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.
I’ve never tried this ravishing meal before, but I hope to give it a try this weekend.
Just the picture makes me salivate, I feel it will be just yummy as it looks.
Thanks for the sauce recipes. The Hazan recipe is a little different and I can’t wait to try it. Your recipe is also different. I’ve never oven cooked the tomatoes for my sauce but, it sounds sensible so that the tomatoes sauce tastes the way Italian families make it. Thank you.
I make this all the time. I ONLY use vine-ripened tomatoes, nothing artificlal or canned. I cut up the onion and leave it in, which adds a nice flavor.
Many years ago, when I was little, my family went on vacation to Cape Cod. My mom had a beautiful little seashell on the perfume tray on her dresser, and she found one at the beach. I, too, could hear the ocean and I looked forward to bringing it home with me. When we got back to the house at which we were staying, I left it outside on top of the garbage can lid. In the morning, I went to check on it, only to discover a crab half sticking out of it.
I spent the entire drive home wondering how that crab had followed us all the way from the beach to get back in that shell!
I’ve made Marcella’s tomato butter sauce many times and the outcome has always been good. In Northern Italy they use butter, in Southern Italy they use olive oil. Olive trees are plentiful in the South. Both regions make great sauces, but are different.
Divine!! Could barely stop tasting it long enough for it to cook! Hubby commented that it might need herbs while it was cooking, but after pairing it with sausages (russions) he licked the plate! Yum yum.
I absolutely love it. There first batch was so so. Tomatoes were too pale. Then I used little Rosa tomatoes. That worked well. I added a bit of sugar. BUT then I went and baked this sauce. That’s when it shone. Fabulous.
I have made something similar to this recipe for years, I add tomato juice 24 oz and then a heaping tablespoon of cheese whiz then about 150 grams of cheddar old or sharp, spices salt, pepper, garlic, basil (all to taste). This is all added to the butter tomato sauce. we find it very tasty.
I have to say the best part of this recipe are the onions they were really good with butter and salt and pepper but the rest was tasteless the sauce was tasteless to thin no body the tomatoes were really good but the sauce lacked meat even though it had the meatballs I’m sorry but 1 to 5 I would give it a 2 -thanks steve
Tried this today. It just tasted like hot canned tomatoes. Added some black pepper and Italian seasonings. That perked it up some. I then added about two teaspoons of sugar. It still wasn’t quite right. I decided to go ahead and use it for dinner. I added more onion chopped and red, orange and yellow peppers. I cut up a round steak into cubes and put that in. Let it simmer for two and a half hours. Then I added some homemade noidles, just a few. My husband and I thought the outcome was delish! I definitely will not be making the basic tomato sauce recipe again. It just lacked any kind of flavor other than canned tomatoes.
Sounds like your used to imitation italian pasta sauces, which is fine.
Is there a substitute for butter In this dish? I am a person who avoids butter and all of that as much as possible.
no. find another recipe.
In no case whatsover should you discard the onion! It is absolutely delicious!
can i use fresh tomatos instead of canned ones
But. It’s. Too. Simple! Must. Resist. Urge. Too “Zazz up”. littl eold Italian ladies can’t be wrong, right? I wish there were more comments on this so I could see what people have to say. It sure looks delish! And I would totally eat the onion myself, too! (heck, I might just chop it up and throw it back into the sauce. Why not?)
Wow, this post is nice, my sister is analyzing these kinds of things, so I am going to convey her.
Today, I went to the beach with my kids. I found a sea shell and gave it to my 4 year old daughter and said “You can hear the ocean if you put this to your ear.” She put the shell to her ear and screamed.
There was a hermit crab inside and it pinched her ear. She never wants to go back!
LoL I know this is entirely off topic but I had to tell someone!
@Amanda: This recipe is so, so flexible and only calls for salt to taste. Just cook your pasta in unsalted water and use unsalted butter. Salt to taste or diet requirements. Easy.
Just found your recipe. I love the concept, but is there any way to make this sauce without all of the salt? I have family that can’t have all of the salt, and they e been looking for an easy tomato sauce that isn’t filled with salt and preservatives. Anyone have any suggestions?
I used to make this years ago and always loved it even though it has all that butter. I now live in Mexico where a kilo of awesome ripe Roma tomatoes costs me about 40 cents. We slow roast a kilo about once a week and use it for our pasta dishes. A clove of garlic and a slice of fresh habanero won’t hurt either. Can’t wait to try this recipe again…maybe tomorrow!
I have been making this recipe for years with our fresh garden tomatoes. We love this sauce! I put a few jars in the freezer to use during the winter when there are no fresh tomatoes.
Yeah but 5 tbs is a lot of butter. Too mch fat.
Mmmmm! I love tomatoes. I love butter. I love onion. So I guess that means I love this recipe! I’ve used this several times to make a simple sauce. Sometimes I feel like I need to get more veggies into my kiddos so here is a variation. http://www.thrivequickdish.com/rec/garden-pasta-sauce/
My Grand Mother made a dish very similar, which consisted macaroni,tomatoes,onions and bacon fat. Very much like a soup, and the more onion the better!
