Our first tomato sauce of the year.

Even with the inevitable post holiday – back to school feelings it is nice to be easing back into the ebb and flow of our daily life, especially where food is concerned. This is one of our favouries, simple, judicious and delicious.

Marcella Hazan’s Tomato sauce with butter and onion

This sauce never ceases to surprise and delight me, a bit of soft red alchemy.  Just three ingredients, a large tin of plum tomatoes – San Marzano if you can find them – a thick slice of butter and a yellow onion, peeled and cut into two. You simmer this trio together – slowly and steadily for about 45 minutes, a stir here, blip blip, a squash there – and something almost magical happens, the three ingredients come together into thick, soft red, full flavoured, velvety sauce, luxurious and simple at the same time.

The flavour is rather surprising if you’re used to tomato sauce made with olive oil and garlic. The butter gives this sauce with a soft, round, creamy nature, it also tempers the acidity whilst bringing out the sweet tomato flavour, which in turn, is balanced by a deep savoury base note from the gently stewed onion.

We usually have this sauce with Spaghetti.

This sauce also works beautifully with fresh tomatoes (peeled and coarsely chopped) but it’s firmly associated with winter in our house – maybe it’s the warm velvety texture – and so gets made with tinned tomatoes.

Tomato sauce with butter and onion

Adapted from Marcella Hazan’s The essentials of classic Italian cooking

Serves 4

  • 800g / 28oz tinned whole San Marzano tomatoes
  • 70g /5 tbsp butter
  • 1 medium-sized yellow onion
  • salt (yes, so it’s four ingredients really)
  • 400g spaghetti
  • Parmesan cheese

Peel the onion and chop it in half.

Put the tomatoes, onion and butter in a heavy based saucepan or frying pan and put the pan on a modest flame.

Allow the sauce to reach to a gentle simmer, stir in the melting butter, adjust flame if necessary so the sauce cooks at a slow but steady simmer for 45 minutes and the fat is floating free from the tomato. You need to stir every now and then, gently squashing and crushing the tomatoes against the side of the pan with a wooden spoon.

Remove sauce from the heat, discard the onion, taste, add salt, taste and keep warm while you…

Cook the spaghetti in Plenty of well salted (10g to every litre) water until al dente, drain pasta. Pour half the sauce into a warm bowl and add the drained pasta, stir. Divide the pasta between the warm individual bowls and finish each one with a spoon or two more of the sauce. Sprinkle with parmesan to finish.

34 Comments

Filed under food, pasta and rice, recipes, sauces, Uncategorized

34 responses to “Our first tomato sauce of the year.

  1. coconutandquinoa

    I always enjoy the photos of your table, especially the ones of the clementine cake you recently posted.
    This sauce sounds perfect and looks delicious!

  2. I have been tempted by trying this recipe before but had completely forgotten about it until now. It’s going on the weeknight dinner list right away…

  3. Thank you for reminding me of this recipe that I used to make all the time. It is time to bring it back t our table. Your description of the flavor and texture is spot on. The only change that I make is instead of discarding the onion, the cook gets to eat it in the kitchen. Delicious.

  4. this looks lovely. and how simple! i can’t wait to try it.

  5. Thank you for this, I have never thought of ( or heard of) this way of cooking a tomato sauce, I will be trying it out very soon. Although, my husband is supposed to be cutting down on the amount of butter he eats – perhaps I won’t tell him just this once.

  6. lo

    It never ceases to amaze me what a bit of butter does to a perfectly simple tomato. It’s just glorious… and this is a perfect reminder.

    Happy 2010 — looking forward to all the food & conversations that the new year brings!

  7. simple, healthful comfort food, perfect for now.
    it is remarkable what a bit of butter will do!

  8. yes yes yes! I discovered this recipe a few years ago, and it has become the ‘house sauce.’ We love it so, and we just call it Sauce. I, too, love it best with spaghetti. Usually I puree it smooth with the hand blender and the end. I always chuck the onion and feel bad about it, but I’m not sure I’d like to eat it plain like suggested above. Any other ideas? I have no idea what to do with it. It makes me smile to see a favorite recipe of mine on my favorite food blog!

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  10. Jodi

    wonderful recipe – simple and sublime….I love her cookbook and i love this website…thank you!

  11. Chrystal

    This sauce is a revelation. I, too, ate the onions. (Wouldn’t they be delicious on top of an egg?)

    It’s also the first tomato sauce that my “anti-tomato” kids have enjoyed.

    Quote: “This is delicious. It’s so much better than those other gross spaghetti sauces. I’ll eat this any day.”

    Now that I think of it, my kids have loved ALL of your recipes. Thanks Rachel!

    • rachel

      Yes, I think on top of an egg is a very good idea – a fried one.
      Compliments from kids are the best because kids are straightforward and honest, thankyou to you all.

  12. I just saw this recipe on Smitten Kitchen…I love your plated photo with the big hunk of parmigiano on the side!

  13. I made this tonight and is was so simple and delicious. My husband and I enjoyed it with some of the cooked onion on the side, crusty bread, and a little grated parmesan. We ended up using the entire recipe over 1/2 lb. of spaghetti – sauce heavy for the purist…but just right for us and this savory sauce.

  14. TD

    Hey Rachel –
    I tried this recipe last night and it was sooo delicious!! That butter was a big hit!
    Thanks for sharing this one.
    TD.

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  16. Made this last night… loved it. I dropped one half of the onion in my bowl, the other in my husbands. The kids loved it too. Thanks for sharing.

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  22. I like homemade sauce with angel hair.. mainly because that’s the only pasta I eat (I know.. I’m nuts). This sauce looks great, because it’s not too tomato’ey. YUM!
    -Sylvia

    • rachel

      I am a big fan of Angel hair pasta too – never tried it with this sauce but I imagine it would be very good indeed

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  24. I made this using fresh field toms & added pepper. Simmer about 3 hrs, stand overnight, reduce next morning. Onion completely breaks down; rich and luxurious. Thanks for the inspiration!

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