Marcella Hazan Tomato Sauce with Onion and Butter, Simplified
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If you are familiar with Marcella Hazan’s tomato sauce with onion and butter, you know it is made with three ingredients, four if you count salt. How then, you might be wondering, can such a sauce be simplified?
Simply: by using unpeeled tomatoes. Here, the ingredients are the same as Marcella Hazan’s tomato sauce but there’s no scoring of the tomatoes and blanching them to remove their skins, and there’s no discarding of the halved onion at the end. Everything, rather, is puréed together at the end.
Here’s the how-to:
Homemade Tomato Sauce in 4 Simple Steps
- Slice two onions, and place them in a pot with a stick of butter.
- Meanwhile, chop up 4 pounds of tomatoes, and add them to the pot with a teaspoon of kosher salt.
- Simmer for 1 hour.
- Purée with an immersion blender, food processor, or traditional blender.
Taste your fresh, bright tomato sauce, then smile for days as you put it on everything: pizza, pasta, crispy eggplant rounds, savory monkey bread, eggplant involtini, zucchini involtini, summer squash gratin, etc.
Friends, should you find yourself with a haul of tomatoes, this modified Marcella tomato sauce recipe might come in handy. I think we’ve picked the last from our little raised bed, which did well this year, treating us to a good run of bagel-cream cheese-and-tomato breakfasts. I’m not ready for fall.
PS: ALL the tomato recipes here.
Here’s the visual play-by-play for making a simplified Marcella tomato sauce:
1. Melt a stick of butter.
2. Slice two large onions (typically I use white) and add to melted butter.
3. Sweat onions for 15 minutes or until they …
4. turn white! Kidding. Cook until the onions are soft.
5. Meanwhile, dice four pounds of tomatoes.
6. Add them to the pot with a teaspoon of kosher salt.
7. Bring to a simmer. After five minutes, the tomatoes will look like this:
8. After about an hour, they look like this:
9. Purée the sauce with an immersion blender, or transfer to a food processor or blender (taking care the lid is on tightly lest it blow off during the whirring).
10. Transfer puréed sauce to storage containers. These are my favorite: 1-Quart Deli Containers Such a great size for all sorts of foods.
11. Use sauce in your favorite recipes, perhaps a roasted eggplant and Swiss chard lasagna? Stay tuned.
Marcella Hazan Tomato Sauce with Onion and Butter, Simplified
- Total Time: 1 hours 30 minutes
- Yield: 2 quarts
This is a modified/simplified recipe of Marcella Hazan’s famous tomato sauce with onion and butter. To sum up the changes: I don’t peel the tomatoes, I slice the onion and sweat it with the butter first, then add the tomatoes. After about an hour simmer, I purée it. This is just easier for me, and I find the taste of the sauce to still be fresh and bright.
Here I’ve doubled the quantities of the original recipe, so feel free to make a half batch or multiply the quantities if you wish, too.
- 8 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 2 large onions, thinly sliced
- 4 pounds tomatoes, dice into 1/2-inch pieces
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste
- Melt the butter over medium heat in a large pot. Add the onion and cook gently, lowering the heat if necessary, until the onions are soft, about 15 minutes. (The onions should take on very little color, but if they brown a little, it’s fine.)
- Add the tomatoes and salt to the pot and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat, stirring every so often to ensure the onion isn’t scorching on the bottom of the pan. (If you cover the pan for 2 minutes, the mixture will come to a boil more quickly.) Once the mixture is simmering, lower the temperature, so the mixture is gently bubbling—medium heat should do it. Simmer for about an hour, stirring occasionally until the mixture has reduced and feels somewhat thick as you run a spoon through it. Purée with an immersion blender or transfer mixture to a food processor or blender (taking care to hold the lid down tightly lest it blast off due to the steam) and purée until smooth. Taste. Add more salt to taste.
- Once cool, transfer to storage containers and refrigerate for up to a week or freeze for months.
- Prep Time: 15 minutes
- Cook Time: 1 hours 15 minutes
- Category: Sauce
- Method: Stovetop
- Cuisine: Italian
Keywords: homemade, tomato, sauce, Marcella, Hazan, simple, summer
This post may contain affiliate links. Please read my disclosure policy.
51 Comments on “Marcella Hazan Tomato Sauce with Onion and Butter, Simplified”
I also have simplified MH’s recipe over the years using canned tomatoes (or the saved odds & ends of fresh tomatoes that Ive frozen), a stick of butter and an onion cut in half Then I turn on the heat until it bubbles at the edges, add salt to taste, a pinch of sugar if needed and cook for 30 minutes. Once the sauce cools a bit, I use the immersion blender to whirl. It’s great to have this sauce in the freezer!
Meant to give you 5 starts! I love your blog!!!!!!
Thank you! Haha, I love it 🙂 Smart tip re freezing odds and ends of tomatoes — I need to start doing this. Your MH version sounds delicious!
