This is not going to be my most original post, because it seems like every food blogger has, at some point, posted Marcella Hazan’s recipe for tomato-butter sauce. It’s not hard to see why, even before you taste it: It has three ingredients. You throw them in a pan and let them simmer. If it’s even halfway decent, a sauce this simple is a win.
And then you taste it, and you just might swoon. The flavor of this sauce must be tasted to be believed. The gently stewed onion slumps into softness and gives over its sweetness to the tomatoes with no sharpness at all. The butter rounds out the edges even further, leaving you with something wholly different from classic, tangy garlic-and-olive-oil tomato sauce. Velvety, comforting, and sweet, Marcella’s sauce offers a very different take on the character of tomatoes.
I’ve seen this recipe making the rounds for years, but despite the plaudits (and the fact that Marcella Hazan is one of my most trusted cookbook authors), I’d never gotten around to making it. After hearing several “wow”s come from my own mouth – and more from Arne’s – as we ate these deceptively simple-looking bowls of pasta, I wish I had. But I plan to make up for lost time. And since this sauce is usually made with canned tomatoes, I can keep coming back to it all year.
This makes enough to sauce 12 ounces to a pound of pasta, depending how well sauced you like it.
Marcella Hazan’s Simple Tomato-Butter Sauce
Serves: 4 to 6 Time: 50 to 60 minutes, almost all hands-off
1 medium yellow onion
5 tablespoons butter (I prefer salted, but unsalted is fine)
1 28-oz can best-quality chopped canned tomatoes (I use Muir Glen), or 2 pounds peeled and seeded fresh tomatoes
Salt to taste
Cut the ends off the onion; halve lengthwise and peel.
Add the onion, butter, and tomatoes to a large saucepan over medium heat. When the tomatoes start to simmer, lower the heat to maintain a gentle bubbling. Cook, stirring when you think of it (every 15 minutes at first, every 5-10 when it gets thick), for about 45 minutes, or up to an hour for very juicy tomatoes. The sauce is done when it is quite thick. Taste and add salt as needed.
Remove the onion. (Don’t discard it though! Eat it as a snack.) If you like a super-smooth sauce, puree with a hand blender or regular blender. Serve over high-quality pasta, with a little Parmesan and/or black pepper if desired – though it doesn’t need either.