A No-Cook Spin on the Best Tomato Sauce Ever

July  3, 2018

A Big Little Recipe has the smallest-possible ingredient list and big everything else—flavor, creativity, wow factor. Psst: We don't count water, salt, black pepper, and certain fats (specifically, 1/2 cup or less of olive oil, vegetable oil, and butter), since we're guessing you have those covered. Today, we're making a summery take on a certain legendary tomato sauce.

Marcella Hazan’s tomato sauce—arguably the most famous tomato sauce in the world—has only three ingredients: canned tomatoes, unsalted butter, and yellow onion, plus salt to taste. Hazan calls it “the simplest of all sauces to make” and, as if that weren’t enough, “none has a purer, more irresistibly sweet tomato taste.”

I couldn’t stop thinking about this.

Shop the Story

When we set out to create a Big Little Recipes no-cook tomato sauce, the vision was clear: chopped, fresh tomatoes, a glug of olive oil, maybe some garlic. Sort of like a bruschetta-topper, just with pasta. My coworkers and I—and probably you—have made many, many versions of this.

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“My no-cook sauce is the from the Silver Palate Cookbook, deceptively called linguine with tomato and basil. Deceptive b/c it also contains a pound of brie and ample olive oil. Not something you'd eat every day, but delicious when romas are at their peak.”
— Marion B.

And yet: As I tested and developed and pondered and mulled, something didn’t feel right. Depending on the bite—did your fork snag that tomato chunk or did it slip away?—there was little difference between this and aglio e olio. Not the goal.

How do I make you a sauce? Photo by Bobbi Lin

Where, I wondered, is the line between pasta with tomato sauce and pasta sauced with tomatoes? Where is the pure, irresistibly sweet tomato taste?

So I went back to the drawing board. I chopped tomatoes into oblivion, mixed with bits of butter, and added pasta, confident something wonderful would happen. It didn’t. The “sauce” was watery and flavorless, sliding off the spaghetti. As I dumped it in the trash, at the bottom of the bowl, a pool of juicy seeds sloshed back and forth. Which is when I realized:

I have to get rid of the juicy seeds.

A big little squeeze should do. Photo by Bobbi Lin

More tomato skin, less tomato pulp. This is very easy to do by hand and can be done with any variety. The tinier the tomato, though, the higher the skin to pulp ratio. I took a bunch of cherry tomatoes, halved and pinched them, squeezing out the soupy centers. Then I blitzed these shells in a food processor and added a lot of butter and buzzed and buzzed and buzzed and, suddenly, there it was: our no-cook tomato sauce.

It looks nothing like I anticipated—fluffy and rosy, like something to be spread on toast. (This, too, is very good by the way.) Dollop it on steamy-hot pasta and watch it melt, clinging to each noodle for dear life, excitedly hooting and hollering as grated cheese and torn basil pour down, like rain or confetti or fireworks.

How do you avoid the stove or oven when it comes to pasta? Let us know in the comments!
Order now

Put down those long grocery lists. Inspired by the award-winning column, our Big Little Recipes cookbook is minimalism at its best: few ingredients, tons of flavor.

Order now

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Ericka-Jade Mulherin
    Ericka-Jade Mulherin
  • missymaam
  • Deb Howe Allen
    Deb Howe Allen
  • Antoinette Halberstadt
    Antoinette Halberstadt
  • Marion barker
    Marion barker
Emma was the food editor at Food52. She created the award-winning column, Big Little Recipes, and turned it into a cookbook in 2021. These days, she's a senior editor at Bon Appétit, leading digital cooking coverage. Say hello on Instagram at @emmalaperruque.


