Marcella Hazan’s simple tomato and butter sauce is one of the most classic, iconic, low-key and widely adored pasta sauces out there. I first saw the recipe for it many years ago in one of her Italian cookbooks, Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking. I have to admit that I was initially more than a little skeptical. I quickly glanced at the ingredients and nothing stood out. If anything, I thought that for sure something was missing. After all, where was the olive oil, the garlic, or, the herbs?
Several years passed and, after reading so many stories and reviews about this recipe, I decided to give it a try. This minimalist recipe calls for only three ingredients: tomatoes, one onion cut in half, and some butter. The tomatoes simmer with the onion and the butter for 45 minutes and, at the end, you remove the onion, add some salt and you are left with a smooth, velvety tomato sauce with an incredibly rich flavor. The butter tempers the acidity of the tomatoes and enhances their sweetness.
The star of this sauce is of course the tomatoes. If you cannot find fresh, perfectly ripe summer tomatoes, a can of Italian San Marzano tomatoes will work perfectly. After all, this is a year-round tomato sauce. It is so delicious tossed with hot pasta, fresh basil and a generous amount of freshly ground Parmesan cheese! This is for sure the easiest pasta sauce I have ever made and I can now see what this media buzz around this recipe is all about!
Ingredients for Marcella Hazan’s pasta with simple tomato and butter sauce
- For the sauce:
- 2 lbs. fresh, ripe tomatoes (or 28 oz. can imported Italian plum tomatoes)
- 5 TBSP. butter
- 1 medium onion, peeled and cut in half
- --- sea salt to taste
- For the pasta:
- 1 lb. spaghetti, farfalle or rigatoni pasta
- --- freshly ground Parmesan cheese
- --- fresh basil leaves
- If using fresh tomatoes, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Cut an “x” into the bottom of each tomato. Drop the tomatoes into the boiling water and cook for one minute. Remove with a slotted spoon. Peel the skins and discard them. Roughly chop the tomatoes. If using canned Italian tomatoes, cut them up as well and place them in a small bowl along with their juices.
- Place the prepared tomatoes in a medium saucepan, add the butter and the onion, and cook uncovered at a very slow, but steady simmer for about 45 minutes, or, until the sauce is thickened to your liking and the fat floats free from the tomato. Every now and then stir the sauce, mashing up any large pieces of tomato with the back of a wooden spoon. Discard the onion and add some salt. Taste and correct for salt if necessary (I added about ¾ tsp. sea salt and some freshly ground pepper too.).
- Cook the pasta in plenty of salty water, and drain. Toss the sauce with the hot pasta, add some fresh basil, plenty of freshly ground Parmesan cheese and serve at once in warm plates.
More pasta recipes from Marilena’s Kitchen
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