I’ve been making this sauce for years; it’s one of my family’s favourites. We never throw away the onion – we fight over it. I’m definitely going to try this version. Thanks for posting.
Love that you fight over the onion! It’s way too good to be tossed. I think I saw on Food52 or another blog that it can be chopped up and turned into a relish, which sounds good, too.
Interesting, I made my own modified Hazan sauce last night. I used farmer’s market tomatoes and a few canned plums that I had left over in the fridge. This was her tomato garlic and basil sauce. I do peel the tomatoes and I learned it from Hazan’s cookbooks! I don’t find it that much trouble – if they are firm enough, one can even use a kitchen peeler (also one of Hazan’s suggestions). Homegrown garlic and basil but could’t help myself from adding a few anchovies. I used a potato masher right in the pan to break it down a bit. It was so delicious I abandoned the dinner I had planned and had pasta instead. A jar for the fridge and a jar for the freezer. I’ll use your suggestion to puree instead of peel next time!
Can’t believe I’ve never even tried to use my peeler! Great tip. And I know, it really isn’t a big deal to peel the tomatoes, but sometimes I get lazy … I’ve also been meaning to briefly freeze the tomatoes (David Tanis tip via Food52), which apparently allows the skin to rub right off. Pasta + homemade sauce … is there anything better?
I use canned tomatoes, so there’s no peeling necessary. I also cut the onion into 4-8 wedges (depending on size) and puree the whole thing after 45 minutes. I like to simmer whole garlic cloves and/or red pepper flakes too.
Canned tomatoes are great. I’d say that’s what I use 90% of the year. Fresh tomato season, when you think about it, really is so short.
Hi CJ, I was glad to see your tips as I’m looking to include more crushed / chopped garlic into my diet (for nutritional reasons, and also because it tastes AWESOME!) and this sauce seems like the perfect opportunity to do so!
Might I ask how many garlic cloves you added and at what stage of the process? Also, to the extent you have an opinion, if you were going to crush the garlic (to maximize the nutritional value) vs. adding it whole, would you recommend adding it in the same way?
Thanks for any additional tips you may be able to share with a tomato sauce newbie ;-)!
Thanks for this very timely recipe with highly preferable method.
And thanks also for the link to the freezer containers! I was just thinking where on earth, in my deepest rural area, I would find more proper freezer containers. I hope you also get a credit for the one-cup size, which I clicked through to from your link.
And looking forward Very Much to the lasagne with chard and eggplant!
This should really be a three-exclamation point note to you. I’m restraining myself.
Haha, I love it 🙂 You’re hilarious (!!!) The recipe for the lasagna will be up on Food52 tomorrow. I’ll send a link. Glad you found freezer containers!
Hi! I am trying to find the lasagna recipe you mentioned above on Food 52.
Ali, I’m so jealous of your tomatoes. <3
Wish I could send you some!
Good adaptation to a good recipe. I never understood why she threw away the onion, it’s so tasty. I used canned tomoatoes when I can’t find good fresh ones. I tend to like this sauce more during the spring/summer seasons because its lighter and more simple tasting that the heartier, traditional Italian tomoato-based sauces. But in the fall/winter, I prefer to pass on this one because I don’t want to ask myself, “why did I just dress my pasta in tomato soup.”
Haha, totally. Long, you’re right — it’s definitely a light, thin summer sauce. I’m with you re the heartier sauces for the winter.
I’ve never found a scratch sauce recipe that I love. But I’m thinking this one might be the exception. I wonder how this would do in my Instant Pot?
Wendi! It has been too long. I love this one, and this red pepper tomato sauce, which takes less time, is also a favorite: https://alexandracooks.com/2015/08/14/no-breading-no-frying-no-fussing-eggplant-parmesan/
I am the last person to ask re instapot because I couldn’t even successfully cook beans in my instantpot … can you help? what are your go-to instant pot recipes? The truth is that I bought one because I’ve always wanted a rice cooker, and I thought this might act as that plus a million other things. I haven’t experimented enough, but I haven’t had great luck so far.
I need to get some quality beans and give them a go in the pot. I’ve had GREAT success with yogurt, butter chicken, lasagna rolls, lentils, sloppy joe (in the slow cooker mode) and big hunks of beef. I tried rice in it a few times but always go back to my no fail method of boiling it on the stove like pasta…..lots of well salted water, cook till tender, and drain. I can make huge batches of rice this way and stash individual portions in the freezer.
Yes to cooking rice like pasta!! It’s the only way I do it now 🙂
Wendi – is there a link to your InstantPot recipes? I’d love to try the butter chicken and lasagna rolls.
And Alexandra – you have to try making yogurt in the Instant Pot. It’s so good! And hard boiled eggs come out perfect every single time.
Really?? I’m so curious, Anne! If you say so, I’m doin’ it 🙂
Wendi, I would love those recipes, too.
