Marcella Hazan's Tomato, Butter, and Onion Sauce

I have a lot to say about Marcella Hazan's Tomato, Butter, and Onion sauce, which is slightly surprising given it requires not even an hour of cooking time and only three ingredients. For example: 

No sooner had I tasted it, I wrote to every culinarily-inclined friend I knew to tell them about this absolutely genius sauce that was one of the best things I had ever made in my life and was also so superbly easy to make and where were they right now because if they were in their kitchens they should make this, asap, and thank me later (!!!) (My mother actually took me up on this offer and this is what my dad had for dinner that night).

When I made this recipe for my sister, who subsequently and enthusiastically passed it on to a friend, his response was the following:

Next time you see your sister, I want you to give her a big hug, tell her you love her, then give her something expensive. 

Because that sauce was outstanding.

Its pretty famous outside of my own kitchen, too. This sauce is so very good that its been written about in the cooking section of The New York Times, plus its been featured on the most important foodie websites and blogs like The Kitchn, Food52, Epicurious, and my very favorite, Smitten Kitchen. When I recently posted a preview picture on Pancakes and Biscotti's social media -- just a picture of the three ingredients, no further explanation -- someone commented "MARCELLA SAUCE!" and another "Marcella Hazan!!!" Indeed, if this sauce were a person it would be a celebrity of Angelina Jolie levels, constantly dodging the paparazzi and leaving the house in face-obscuring Chanel sunglasses.

The brains behind this recipe is of course Marcella Hazan, who is credited with bringing traditional Italian cuisine and techniques to the U.S, similar to the way that Julia Child brought French cuisine to the States. Marcella was born in Cesenatico, Italy (in the Emilia-Romagna region) and moved to New York City in 1955 after marrying Italian-born, New York raised Victor Hazan. She wasn't much of a cook before she reached the U.S -- her mother and grandmother had always done the cooking -- but once a newlywed in New York City with a husband to feed she began to cook herself, using cookbooks from Italy and recollections of her mother's food to get started. She got the hang of the cooking thing, and eventually she went on to offer cooking classes in her own kitchen before then opening her very own cooking school. She published 7 cookbooks on traditional Italian cuisine in her culinary career, all of which were written in her native Italian and translated in to English by her husband. She is still considered one of the very foremost authorities on Italian cuisine in the U.S., and I can't thank her enough for this sauce.

I'm at the end of this post now and have been so busy recounting my enthusiasm and the background behind this Tomato, Butter, and Onion sauce that I haven't even explained why.

Told you I had a lot to say about this recipe.

So: this sauce is genius, both for its simplicity and ease but also its incredible depth of flavor. The onion here infuses the tomatoes with a subtle sweetness, and the butter rounds off and softens their usual acidity, all the while giving the whole thing an incredible richness. This is a tomato sauce that manages to be downright luxurious, not an adjective one usually associates with a simple tomato sauce, but this one seems to break the mold. Plus: there are no carrots or celery or onions to chop, nor is there any bay leaf or herbs to buy, or wine to uncork. This sauce is the true definition of "less is more," and in this case, so very much more.

A couple of notes: I suppose if you really wanted to you could add a bit of basil to this sauce, but honestly, you don't really have to. Other than that I can't say I have any comments really -- this sauce is that foolproof. 

Looking for other tomato-y recipes? I've got this Spaghetti with Cherry Tomatoes, this Cherry Tomato Cobbler, these Savory Tomato Shortcakes, these Rice-Stuffed Tomatoes with Potatoes, and this Cherry Tomato Crostata.


1 (28 ounce) can plum tomatoes
5 tablespoons (70 grams) unsalted butter
1 yellow onion
Salt, to taste

1 pound (448 grams) pasta of your choice
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Peel the onion and cut it in half. Place the tomatoes, unsalted butter, onion halves, and a pinch of salt in a medium pot over medium heat and let the mixture come to a bubble.  Lower the heat and the let the sauce simmer for 45 minutes, breaking up the tomatoes as you go and stirring occasionally to make sure the sauce doesn't burn or stick on the bottom of the pot. 
When the 45 minutes are up, take the sauce off the heat and discard the onion. Taste the sauce and add salt if necessary. Makes enough sauce for about 1 pound (448 grams) of pasta. Be sure to serve the pasta topped with lots of freshly grated Parmesan cheese.     



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  2. I can't wait to try this! I'm going to make it for Friday's Lenten dinner. I'm sure this will make my husband very happy! I'll be sure to tell your Aunt Laura how it came out. Thanks for the recipes!