Marcella Hazan's Tomato Sauce with Onion and Butter

By • August 3, 2011 233 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.

More Great Recipes: Plums|Tomatoes|Vegetables|Condiments

Topics: Books

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Comments (233) Questions (7)


12 days ago c jacobs

I've been making this for 30 years. It's awesome. As comfort food, in the winter I make it with a large can of tomato puree, instead of the whole tomatoes. Also my version, I think, from the original cookbook recipe has a couple of spoons of sugar in it. Or, maybe I've just added it over the years. It tames the bitterness you can find in the canned tomatoes.


23 days ago rldougherty

Finally made this out of tomatoes from my garden. It is amazing. I really am trying not to just take a spoon and eat it all.


25 days ago carol

I never tire of this recipe -- i've been making it for 10 years. it's a miracle every time i take the first bite.


25 days ago cookycat

Totally agree and it is almost time to make it with my freshly grown tomatoes.


3 months ago ariel a

Fiiiiinally finally tried this. Love at first bite. <3


3 months ago Anita

I once had lots of tomatoes from my garden and not enough time to process them. I decided to just wash them, take out the top of the core, quarter them and put them into my blender. They came out just fine. I froze them and used them in future sauces.


3 months ago oldunc

The medium food mill setting is better- it will remove most of the seeds. Tomatoes can also be peeled by fire- in the broiler, on the barbecue, or over a burner (on a large fork), it only takes a few moments to char the skin (much faster and easier than peppers), or cut in half and run face down over a coarse box grater (the skin will stay behind). One Indian recipe I read recommended boiling them in vinegar; never tried it, but it should clear out your sinuses nicely, if nothing else.


4 months ago Elisabeth Hansen Stockton

The 2 cups of canned tomatoes was way too little (that's one 14.5 ounce can)--could this be a mistake in the recipe? In the printed recipe the fresh-canned gram conversion is 900g to 480g. So I used two 14.5 ounce cans and added more butter towards the end for about 7 tbsp total. I also pureed most of the tomato, because my son won't eat the chunks. It was DIVINE. I ate it with a spoon for dessert.


4 months ago Anthony Varela

Always late to the party. I tossed some turkey meat balls in mine, and it really brought out a great flavor. I'm certainly no cook, and mine was pretty runny. For future reference, how can I thicken up my sauces?


3 months ago Aislinn Grace

Sauces thicken when you cook them for longer, especially if you do so without a top on the pot so that some of the water content of the tomatoes evaporates instead of being trapped in by the top.


4 months ago Jenna Ballinger

I tried this out today but added some garlic and basil. So amazing.


4 months ago Maura Casey

this is really really delicious!!


4 months ago zoe adams

I started putting butter in my homemade tomato sauce after a life-changing dinner at Trentina in Cleveland. I asked why the sauce was so good and they told me it was made with lots of butter.


5 months ago Emily

Great tasting sauce, but it beats me how 2 cups of tomatoes would ever make enough sauce for a pound of pasta, much less a pound and a half! I'm doubling the tomatoes next time.


25 days ago carol

Italians use a lot less sauce than we do. I'm with you-i could eat this sauce with a spoon.


5 months ago cosmiccook

Robin Lewis Kane
Can you give more info on freezing tomatoes please? I love the idea! Even though it takes more effort, I now peel tomatoes and other soft fruit w/o blanching after watching Jacque Peppin demonstrate on his show. I always felt that blanching no matter how briefly changed the flavor profile of said fruit.


5 months ago Terry tarantino

Opinions of Italian food are countless...however one thing you can count on are most of the recipes and more important the concept of Italian Cusine that Marcella incorporates in her book, in my humble opinion she is the best and its up to you to adjust and adapt for your own taste from the basics of any good recipe...btw Italians are the best farmers and best cooks on the planet! Ha! La Dolce Vita Cleveland Ohio!


6 months ago Amanda Waddell

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


6 months ago Assonta Wagner

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


25 days ago carol

I do this too!


6 months 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.


6 months 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.


6 months 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.


6 months 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.,.,


5 months ago Stef_art

Paola just because u do not know something it does not mean it does not exist. I Am Italian and I Am a former cook and food writer. When I was a kid in Milano in the very early 1970s I had countless platters of gnocchi dressed with a butter tomato sauce (and my auntie/the cook did not know of Hazan, of course). n Few days ago my best friend, still living in Milano, told me that her favourite tomato sauce was the one her grandmother used to make... guess what? ... It was cooked with butter, tomato pure' and even a dash of milk in the end. As for you scorning Hazan.. well... it speaks volume of your lack of knowledge: Hazan was hundred per cent Italian and spent her life between Italy and the States. Very many Italian cooks would learn a lot from her books. Stefano, living in London, but thoroughly Italian


6 months 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!