Marcella Hazan's Tomato Sauce with Onion and Butter-Famous Fridays

I can't believe it's taken me this long to "Famous Fridays" Marcella Hazan, the legendary Italian cook who's basically taught all us non-Italians how to cook traditional Italian food. Her cookbook, Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, is practically a bible for making home-style Italian food like gnocchi, risotto, polenta, pesto, her world renowned but almost ridiculously simple roast chicken with two lemons, veal stew, minestrone ala romagnola, braised artichokes and potatoes, osso bucco...and so many other incredible, authentic Italian recipes like this Tomato Sauce with Butter and Onion that is a miracle of simplicity and truly the best homemade tomato sauce I have ever tasted!! If you don't know about Marcella's cooking and you like to eat (by which I mean all of you on the planet) drop everything, get yourself one of her cookbooks and head for the kitchen!!! You can thank me later!

This butter and onion tomato sauce is not new--the NY Times did a spread on it several years ago and it was all the rage a while back on the worldwide web, but when I thought about what dish I wanted to feature from Marcella's vast collection of recipes, this sauce was the one I couldn't get out of mind, or rather my tastebuds! 

It literally comes together in about 5 minutes and then cooks with only the most minimal of stirring on your part, in about 45 minutes, which means that in the time it takes for you to toss together a salad, set the table and boil the water for pasta, you can whip up a healthy, no-additives or extra-sugars, homemade sauce that will rival any Italian mama's!! It feels so not like a recipe and yet it's exactly the perfect recipe. If you make it once or twice, you'll have it forever inscribed in your memory. Even if you think you can't cook, you can do this, I promise you!

And the taste, oh! It's perfectly balanced between sweetness and acidity with little chunks of tomato. Really clings to pasta and is in a class all by itself, when compared with any of the jarred readymade sauces! Serve it atop a plate of fettuccine with some freshly grated Parmesan and people will promise you their firstborn! 

So have a terrific weekend, whip up a batch of this sauce (it's also amazing on homemade pizza) and join the I Love Marcella Fan Club!! Ciao bellas!

Marcella Hazan's Tomato Sauce with Onion and Butter-Famous Fridays

Makes 8-10 servings

Prep Time: 5 minutes; Cook Time: 45 minutes-1 hour


  • Two 28 ounce cans San Marzano peeled plum tomatoes

  • 8 tablespoons unsalted butter

  • 1 large onion, peeled and cut in half

  • 1 teaspoon salt

  • 1 pound dried pasta (I love this with fettuccine or spaghetti)

  • Freshly grated Parmesan cheese to sprinkle on top

The Recipe

1.  Place the tomatoes in a large saucepan. Add in the butter, onion and salt. Cook, uncovered over medium heat so that the sauce maintains a slow but steady simmer for about 45 minutes, or until the fat floats free from the tomato. Stir with a wooden spoon every now and then, mashing up large pieces of tomato with the back of the spoon. Taste and add more salt if necessary. Remove the onion before using the sauce. You can definitely eat it if you like. Serve the sauce over pasta or use for the base for pizza or with anything you want a basic tomato sauce for.

2.  Sauce keeps in a jar or airtight container in the refrigerator for several days.


Note:  Recipe adapted from The Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan. I usually sort of double this recipe and use two cans of the plum tomatoes with one stick of butter. If you really want to do it the "Marcella way", use 2 cups of the canned tomatoes or 2 pounds fresh tomatoes and 5 tablespoons of butter.

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