Marcella Hazan’s Tomato Sauce

This tomato sauce is easy enough for those who can’t cook, precisely because of its unusual method.

Most other tomato sauces begin with chopping onions and garlic, and sautéing them awhile before adding tomatoes, wine, red peppers, etc, etc, etc.  This simple method has absolutely no sautéing.  The only chopping is one big slice to hack an onion in half.  If you can cut an onion in half, you can make this sauce.

Simply throw canned tomatoes into a saucepan with a hunk of butter and an onion cut into 2 halves.  You practically poach the onion in the tomatoes, while the butter slowly smooths everything out.  At the end, you remove the onion halves and throw them away, leaving a tomato sauce that has a gentle savory onion edge, but no actual onion.

Not only is this recipe the easiest, it’s one of the most delicious tomato sauces I’ve made.  The flavor is savory and delicate.  I’ve been making this tomato sauce for almost 15 years, and use it for everything from pasta and pizza, to casseroles like eggplant parmesan and polenta lasagna.

Please don’t be tempted to substitute olive oil for the butter.  I tried that once, but the olive oil was the wrong kind of fat for this sauce.  It actually made the sauce slimy and oily.  Stick with butter or vegan butter on this one to keep the sauce soft, luscious, and flavorful.

I prefer to use canned whole plum tomatoes.  I think they have a better quality and texture than diced tomatoes.  Just before serving, whir it a bit with an immersion blender to smooth it out.

marcella hazan’s tomato sauce recipe

28-ounce can tomatoes

5 tablespoons butter

1 onion

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

torn basil leaves (optional)

grated parmesan (optional)


Empty the canned tomatoes into a saucepan.  Peel the onion and cut it in half or in quarters.  Add the onion, butter, and salt to the tomatoes.

Simmer at least 40 minutes. Sometimes I let it simmer over an hour until the onions are almost falling apart.  Stir from time to time, keeping the onion wedges immersed so that they can effectively flavor the sauce.  Remove the onion pieces with chopsticks or tongs.  Throw the onion pieces away.

Puree with a hand-held immersion blender.  Add the torn fresh basil leaves or parmesan if desired.

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  1. Jenny

    I really enjoyed this sauce when you made it for us and have made it since. It’s great for kids because it has the flavor, but no bits of onion for them to complain about.

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