How’s that for a dramatic title? I know it seems like I was just looking for attention, but these claims I make are true. This is, without a doubt, the best tomato sauce ever. It is also the easiest, to the point where it seems almost too good to be true. It has fewer ingredients, requires less babysitting, and tastes incredible. The secret? Butter. A bit more butter than you’d probably think a tomato sauce would need. But the result is an amazingly full, rounded flavor, way more complex than the ingredients let on. Butter does that, you know. There’s a reason I titled my blog the way I did.
This recipe comes from the late, great Marcella Hazan, the first lady of Italian food for home cooks everywhere. She’s all about reducing a dish to its essentials, not messing with the good stuff, and this recipe is one of her best (which is saying a lot). Of course, I had to mess with it a little bit. The original calls for tomatoes, onion, and butter. Period. I added some spice, because I just couldn’t help it. She also has you discard (gasp!) the onion once the sauce is ready – I guess in her book, they’ve done their job infusing the tomatoes. This seemed egregious and wasteful to me, so I ground it up and added it back in. I would like to believe this improves things. And, while I’m confessing to veering from the purist Italian tradition, here’s one more. When I’m feeling a little less indulgent than usual, I HAVE actually made this dish with a tablespoon or two less butter than called for. I pretend it doesn’t make a difference, even though my taste buds would disagree.
Lastly, this sauce could work for a variety of pastas, but spaghetti or other long thin shapes are ideal. Most recently, I made it with bucatini (which is like a hollow spaghetti). and this may be my new favorite pairing.
Marcella Hazan’s Tomato Sauce
Recipe adapted from the original here and there
28 oz can of whole peeled tomatoes (I like either San Marzano or Muir Glen)
one smallish red onion, cut in half
5 tbsp butter
1 tsp red chili flakes
2 cloves garlic
1 lb spaghetti, bucatini or other long pasta, cooked as per package instructions
Combine the tomatoes, onion, garlic, butter and red chili flakes in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. Place over medium heat and bring to a simmer. Cook, uncovered, for about 45 minutes. Stir occasionally, mashing any large tomato pieces with the back of a wooden spoon as you go. Add salt to taste. Carefully remove the onion and garlic cloves and give them a whir in the food processor (this part is optional and for the onion lovers only). Add back to the sauce. Combine the sauce with the pasta. Serve, taste, and swoon. Cheese optional – my husband likes a little parmesan on top, I don’t think the sauce needs it.