Ericka-Jade M. September 12, 2020
How long would this last in the fridge?
missymaam September 10, 2020
How are you using the leftover seeds/pulp/tomato water? I had about 1/4 cup. I made a fresh veggie salad with cubed cukes, sliced sweet onion, poblano pepper diced, tomato wedges,capers and cottage cheese do the veggies first, salt, add the tomato seeds. Let sit about 20 minutes. Add the cottage cheese. The juice from the veggies and the tomatoes mixes with the cottage cheese and makes a great salad dressing.
Deb H. September 1, 2020
Tried this twice--it's amazing!--but I can't get my finished results to look as buttery as the video---still looks a bit curdled even after running the food processor for a while. It doesn't really matter, the finished product makes a great sauce and tastes fine, just wondering why this might be happening? (too much liquid?)
missymaam September 10, 2020
I JUST now made this. I had the same results. The butter was in tiny tiny curdled bits and when I ladled out of the food processoer, very liquidy. I tried adding 2T more of butter. Didn't help. It's in the fridge now, getting firm. I haven't tried on pasta yet, but it tastes wonderful!
Antoinette H. September 1, 2020
Another question: is it ok to use salted butter and then omit the added salt?
Lauren C. September 1, 2020
I was wondering the same thing. I will definitely be making it with salted butter. I think it depends on preference.
missymaam September 10, 2020
I made with salted Land O' Lakes butter, and added 1/2 t of red salt. I haven't made with pasta yet, but just to taste, it's not too salty.
Marion B. September 1, 2020
I'm heading to my local farm market tomorrow for cherry tomatoes to make this sauce. Just by reading the description of how to make it, I know it will be delish. My mom's go-to no-cook sauce when I was growing up was lot of butter, sparing use of parmesan so it didn't clump up in the sauce but still added flavor, salt, and generous black pepper. My no-cook sauce is the from the Silver Palate Cookbook, deceptively called linguine with tomato and basil. Deceptive b/c it also contains a pound of brie and ample olive oil. Not something you'd eat every day, but delicious when romas are at their peak.
Ellen September 4, 2020
SP's Linguine with Basil is da bomb diggity.
missymaam September 10, 2020
Vanessa G. September 1, 2020
Can you use other tomatoes or does the recipe require cherry tomatoes?
Sharon R. September 4, 2020
Sounded fine, but even being in the house with time on my hands, I have no desire to squeeze 2 cups of cherry tomatoes.
Sherri September 7, 2020
I had fresh cherry tomatoes from the garden... that were split already... otherwise, I agree.
missymaam September 10, 2020
I thought the same but it goes amazingly fast. I was surprised because I was prepared to begrudge every last tomato!
Sharon R. September 10, 2020
You have convinced me to make it! Grazie!
nanc September 1, 2020
Freshly chopped tomatoes, BIG glug of olive oil, salt, (maybe chopped garlic) and rip up a big hunk of blue cheese. Let it sit for at least an hour. Dump your strained pasta in and mix. Nice big cranks of fresh pepper, basil and ... Delish!!
Antoinette H. September 1, 2020
How much butter is "one stick", please? (My butter doesn't come in portions, like sticks, but in 1 lb blocks)
Emma L. September 1, 2020
Hi! 1 stick butter = 4 ounces.
Sharon September 1, 2020
1 stick = 1/4 pound of butter 😊
Antoinette H. September 1, 2020
Thanks eh!
[email protected] September 1, 2020
Calories? Cholesterol? I'll stick to the old ways of making sauce for my Pasta dishes
Conscience C. September 1, 2018
Hello, has anyone tried this with vegan butter (earth balance or Miyoko's, specifically)? Thanks! If I try it before I hear a reply, I'll let you know how it works for me.
Christina M. August 16, 2019
Hi! I just found this old article and wanted to know if you ever tried this with Earth Balance or Miyoko's?
Maria August 18, 2019
I haven't tried it, but your message reminded me I should - especially this time of year, with such good tomatoes available. I can't imagine it wouldn't work. I'll comment if I try it, and please do the same. :-)
john July 17, 2018
what do you think about using canned tomatoes ??
Emma L. July 17, 2018
Hi John! Someone was wondering the same thing on the recipe page. Here's my take: I wouldn't recommend that substitution here. While you may be able to make a similar compote butter with canned whole tomatoes and butter, because the water content is so different, the tomato to butter ratio could be very different as well.
[email protected] September 1, 2020
I use them ,they work great !
Ken K. July 17, 2018
Can you freeze this, or is there any other way to preserve this?
Emma L. July 17, 2018
Hi Ken! This was actually just asked on our hotline, please see my reply there:
Pat June 9, 2019
Hi Emma, the link didn’t work for me. This looks great. Can you freeze it? Thanks
BerryBaby July 8, 2018
I’ve always loved canned tomatoes ever since I was a kid. Pasta, butter and squished tomatoes was (and still is) a favorite.
Another ‘no cook’ is butter, lemon juice and parmesan with a sprinkle of Italian blended herbs.
Susan D. July 5, 2018
This sounds lovely, but I was a bit put off by the add that popped up in the middle while scrolling through your story, of the worst arthritic foods with a picture of worms!?! 🤢
Lindsay-Jean H. July 10, 2018
Hi Susan, I'm so sorry for that experience, that obviously shouldn't have happened. I'm hopeful it was a weird, one-time thing, but if it happens again, please keep us posted.
Lorretta July 4, 2018
Pasta. No stove. No problem. Instantpot. One pound pasta. One tablespoon each of salt and butter. 4-6 cups of water (enough to cover pasta type by about half an inch). Cover. Close vent. Set: Manual. High Pressure. 3 minutes. When done, cover vent with towel. Instant release. Open carefully. Reserve one cup liquid to add to sauce. Drain. Serve immediately. Yum.
cookinalong July 12, 2018
I love my IP and it gets quite a workout in the summer, but I admit I'd forgotten about cooking pasts in it. Thanks for the reminder!
Natalia W. July 3, 2018
is it possible to be even lazier? how about blitzing them first and draining the juice instead of all that squeezing?
Katie July 4, 2018
The seeds would still be in there; they would be partially blitzed and therefore gritty and they add bitterness too. Squeezing first is probably best.
Emma L. July 5, 2018
I haven't tried that, Natalia. But for what it's worth, the halving/squeezing goes by pretty quickly :)