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Marcella Hazan’s Tomato Sauce with Onion and Butter

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marcella hazan tomato sauce

I recently had the pleasure of meeting, cooking and dining with Marcella and Victor Hazan at their home in Florida.

At 87 years old, Marcella Hazan is a legend in the culinary world, having influenced millions of Americans on the art of Italian cooking.

Of all recipes, I think this is simple Tomato Sauce is what she’s most famous for.

Read my post and see photos of my visit with Marcella and Victor Hazan.

Marcella’s Tomato Sauce: 3 ingredients

Four, if you count the pasta as well.

1 whole onion, one 28-ounce can of whole, peeled tomatoes (from San Marzano if you can find them), 5 tablespoons of butter and pasta of your choice. I used salted butter, which let me omit the added salt to the sauce (and I also salt my boiling pasta water too)

Place the butter, onion and tomatoes (I’ve roughly chopped the tomatoes first) into a pot and simmer uncovered for 45 minutes.

Until it looks like this, where droplets of fat float freely from the tomato:

Remove the onion and discard if you must (but secretly, I enjoyed it with a little salt and pepper)

This is what tomato sauce is all about!

Serve over pasta.

Victor and Marcella sent me home with a gift of custom made Italian sausage by Paul Bertolli:

And so we grilled them outside…but a little boy was impatient and couldn’t wait for me to finish my photoshoot.

After I scolded him for grabbing the sausage with his hands before dinner was served, I turned around to get the other plates dished up.

And caught him….

in the act…

of super-fast slurping…hoping not to get caught…

look at that slurptastic action!

Marcella Hazan’s Tomato Sauce with Onion and Butter Recipe

recipe adapted from Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan

I used salted butter and also heavily salted the boiling pasta water, so I didn’t add any additional salt to the sauce. Taste and adjust with more salt if needed.

One 28-ounce can whole plum tomatoes (San Marzano, if you can find), tomatoes roughly chopped with their juices
5 tablespoons salted butter
1 medium yellow onion, peeled and halved

Heat a heavy, medium saucepan over medium heat. Add all of the ingredients and bring to a simmer. Turn the heat to low to keep a steady simmer. Cook for 45 minutes, or until droplets of fat float free of the tomatoes. Stir occasionally. Discard the onion. Serve over cooked pasta.

Comments 115

  1. dhanes420

    Making it tonight! My Guro is Italian and even he hasn’t mentioned this type of sauce. The boys will have Italian and I will have gai pad gra pow. Thank you!

  2. Joanne

    I love this simple recipe. I’ve thrown this on the stove and walked away to do house work and come back to a simple sauce ready for anything. I have left the tomatoes whole, and used chopped canned tomatoes, then when the sauce is done cooking, used my immersion blender to make a smooth, or slightly chunky sauce.

  3. Mara @ What's For Dinner?

    I recently discovered this recipe as well, and am completely and totally in love with it! I am, however, PAINFULLY jealous you got to dine with Marcella… her recipes were a staple in my house growing up, much like Julia Child’s!

  4. Alison M.

    I make this all the time. So simple and easy but soooooo goooooooooood. Butter makes everything better.

  5. Jee

    Ummm…I always use store bought (gasp!!) tomato sauce –
    But this seems easy enough that I think I’ll try it out soon!!
    Do you think taking out the onions, chopping them up and putting them back in the sauce will also work??
    Well, I think I’ll have to try both the onion-in version and onion-out version. :)

  6. Kim in MD

    Sometimes simple is just better, and this looks amazing!

    I love the photos of your son caught in the act! He just couldn’t wait…so cute! :-)

  7. habanerogal

    How lovely that you got to have the pleasure of meeting and spending a meal with the Hazans. It isn’t everyday that one gets to spend time with such royalty of the kitchen. Nice post.

  8. Liam OMalley

    So cool you got to meet and dine with her. I’ve been experimenting with a lot of pasta sauces lately to find one that is *just* right so that I can do some canning this summer when tomatoes are in peak season – I will definitely have to add this one to the list.. I’ve never tried using butter in it as well, but how could you go wrong?

    Also next on my list – pasta sauce using ramps instead of onion. My kitchen is overflowing with ramps right now.

  9. Melissa

    I’ll have to give this one a try soon. I love simple recipes, especially ones where I usually have all the ingredients on hand.

  10. Karen@Mignardise

    The photos of your son “stealing” sauce are too cute. I take it he’s feeling better?? Hope so!

  11. mirinblue

    I have made this at lest 20 times, it’s a go-to if short on thought processes! It’s really good, fresh and savory.

  12. Jane

    I made this tonight and served scallops on the side. It was really delicious and could not have been easier. To my dismay, with all the cookbooks I have I do not have a single Marcella cookbook. I will have to change that!

