Marcella Hazan’s Tomato Sauce

Have you made this tomato sauce?  People swear by it.  People LOVE it.  People think it’s genius.  I am completely undecided.

The sauce has only four ingredients.  One of them is butter.  The sauce was so fine-textured that it clung delicately and evenly to each individual noodle.  Its flavor was the summer flavor of the good tomatoes I used, enriched with butter and salt.

With very little effort, this recipe produced a refined and tasty dish.  Which made me notice that refined and tasty aren’t necessarily enough for me.  I think I prefer a heartier olive-oil based sauce, spicy with chiles and garlic, enlivened with a big handful of fresh basil at the end.

So why am I sharing this recipe?  Well, you might love it.  Everyone else does.  And I kind of want you to make it and tell me what you think.  Or tell me that you’ve made it and adore it.  Or tell me that you’d never make in in a million years, because who in her right mind adds that much butter to summer tomatoes?  Or tell me, please, about the tomato sauce that is your favorite at this time of year.

Marcella Hazan’s Tomato Sauce (adapted from Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking): In a pot, combine 2 lbs. good tomatoes, peeled and seeded* (or 2 c. jarred tomatoes with their juice) with 5 Tbsp. butter and an onion, peeled and cut in half through the root end.  Add salt to taste.  Simmer 45 minutes, or until sauce thickens and oil separates from the tomatoes, crushing any tomato pieces against the side of the pot as the sauce cooks.  Taste again for salt, and remove onion before serving.  Serve over pasta with a chunk of Parmesan cheese and a Microplane grater.

*To avoid the hassle of peeling and seeding my tomatoes (several of which were small), I cut them in half across the equator and cooked them over medium heat for ten minutes, covered, to soften them up.  Then I sent my tomatoes through my food mill before continuing with the recipe.


25 thoughts on “Marcella Hazan’s Tomato Sauce

    1. emmycooks Post author

      If there is any error involved, I imagine that the trouble is certainly with my preference rather than her recipe. I look forward to hearing what you think of it, though. With the ingredients you have available, it will surely be stellar. :)

  1. gwynnem

    I’ve made a balsamic tomato dish that is not a sauce but does use butter. I can see (and taste) the tomato-butter perks, but for a pasta sauce, I tend to stick with olive oil and herb-enriched, too.

    1. emmycooks Post author

      Interesting, what was it? I tried the tomatoes-and-brown-butter combo this summer when everyone was talking about it, but that didn’t do it for me either. I bet adding balsamic vinegar would be an improvement.

  2. Heidi@HeidisWholeHealth

    So interesting! I just made this sauce for the first time a couple of weeks ago with beautiful ripe tomatoes – and I wasn’t wowed at all either. This is not for me. My family (husband and three big kids) and I def. prefer olive oil, garlic etc. as well.
    I love your blog; great writing style.

    1. emmycooks Post author

      Thanks, Heidi! At least now we know. :) And honestly, you can’t go terribly wrong with any sauce that starts with amazing tomatoes! (And do you have a blog or website too? I see that your name is @HeidisWholeHealth but if you put in the link it didn’t come through. Feel free to post it here for others to find!)

  3. ieatthepeach

    I made this sauce a while ago, and liked it fine. It kind of reminded me of the marinara sauce I used to get with mozzarella sticks in bars in college. I agree with you that it’s a little tame to carry a dish on its own, but I think it’d be a good base for something more flavorful.

    1. emmycooks Post author

      Same here, usually–except that I had to see what the supposed magic of this recipe was all about. Plus, I’m a sucker for “3/4/5/whatever-ingredient” recipes. :)

  4. Somer

    Sorry, I’m in your camp, I think that much butter would ruin it (not just because I’m vegan, I used to adore butter), I would prefer olive oil (at least a little bit) in my tomato sauces and the complexity of adding the spices you mentioned above.

  5. Vicki Bensinger

    I just read your comments on 5SecondRule and had to stop by. I love the sound of your celery soup and will without question be trying it.

    As for Marcella Hazan’s tomato sauce I think I’m the only one in the world who hasn’t made it. I recently read a post with everyone raving about it and wanted to make it. Now after reading your post I’m more intriqued to see what my taste buds will think.

    It’s always nice to hear differing opinions, although after spending some time in Italy the majority of their dishes were simple, fresh and not spicy – the Italian way. That may be why you didn’t prefer it to something with some pizzaz! However now I need to try it too! Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  6. Little Sis

    LOL, bleasphemers all of us. I felt exactly the same way. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that we had the same reaction, but because it was Hazan’s, I just figured I was weird.

  7. Michelle

    I’m with you, Emmy. I like my tomato sauce roasted, with lots of olive oil and garlic. But Roger is right: Marcella Hazan never made too many mistakes. And butter is seldom a bad addition to anything. So maybe I should try this.

  8. e.marie

    i’ve made this sauce twice… the first time: amazing! the second time: eh… between the two attempts, i made a much better simple sauce recipe (simmer onions in white wine, add tomatoes, a bit of salt, some spices, and call it a day)… i think this recipe is all about the mindset you have when you make it… maybe i should try it again and see what happens…

  9. musingmar

    I just can’t quite imagine a tomato sauce with butter in it. But maybe that’s a reason to give this a try! After all, as you say, many others like this, so who am I to dismiss this recipe without tasting it?

  10. baconbiscuit212

    Oh my gosh. This is one of my favorite sauces! It is also a blog post that has been languishing in my drafts for a year!

    I actually use the whole fire-roasted tomatoes from Muir Glen, but I love the addition of the butter.

  11. Courtney

    I made this last night, inspired by your post (just found your blog, lovely!). Marcella Hazen is my go-to for Italian and everything we’ve tried has been wonderful. I have never made this sauce before but last night, for us, it was pretty perfect: A cool Wednesday night in Vermont after a long work day with a desire for something hot, homemade and comforting without a lot of work. I threw everything into the pot, put it on med-low and walked around the corner to the park with my 3 year old daughter until dark. My husband enjoyed it even without meat (total caveman) and for me it was awesomely indulgent with all of that butter. Perfect for a toddler palate as well. We are eaters and love bold food too and I think this could be a great base for whatever kind of sauce you are looking to conjure up. But for what it is, plain and simple, it was very tasty.

  12. Allison

    Hm, I’d like to try this out at some point, but I think I tend to agree with you about wanting to add to refined flavors sometimes. Thanks for your honest review of the recipe!

  13. beejay

    I don’t make exactly this tomato sauce, but I have been putting butter in at the end of my tomato sauces for years. I have problems with the acidity of tomato sauce, and I’m told that the calcium in the butter binds some of that acid, making it smoother and, well, less acid.
    I use red wine vinegar and a pinch of sugar in addition to whatever else I put into my tomato sauces because they seem to give more oomph to even mediocre tomatoes. Olive oil, lots of garlic, summer savory rather than basil, fresh ground black pepper and a good salt. Heaven.
    If the tomatoes are really good, though, I usually just roast them with some olive oil and sea salt. Let the flavors grow.


Leave a Reply to emmycooks Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s