Marcella Hazan's Tomato Sauce with Onion and Butter

By • August 3, 2011 • 214 Comments

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Author Notes: The most famous tomato sauce on the internet, from Marcella Hazan's Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking. Editor's note: Marcella called for 2 cups of tomatoes when using canned, but feel free to use a whole 28-ounce can (closer to 3 cups), if you like. You can scale up the butter and onion, if you like, or don't -- it's genius either way.Genius Recipes

Serves 6, enough to sauce 1 to 1 1/2 pounds pasta

For the Sauce

  • 2 pounds fresh, ripe tomatoes, prepared as described below, or 2 cups canned imported Italian tomatoes, cut up, with their juice
  • 5 tablespoons butter
  • 1 medium onion, peeled and cut in half
  • Salt to taste
  1. Put either the prepared fresh tomatoes or the canned in a saucepan, add the butter, onion, and salt, and cook uncovered at a very slow, but steady simmer for about 45 minutes, or until it is thickened to your liking and the fat floats free from the tomato.
  2. Stir from time to time, mashing up any large pieces of tomato with the back of a wooden spoon.
  3. Taste and correct for salt. Before tossing with pasta, you may remove the onion (as Hazan recommended) and save for another use, but many opt to leave it in. Serve with freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano cheese for the table.

Making Fresh Tomatoes Ready for Sauce

  • fresh, ripe plum tomatoes (or other varieties, if they are equally ripe and truly fruity, not watery)
  1. The blanching method: Plunge the tomatoes in boiling water for a minute or less. Drain them and, as soon as they are cool enough to handle, skin them, and cut them into coarse pieces.
  2. The freezing method (from David Tanis, via The Kitchn): Freeze tomatoes on a baking sheet until hard. Thaw again, either on the counter or under running water. Skin them and cut them into coarse pieces.
  3. The food mill method: Wash the tomatoes in cold water, cut them lengthwise in half, and put them in a covered saucepan. Turn on the heat to medium and cook for 10 minutes. Set a food mill fitted with the disk with the largest holes over a bowl. Transfer the tomatoes with any of their juices to the mill and puree.
Jump to Comments (214)

Topics: Cookbooks

Comments (214) Questions (7)


16 days ago Amanda Waddell

Call this sacrilege, but I love to blend this sauce with cream and eat it as tomato soup. It's astounding.


11 days ago Assonta Wagner

Not sacrilege...I'm totally doing this!


about 1 month ago Karen Brooks

So simple and so easy! I've made this with fresh tomatoes in summer, canned tomatoes when fresh are out of season. Have had it on meatballs and on pasta. With regard to the onion (to leave in or toss) I toss half the onion and puree the other half into the sauce.


about 1 month ago mboerner

To me, this sauce tastes like canned, Chef Boy-are-dee spaghetti sauce. They certainly don't use it in Venice. I learned to cook Italian from Marcella Hazan, but this sauce is simply a mistake.


about 1 month ago Teresa

I'm sorry Marcella, maybe it's a Northern thing, but my Nana was from Naples and I learned to love food by watching her cook and the thought of butter in my tomato sauce sounds so gross! I will maybe have to try it and see if I am wrong but to me olive oil is the only way to go in a red sauce.


about 1 month ago Paola

butter in a tomato sauce!? take off the onion!? this woman is not italian !! she don't cook as an italian anyway !! use oil and fry the onion...i can't believe you spend money to attend a class in Venice and learn to do this.,.,


about 1 month ago Kingfishercooks

I attended a class in Venice taught by Marcella (with wine by her husband, Victor). She used to peel all the vegetables like red peppers with a peeler- don't recall if that held true for the tomatoes in her sauce. I know I bought a food mill down the street from her flat so maybe that is how we did it. This brought back great memories. sorry she is gone!


2 months ago Suzy Perlman

Should the butter be salted or unsalted??


2 months ago cmpollard

Use nsalted butter when you cook, then you can control the salt level.


2 months ago Robin Lewis Kane

I make this with frozen whole tomatoes from our garden. The skins peel off easily under warm running water. And they still taste like summer!


