When it comes to essentials, like tomato sauce, originality is overrated. Marcella Hazan's classic tomato sauce is famous and adored, and justly so. Scads of bloggers and food writers have written about it, so I'm just following along. I thought it was worth a spotlight this week, as we talk about simple, fresh, and inexpensive dinners. This is one of the best sauces I know, and it only needs four (yes, four) ingredients.
The idea behind this tomato sauce is simple: Simmer a can of tomatoes with an onion and five tablespoons of butter. Add a pinch of salt and pull out the onion at the end, and you're left with a bright, velvety tomato sauce with a rich roundness from the butter. The butter doesn't saw off the edges of the tomatoes' tanginess in the way that sugar does; instead it complements the brightness and makes it shine.
This tomato sauce is also entirely hands-off; you don't even mince the onion. It's a great way to knock a meal together with a few cupboard staples. Serve it over pasta with a flurry of cheese, and enjoy tomato sauce with the flair of restaurant richness.
It doesn't replace my favorite meaty sauces, though — it's extraordinarily simple and minimalist — but it's very satisfying, and its ease cannot be beat. As a topping for ravioli, or a filling for lasagna, this sauce is spectacular.
My only change to the original recipe is the addition of black pepper. Look, I just can't eat a bowl of pasta without a bit of black pepper, and I think this sauce benefits from just a little flurry of pepper at the end.
Have you ever tried this famous sauce? What did you think?
Adapted in my own words from Marcella Hazan's "Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking."
1 (28-ounce) can peeled plum tomatoes, no salt or herbs added
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 small white onion, peeled and cut in half
Shaved Parmesan cheese
Freshly ground black pepper
Put a 3-quart saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the tomatoes, butter, onion halves, and a pinch of salt. Bring to a simmer, and then lower the heat. Crush the tomatoes lightly with the back of a spoon as they cook, and stir occasionally. Simmer very gently for 45 minutes, or until droplets of fat appear on the surface of the tomatoes. Remove and discard the onion.
Serve over hot pasta with Parmesan and black pepper, if desired.
This post has been updated. Originally published April 2011.
(Images: Faith Durand)