Marcella Hazan’s Basic Tomato Sauce

tomato sauce

With the internet around, it’s very easy to get caught up with the idea of perfection. If Pinterest is anything to go by, it’s expected to have a wide repertoire of cuisine, from all over the world, but made with only the highest quality, locally sourced, organic ingredients. While I love having a huge range of recipes at my fingertips, and I often do make food from several different cuisines through the course of a week, sometimes it’s important to get back to basics. And Marcella Hazan is the perfect way to do that.

I’ve talked about Marcella before on the blog (in my debut post), but for those of you who aren’t familiar with her, think of her as your fairy godmother to Italian food. She did for Italian food what Julia Child did for French, namely bringing it to American kitchens and making it accessible while remaining faithful to tradition. Her writing is clear and concise, but infused with her passion for the subject. If you follow one of her recipes carefully, it is very difficult to mess it up.

Of course, there are criticisms of her. She can be a little too fussy, and some of her recipes haven’t aged particularly well, but for the most part if you want to cook Italian food, you should go to Marcella first. This recipe is a great example of her brilliance. It’s nothing new in the food blog world, but it’s been repeated on countless blogs because it’s just that good.

cooking tomato sauce

The beauty is in the simplicity, the classic tale of ‘more than a sum of its parts’. It uses just 3 ingredients, perfectly matched to bring out the best in each other. No 30 minutes of prep time, no standing over a stove monitoring, just combine tomatoes, an onion sliced in half, and butter. Simmer it on the stove for 45 minutes, and with what Rachel Eats describes as “a bit of soft red alchemy” you will be rewarded with one of the best tomato sauces of your life. The onion cooked low and slow gives the sauce a savory background, the butter a richness, but both of those flavors are subtle enough to allow the tomato to star.stewed onions

I used canned tomatoes because it’s winter, and there is little point in buying fresh tomatoes, but if it’s a little warmer in your part of the world, feel free to use fresh. Just peel them (some guidance on peeling tomatoes here) and chop them coarsely. Marcella instructs you to toss the onion halves out after cooking, but I like to reserve them. Chopped up, they make nice additions to morning eggs or toast, and I just can’t stand to throw out food. The eagle-eyed amongst you will have noticed that I actually used 1.5 onions. I did this because my onions were rather small, I already had half an onion hanging out from a previous recipe, and, most importantly, I like things in groups of 3. So there.

tomato sauce pasta

Marcella Hazan’s Basic Tomato Sauce

Adapted from the Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan

Serves 4

800g (28oz) canned whole peeled tomatoes (or fresh tomatoes, see note above)
1 medium onion
70g (5 tbsp) butter

Peel the onion and cut it in half. Place all of the ingredients in a pot and bring to a simmer. Simmer gently for about 45 minutes, stirring occasionally and breaking up the tomatoes against the side of the pot, until the tomatoes have broken down into a saucy and the fat has floated free.

Remove the onion halves. Salt to taste. Mix the sauce with 400g of pasta (cooked to package directions), reserving a few tablespoons of sauce to put on top of the pasta. Serve with Parmesan.


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