4 months ago julita84

SOOO simple, SOOO delicious! I am however wondering if it is really necessary to put as much butter.. I will try with half the butter portion next time!


4 months ago Amy Gutman

When it says "with their juice" for canned tomatoes, does that mean dump in all the puree that's in the can or just the juice that is in the tomatoes themselves?


4 months ago AlyssaM

They mean just dump the entire contents of the can in the pot!


6 months ago Julia W.

I love this recipe! If you don't have a food mill, I cut the tomatoes in half and use a grater on the cut side. The largest side of the grater gets you a nice consistency and leaves you with the tomato skin. It really cuts down on prep time!


6 months ago Janet Story Susmark

This recipe appeared in the Chicago Tribune on 9/17/14 and it was so simple and I had SO many plum tomatoes ripened from the garden vines that it was a GOTO. I halved the recipe and cooked in a 2 qt. saucepan. Richened and became more flavorful with each bite. I heated up some Trader Joe's meatballs for the side and realized that we had forgotten about them as we ate. Five stars!


7 months ago stephen mindich

I made the recipe yesterday for a dinner party - I used two 28 oz cans of crushed Italian Plum Tomatoes for 6 adult eaters - added 1 tbs of sugar, 2 bay leaves and after cooking, cut up the onions and left them in the sauce. Tossed it with linguine and served with sides of meatballs and sweet Italian sausages. It was very good, probably a little lighter/creamier than I normally like. I believe the onions made it better). And while none of us had ever made it or knowingly ate it before - it did have a familiar taste - leading us to conclude, given its popularity, we may have had it before at a restaurant. ??? Because it is so easy and tasty I will definitely make it again.


7 months ago Jill Ann Veneracion

Wonderful recipe. Simple yet delicious and it goes well with grilled eggplants.


7 months ago Brenda Feick

Wow I can't wait to try this! My husband is Italian and misses his Moms sauce so I'm gonna give it a shot. Not being the best chef (there's a couple things I've mastered) this sounds way easy for me to make and possibly impress my hubby and maybe even some dinner guests :) I love the fact that you can use can or fresh tomatoes too. Also we both hate onions so nice to see you take it out after.


8 months ago cmpollard

I made this sauce recently with fresh garden tomatoes, decreasing the butter slightly. It was waiting in the fridge when I harvested three Asian eggplants (about a foot long each and a little over an inch thick.) I sautéed the sliced eggplants (half-inch slices) with a little garlic in olive oil, then stirred in the Marcella tomato sauce and some cooked whole wheat penne. Topped it with some grated parmegianno cheese. Didn't take the time to add chopped herbs, but they would have been welcome. I don't think it's "too early" for this.


9 months ago s

So is the onion ruined in the process? I am finally going to try this but have always wondered if discarding the onion is a must or if I can chop it and use it in this or another recipe after simmering. Thanks!


8 months ago cookycat

I made this last night and saved the onion. Today I made a couscous salad and added some of the onion to that. Yum.


8 months ago CFrance

Why do the pictures of this show the onion on the plate but the directions say to discard it? I would serve it with the sauce, as pictured.


8 months ago Kristen Miglore

Kristen is the Executive Editor of Food52

Great question -- Hazan originally recommended removing it, but we've come to like leaving it in (and many commenters have discussed the various ways to make use of the onion, below). I've updated the recipe here to reflect both options.


10 months ago Transcendancing

Wow - what an amazingly simple pasta to make, so rewarding and flavourful. I decided to make this because it looked super easy and it was essentially a pantry dish and I'm just blown away by both the ease and the impact. Definitely going to become a regular in our eating.


10 months ago Cinnamin

I LOVE this tomato sauce. It doesn't require much but it's rich and flavourful. This was the first thing I made from Hazan's Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking! A real keeper. I make a big batch and freeze some for a busy day. I tear some basil and sprinkle it over the top once I've spooned the sauce over the pasta.


10 months ago witloof

I dice up the onion and cook and serve it in the sauce. I also use canned cherry tomatoes from Italy {La Valle brand} and they're exquisite in this. A bay leaf is good, too.