Everyone needs a great tomato sauce recipe in their back pocket. I know it’s easy and even tempting to get your pizza sauce or spaghetti sauce from a jar, but making tomato sauce from canned or even fresh tomatoes is so easy, and so delicious, there’s no good reason not to. Plus you’ll feel pretty fancy and confident knowing you can make it yourself.
There’s a rather famous tomato sauce recipe that’s been going around the blogosphere in recent years, created by the late Marcella Hazan. It’s absurdly simple, but somehow transformative – and it’s come to be known affectionately as Marcella sauce.
The recipe uses only four ingredients – tomatoes (fresh if they are in season, canned if not), onion, butter, and salt.
You throw them in a pot together and simmer them for a long time. The onion gets really soft and the butter smoothes out the acid of the tomatoes, until it’s all sweet and surprisingly rich (that’d be the butter).
The flavors in this recipe are really clean and straightforward and mellow. They taste fantastic on their own, and if you’ve never made it before you should really try it plain. But they also make an excellent canvas for embellishment.
After removing most of the onion and buzzing the tomatoes and butter into a nice smooth sauce, I like to add basil, finely minced raw garlic, and sometimes a shake of red pepper. Purists may disapprove, but I like what I like. Another minute or two on the stove to mellow out the garlic slightly, and it’s ready for pasta.
And in my house, no pasta is safe from cheese.
Marcella Sauce (and variations, adapted from Essentials of Italian Cooking)
tomatoes (canned or fresh diced)
butter (3 Tbsp per pound or can of tomatoes)
onion (one half per pound or can of tomatoes)
salt, to taste
basil, torn or chiffonade
crushed red pepper
parmesan cheese, grated
1. Put your tomatoes in a sauce pan with the butter and onion. You will need at least one pound of tomatoes for every two servings you plan to make. I usually use two small cans of tomatoes or one 28 oz can for four servings, but the recipe can be scaled to suit your group. Simmer the tomatoes, onions, and butter over low heat for 45 minutes to an hour, until the onion is very soft.
2. Remove the onion (I like to leave about half of what was cooked) and blend the tomatoes with a hand blender or mash with a potato masher until you reach your desired consistency. Taste and add salt.
3. Serve as-is for a kid-friendly pure tomato flavor, or add embellishments. Cook for an additional few minutes if you are adding raw garlic at this point, to allow the flavors to soften. Use your sauce to top pasta or pizza or eggplant or chicken parmesan or any other item in your vicinity that appears to need saucing.