October 5, 2011

Finally, the Perfect Tomato Sauce

Have you ever eaten pasta for breakfast, lunch, and dinner? I have, and the year was 2009, in Italy on my honeymoon, and looking (might I add) about five pounds heavier. Upon returning from my glorious affair with a country that puts the love back in pasta sauce, I was determined to find a recipe that could recreate those memories. I wanted to bring Italy to my tiny urban kitchen. I would do anything to get my hands on a pasta sauce worthy of a story. Since then, I've been searching high and low, spending countless hours on the Internet, cleaning tomato sauce off of the kitchen walls, and gently flipping from page to page, trying to find the perfect recipe. Lo and behold, what do you know, it was Mr. H who stumbled across this very simple recipe.

At first, I was a little befuddled. A tomato sauce recipe that lacks garlic, olive oil, and fresh tomatoes?
To be honest, I wasn't convinced. I filed this recipe away with laundry, dusting, and other various chores that displease my soul. Mr. H, being a lover of all things butter, was curious why I hadn't made this intriguing and interesting sauce. It slipped my mind, I replied.  Later that day, I decided to make the sauce for Mr. H. I now make the sauce for myself. I triple the recipe. I give it to friends. I brag about the fact that I have found the perfect tomato sauce and my quest is now complete. After doing some further research, I learned that this recipe is quite popular among the food blogging community. Jaden from the Steamy Kitchen, Adam from Amateur Gourmet, Deb from Smitten Kitchen, and many others, all write about their love for this sauce. The original recipe was written by Marcella Hazan, one of the foremost authorities on Italian cooking, and author of Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking.

I know you're going to be shocked when I read you the list of ingredients. You will be amazed at how simple and easy this recipe is, and what you once knew about tomato sauce will be thrown out the window. This sauce starts off with tomatoes, not fresh, but canned. I had convinced myself that in order to make the perfect sauce, you needed fresh tomatoes - first mistake. The second ingredient is butter - lots of butter. Again, I thought the perfect tomato sauce ought to include olive oil - wrong again. The third ingredient is one yellow onion, peeled and halved. Not too shocking, I agree. But what's interesting about this recipe is how you used it.  You place the onion halves face down in the tomato sauce and simmer for 45 minutes and then - wait, here it comes - you remove and discard them, because they've all they have to give. All of those wonderful aromatic flavors have seeped deep into the delicate tomato membranes and the rich, buttery sauce. Finally, add some salt for flavor. Honestly, you wont need much, speaking as one lover of salt to another.

This tomato sauce is so rich and flavorful. It has just the flavor I've been searching for. I made it last week. I made it last night. I eat it on pizza and pasta. I serve it as a sauce for bread dipping. I am completely in love with this tomato sauce. Whenever I sit down with my bowl of fresh pasta, I top it with this heavenly creation. Not too much, just enough to coat the noodles. I pour myself a glass of wine, and I even pass on the Parmesan, because this sauce is just too good on its own. I stare through the window, and even though its raining, I still feel as though I am back in Italy, five pounds heavier and extremely happy.

serves 5 - 8 people depending on portion size (makes roughly 3 - 4 cups of sauce)
recipe from Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan
notes: the original recipe calls for 1 large can of tomatoes, 5 tbsp butter, and one onion. I have made this recipe numerous times, and one can of tomatoes just doesn't seem to be enough (it is that good). I like to triple the recipe, so I have leftovers. If you are planning to go smaller, and use only one can of tomatoes, make sure to also reduce the cooking time to 45 minutes. I find that using a yellow onion, versus a sweet onion, provides the most flavor. 

3 - 28 oz cans of whole peeled tomatoes in juice (I prefer San Marzano)
3 yellow onions, peeled and cut in half
1 cup (2 sticks) salted butter, chopped into 1 inch cubes
salt to taste

In a large pot, combine the tomatoes, plus juice, butter and yellow onion halves.

Bring to a simmer and cook uncovered for 90 minutes, or until the juice has mostly cooked down, and you are left with a thick slightly liquid sauce. With a wooden spoon, periodically, crush the tomatoes against the side of the pot, breaking them down into small chunks. This is important, as it will create the thick consistency.

Once you are content with consistency of the sauce, remove all of the onion pieces and discard. Season with salt to taste. Combine with noodles, or scoop on top of individual pasta servings. Store leftover sauce in the fridge for a week and a half or freeze.


  1. heather, your tomato sauce looks and sounds delicious.
    simple and pure is always the best!
    greetings from germany!

  2. Great post. I love looking for those perfect recipes, especially when they come inspired from italy (I'm still searching for the perfect pizza from my trip).

    Sounds scrumptious!

  3. Just made it, very good!

  4. I love this recipe! And I love your idea of tripling it to have some to freeze. Great idea!