I am a huge Marcella Hazan fan. Have never come across this simple recipe. I have always cut up the onion and sauteed first. Love the idea. Can’t wait to try this method~just came across your blog.. check me out on facebook too.. Sunday at the Giacometti’s. I am a traditional, classic, italian cook. I am so jealous you have had dinner with such Icons! lucky you!!
Yummy! I added garlic to the sauce, as I can’t imagine it without, and also chopped and left then onion in.
Either way I’m sure it is delicious, as tomatoes and butter are a marriage made in heaven!
I served it with whole wheat pasta, sprinkled with chopped fresh basil from my garden, toasted pine nuts and parmesan….. and red wine, of course!
I love the simplicity of this dish..looks delicious!
Jaden, this sauce turned out awesome. I sliced up the onions and had them in the sauce with the spaghetti. Thank you so much for sharing this recipe!
Oh my goodness, Jaden. Butter? I have to make this soon…I mean this week!
I like this with oregano, basil, a little cumin, cayenne pepper and garlic, served with a fried egg. Seems to get better after a day in the fridge, but that could just be hunger.
I was looking for a good tomato sauce recipe and found your site.
I used fresh plum tomatoes and didn’t like the color while I was cooking it and was not sure about the taste either. So I packed it for lunch just to check, IT IS VERY GOOD! I have guests tomorrow and that’s why I was looking for the recipe in the first place. And I took it for lunch so that I can taste it and was pretty convinced that I was going to make another sauce using herbs. But this is very GOOD! Thank you for the recipe!
We made this tonight and it was amazing. I don’t know if we can ever go back to store-bought sauce.
This is my go to recipe for a simple but delicious tomato sauce. I’ve been making it for yeats. The simplicity of the ingredients speak for themselves! I don’t see where anyone would feel it taste like spaghettios or inner tube. Then again I don’t eat inner tube very often!
This recipe is fabulous and easy! Love it!
Just made this with the exception of the addition of one garlic clove. Also, I couldn’t bear to have that braised onion covered in tomato go to waste so I zipped it in my food processor and added it back to the sauce. Should I do that again, I won’t add the whole onion. Aside from that, this was delicious and I’m so glad to end the search of the perfect sauce.
Amazingly delicious! Such a simple dish, yet… YUM! We used the last of our garden-grown tomatoes and this was the perfect way to enjoy them. Thanks so much for sharing.
I love this recipe! I have been using it for a few years now and it is so easy to just add ingredients as you please to build different sauces. Perfect for those empty fridge moments…and it’s so delicious! You are so lucky you had a chance to meet Marcella, sounds like it was a great experience! 🙂
My teenage son thought this tasted like Spaghettios. I thought it had an inner tube taste, definitely unpleasant. I made it like the recipe, but won’t make it again.
I’ve made this couple of times as well – so gorgeous in its simplicity!!!
I made this last night and added 2 cloves of sliced garlic out of habit. The Butter and onion flavor is remarkable together. This is a very unique and simple recipe that should be passed down. Thank you so much for this wonderful sauce.
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.
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.
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.
Great tomato sauce. I use butter in my sauce for special occasions.
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.
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!
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!
Looks sooo good! I’m going to try it.
Your son is adorable! My kids would never dare to be that sneaky!
Butter makes everything better, don’t you agree?? Thanks for sharing this wonderful post!
Made this last night. Easy, and awesome tasting. I added a little garlic to the simmer… this is instant classic goodness.
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.
I never would have imagined this oh-so-simple combo. Definitely on the “try-it-soon” list.
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”.
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…
Are you sure this isn’t from Paula Deen’s cook book?
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.
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.
I like the taste of tomato sauce.Because I also like to eat bread, I often eat bread with tomato sauce.
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.
This is my absolute favorite—how do you keep the tomatoes so RED???
Ancient Italian secret! 😉
just kidding…what color is your sauce?
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.
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!
Such a simple recipe? Combining so few ingredients. This sounds good, esp to non-cooks like me.
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. 🙂
Love the pictures! Your son is too cute, that sneaky hand, priceless.
I can’t wait to try this… I heard that you can buy S. Marz tomatoes from Costco.
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!
Wow with that much butter, how could it not taste good! I think I’m going to have to try that next time:-)
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!
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.
The photos of your son “stealing” sauce are too cute. I take it he’s feeling better?? Hope so!
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.
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.
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.
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! 🙂
Quick, simple and delish.. all are in one dish! Perfect!!
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. 🙂
I make this all the time. So simple and easy but soooooo goooooooooood. Butter makes everything better.
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!
It looks fantastic with zero intimidation factor. I need to try it soon!
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.
This looks so pure or something to that effect. Love! Will have for lunch Friday, thanks 🙂
This is so simple and I am diffently going to try.
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!