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Marcella Hazan’s Tomato Sauce with Onion and Butter

Posted in Food, and Food & Entertaining

Marcella-Hazan-Tomato-Sauce-RecipeI love the way Marcella Hazan wrote her recipes:

“The meat must be sauteed just barely long enough to lose its raw colour. It must not brown or it will lose its delicacy.
It must be cooked in milk before the tomatoes are added. This keeps the meat creamier and sweeter tasting.
It must cook at the merest simmer for a long, long time. The minimum is 3½ hours; 5 is better.”

Note the repeated “must”. For me, the novice cook, 25 years ago – I needed this: no room for self-doubt or second guessing. Marcella told you what to do clearly – but even more importantly – she also told you why you had to do it that way. And when you tasted the food she had helped you cook – you understood why. 

31hazan-articleLargeMarcella died this week aged 89. And I thought I would celebrate her life by making what is perhaps her most famous recipe: Tomato Sauce. And here’s why: “My mother’s tomato, butter, and onion sauce unfailingly elicits feelings of comfort and well-being. Its ability to wash away fatigue and anxiety is almost miraculous, and its preparation borders on alchemy. Who would think that simply putting tomatoes, a peeled halved onion, butter, and salt in a pot and cooking it with barely an occasional stir until it is reduced, would produce such concentrated goodness? In my freezer there is always a batch, ready to be defrosted and enjoyed in the time it takes to cook some pasta.” the words are by Giuliano Hazan, Marcella’s son. I couldn’t have said it better:

I don’t know what Mama Hazan would say about my use of salted butter (all I had) or the half red/half white onion combo I used (wanted sweetness as the tomatoes were pretty tart) but the result was just as delicious as ever.

Your sauce should go almost ‘jammy’


p style=”text-align: left;”>For the Sauce
 pounds/1kg fresh, ripe tomatoes that have been blanched in hot water and peeled
3 cups canned imported Italian tomatoes, cut up, with their juice
tablespoons / 60grams butter
 medium sweet yellow onion, peeled and cut in half – no chopping required
1+1/4 teaspoons salt

(note: do not be tempted to add or subtract anything the list above. You will only regret it.)

  1. Put either canned or the skinned fresh tomatoes in a saucepan, add the butter, onion, and salt,
  2. Cook uncovered at a very slow, but steady simmer for at least 45 minutes, or until the tomatoes are no longer watery and the mix has thickened to your liking. The fat should have floated free from the tomato.  (Don’t rush it. Today mine took 75mins)
  3. Stir from time to time, mashing up any large pieces of tomato with the back of a wooden spoon.
  4. Taste and correct for salt. Discard the onion before tossing with pasta.

Serve with freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano cheese and a peppery rocket side salad (I lace mine with basil leaves), dressed simply with lemon juice and olive oil. Sip whatever pleases on the night.

Freeze any leftover sauce into ice cubes, then pack in plastic bags. It lasts for ages and makes a luxurious base for pizza or, mixed in a with a rich stock, a delectable tomato soup.

Marcella-cartoonGrazie for the delicious memories, and buon viaggio Marcella.

From Hazan Family Favorites: Beloved Italian Recipes by Giuliano Hazan.

(Images in the public domain)

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  1. I originally found this recipe on epicurious’ website via a facebook link. On epicurious the amount of salt required is 1&1/4 teaspoons. The recipe above is for 1/4 teaspoons. Which is correct?

    August 12, 2016
    • sofagirl

      Hey Marie – definitely 1 and 1/4 …. or to taste really. I just whack in a big cooks pinch … and, lately a sprinkle of sugar as our tinned tomatoes these days are very acidic. xx

      August 12, 2016
  2. Oh ya – this is very similar to what I make except I add about 20 fresh garlic and red pepper flakes. mmmmm yummy soul food!

    June 20, 2014
  3. […] that tomato sauce… yes, indeed Campari and Sofa had featured it too and kindly posted the recipe.  Tomato sauce with just tomatoes, butter, onion and seasoning? […]

    October 10, 2013
  4. Mandy Waddington
    Mandy Waddington

    Going to definitely mae a batch of this today and freeze…it sounds heavenly, and more importantly ‘quick’ and easy!

    October 5, 2013
  5. silvia

    I didn’t even know her but from your words I understand she was one of those Italians who made her roots worthy.
    I realize that there are many Italian cooks who are expatriates, generations, and these people are almost unknown to my fellows. Or is it just me?
    Yesterday Giuliano Gemma died. Buon viaggio anche a lui

    October 3, 2013
  6. Brilliant. This recipe might be just the thing to dig me out of dinner difficulties over the long winter months. Going to freeze myself a batch over the weekend. Thank you!

    October 3, 2013
  7. I hadn’t realised she had died – a wonderful cook and writer. My Marcella Hazan cookbook is falling apart from over use – and what is more it is in the UK and I am in China, so a thousand thanks for this post I am going to make some of her tomato sauce today.

    October 3, 2013
  8. Marcella Hazan’s food always reminded of home. She grew up in Cesenatico, a small seaside resort 40 minutes from Bologna, so her culinary tradition mirrors my mother’s (and Mario Batali’s). Cooking from her books was like listening to my mother’s voice, as comforting as the food.

    October 3, 2013
    • Did your mom make hers with butter or olive oil?

      October 3, 2013
      • She makes it with olive oil but finishes it with butter (which makes it taste so much better!)

        October 3, 2013

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