  13. southernbelle

    i tried this last night after seeing this post and it was DELISH!!! And so simple too… this definitely my “go-to” sauce now for a quick dinner!

  14. temple2

    I throw this in the slow cooker and let it cook while I do other things, and I cut the onion up and leave it in, just because I love onion. But it is wonderful, amazing that it’s just 3 ingredients. :)

  15. Karen M.

    Brings back memories: Many years ago, maybe the early 70’s, Marcella was in San Francisco doing cooking classes. I was lucky enough to be able to take one. It was gnocchi – and they were served with this sauce. So simple and sublime. Gnocchi, I’m convinced, are something you must learn to make from childhood, much like forming Chinese dumplings – looks simple, but isn’t…. sigh, I can still taste those gnocchi!

  16. Chris

    Wow, could it get any more simple than that? Great color too. While the photos all look great, the ones with your son are the best because they are candid. Great post J.

  17. Bo

    This is my absolute favorite—how do you keep the tomatoes so RED???

  18. Cynthia

    I love this classic recipe. I have made it for several pasta dishes and I get many compliments for its rich taste. The first time I made it with regular canned tomatoes however Marcella implored that I switch to Italian imported plum tomatoes. She was correct, the imported tomatoes made for a savory sauce. I love you Marcella and I am so jealous Jaden that you were able to have met her and Victor.

    Ciao Ciao

  19. sandra

    I like the taste of tomato sauce.Because I also like to eat bread, I often eat bread with tomato sauce.

  20. Helen French

    I was always bothered by not using the onion after the sauce was done, too, but a friend of mine mentioned that she cut it up the next morning and used it in scrambled eggs. Genius.

    1. SteamyKitchen

      With the amount of butter in the recipe, it might seem that way! ;-)

      But no, I assure you that this recipe comes from the “grandmother” of Italian-American cooking, Marcella Hazan, who was cooking and writing books well before Paula Deen.

  21. Kiki

    I’m going to try this out tonight with chicken parm – I think the simple flavors will go perfectly with the chicken. My two girls, 2 and 6, will devour anything combing some kind of pasta and any tomatoey sauce mommy makes, so I’m sure they’ll love this! I’ll bet it would be good with stuffed shells, too…

  22. Family Cookbook - Denise

    Looks so simple and easy. Some of the least complicated recipes can be the best. I would have to find something to do with the onion as well (can’t just discard). The amount of butter seems a bit heavy, but I’m sure it’s delicious!

    Enjoyed your write-up “Meeting Marcella & Victor Hazan”.

  23. Digital Diva

    My Mom has a copy of Marcella’s book and my husband, too, and I’ve never tried making this sauce until tonight! Thankfully, I’ve been proven wrong about easy recipes. Simple recipes can be fantastic, too. Jaden, thanks for showcasing this recipe with gorgeous photos and a hilarious accompanying blog to boot. After viewing the photos, I knew it wouldn’t be long ’till I was making this wonderful yet easy dish. My family did not let those onions go to waste, either; they were snapped up in a hurry.

  24. Chris Rudram

    Made this last night. Easy, and awesome tasting. I added a little garlic to the simmer… this is instant classic goodness.

  25. Gina

    Butter makes everything better, don’t you agree?? Thanks for sharing this wonderful post!

  26. Lee

    Looks sooo good! I’m going to try it.

    Your son is adorable! My kids would never dare to be that sneaky!

  27. Doug Falke

    This sauce was awesome! Had it with some pasta and fennel containing Italian sausage. Make sure you have some good San Marzano tomatoes. Absolutely superb. Thanks for passing the recipe along Jaden!

  28. Ken

    This looks great! Has anyone tried 5 tbs. of olive oil instead of butter? I love butter, but I love olive oil, too…

    BUT – my question is – specifically what kind of cheese did you use on top of the pasta? It looks perfect!

  29. Jennifer B.

    This is perfection! It was so simple that I had to try it and it was just amazing. I may never resort to a more complicated sauce again.

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  32. Jennifer

    I just read Nicholas Spark’s novel ‘True Believer’. The main character made this sauce in the novel, mentioning that is is an old Italian recipe. It sounded so good I had to google it and sure enough, here it is! I can’t wait to make it tomorrow for my husband’s Italian family, who I know have never made it this way.

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  35. Betty Frost

    I have loved this sauce since I first purchase The Classic Italian Cookbook in the 70’s. The recipe was simply called ‘Tomato Sauce III’. I have enjoyed her recipes throughout the years and will be making this one again soon.

  36. Pam

    I was fortunate enough to spend a week with Marcella and Victor at their cooking school in Bologna in 1980 and 30 years later this is still one of my, and my 87 year old Italian mother’s favorite sauces—usually served over gnocchi.

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