is just so perfect that there is no fiddling to be done. Why reinvent the wheel?

simple tomato sauce

serve it over rice pasta for a gluten-free meal

So, I pass on to you this simple and perfect recipe, originating with Marcella Hazan, but whirling around the internet like a game of telephone gone wild.

* * * * *

Kitchen Frau Notes: It really is important to start with a good brand of canned tomatoes (not the sort canned in water). San Marzano is the recommended brand, but I think Unico or Primo work just as well.

Also – do not adulterate this sauce with Parmesan cheese! It will completely overwhelm the subtle richness of the butter you have nurtured in your long, loving simmer of the sauce.

All the recipes I found on the internet say to discard the onion when the sauce is finished – but don’t do that! Put it in a small bowl, let it cool slightly, give it a sprinkle of salt and eat it slowly, making loud smacking sounds and savouring every sweet and tangy forkful. It’s a heavenly treat on its own, and a foretaste of the sauce to come. Though, I guess you’ll have to grudgingly share if anyone comes into the kitchen while you are in the midst of savouring . . .

simple tomato sauce

nice and thick

Simple Tomato Sauce

adapted from Marcella Hazan’s ‘Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking’

Takes 2 minutes (seriously!) to put together and 45 minutes to cook.

  • 1 large can (28-oz/800gms) good quality peeled, whole tomatoes
  • 1/3 cup (5 tablespoons/75gms) salted butter (you could use 1/4 cup – but no less)
  • 1 medium onion, peeled and halved crosswise
  • salt to taste

Empty the contents of the can of tomatoes into a medium saucepan or dutch oven. Plop in the butter and the two onion halves, pushing them under the liquid.

Set over medium heat and bring it just to a boil, then turn the heat down and keep it at a simmer, uncovered, for about 45 minutes, stirring it every once in a while and squishing the tomatoes against the side of the pot with your wooden spoon to break them up a bit. Simmer until the sauce is reduced and thick, with no watery liquid.  It will plop and bubble, but the onion halves in there seem to buffer it from splattering too much. Eventually the texture will be just right and you will start to see the buttery oil separate a little from the sauce. Remove the onion halves and sprinkle the sauce lightly with salt to taste. (At this point some people puree it, but I think it’s best chunky and rustic, with real tomato texture.)

Serve the sauce over al dente pasta, just as it is – no need to add anything or monkey with it in any way.

(I like to make a double batch while I’m doing the stirring and waiting anyway. It freezes well – if it makes it that far!)

Guten Appetit!


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