Link alert….I have not posted these on my own site….maybe someday:
Butter Chicken – [link no longer found]
Lasagna Rolls – http://pressureluckcooking.com/recipe/instant-pot-lasagna-rolls
Lentils and Chicken – http://www.seriouseats.com/recipes/2015/01/quick-and-easy-pressure-cooker-chicken-lentil-bacon-stew-recipe.html
Yogurt – This post is a bit wordy and I don’t strain my finished yogurt but I DEFINITELY use the can of sweetened condensed milk. It gives the finished product a NOOSA like consistency. I use an immersion blender to smooth it out to nearly silky perfection….and I process mine for 10 – 11 hrs…. http://www.friedalovesbread.com/2017/06/easy-cold-start-yogurt-no-boil-method.html
And I used the IP yesterday to make THIS sauce. While the pressure cooker didn’t save me any time with the process, it did allow me to “set it and forget it” while I did other things. I added 2T of tomato paste to the recipe, set to High Pressure on Manual for 20 minutes, and then let it do a complete Natural Release. Immersion blended the heck out of it and then put the pot on Saute for about 20 minutes to reduce the sauce just a bit.
Go forth and pressure cook!!!!
You’re awesome, Wendi! Thanks soooo much. I’m feeling inspired!
your onions in pic are purple/red but in the pot they look like you used a white onion. do you think it matters?
Hi Julie! I typically would use white, but I only had red on hand, so I just went for it. It worked! So, either is fine, though if you’re heading to the store, pick up some white/yellow onions.
Except, if you’re going to the store, definitely buy yellow!! White!? Red?! You guys are crazy- yellow is the only kind that lends that delicious warmth and sweetness to the sauce.
Love your adaptation of this favorite recipe. I never throw away the onion either – so much flavor there. The immersion blender is my friend in the kitchen too!
The immersion blender is so handy, right?? xo
1-quart deli containers? Those look like my Chinese soup delivery containers, that I have too many of and could not do without! 🙂
Like others, I’ve used canned tomatoes for this sauce as well, and often add a few things (whole garlic cloves, anchovies, herbs) to promote umami, or just add layers of flavor.
I’ve got to try this with fresh tomatoes, but this was a HORRIBLE tomato season and I basically had no harvest worth mentioning. Urrrrgggghhhh.
I am yet another person who tried this recipe in the past and was inspired to revisit it after your post. Earlier in the year I made her recipe with canned Marzano tomatoes and one stick of butter. I was totally underwhelmed. Following your suggestion I used fresh tomatoes and it made all the difference. To me this recipe only makes sense with fresh tomatoes, but that’s me. I also did half butter and half olive oil. Next time I will throw in a little dried basil while the onions are sweating. So excited to have jars of the remainder in my freezer!
I’m with you! I find the canned tomato version leaves me wanting. When tomato season passes, I like this other Marcella sauce, which calls for canned tomatoes and a few other ingredients to make it flavorful: https://alexandracooks.com/2012/02/02/a-second-marcella-hazan-tomato-sauce-hot-italian-sausage-gragnano-pasta-utter-deliciousness/
Thanks. I’ll check it out!
I’m thinking of making this is weekend–this end of summer heat wave is really making my final harvest quite robust! I grew golden tomatos this summer, do you think they would be okay in sauce? They are far less acidic.
Absolutely! I’ve made this with a number of different tomatoes: homegrown Cherokee purples, CSA Romas, beefsteak — it always turns out well. Good luck!
Just made a pot of the sauce looks fabulous!
If you’re using canned tomatoes, how much should you use (ie, how many cans/ozs)?
I would use 2 28-oz cans of plum (or crushed) tomatoes.
One batch of sauce made with 4 LBS of tomatoes would made approximately how many cups, pints, or quarts of sauce ?
I’m sooo tired of peeling and seeding all my tomatoes! If you skip this step, does the blender get rid of the papery skins and crunchy seeds?
Me, too! And yes 🙂
There’s nothing more welcome than a simplified simple recipe! Since this is my first time making tomato sauce, I was hoping to ask the following:
(1) Olive Oil vs. Butter: Is it possible to use olive oil (vegan) vs. butter? If so, can you share what the recommended substitution amount should be?
(2) Storing: Do you know how long I can safely store the excess in the freezer? Also how best to thaw?
Thanks for any culinary guidance you may be able to provide!
Yes, definitely use olive oil. I would say store for at least 3 months (I freeze things for much longer, but 3 months is what is generally advised) in the freezer. Thaw in the fridge or simply run the frozen container under the faucet to release the block of frozen sauce; then transfer to a saucepan and simmer slowly.
Thanks so much the reply Alexandra!
Re substitution amounts (of olive oil instead of butter), can you share how much olive oil should be used in place of 8 tablespoons butter ?
I think you could use 1/4 cup olive oil with success. If you feel at the end it still needs a little richness to balance the sweetness and acidity, stir in a couple of tablespoons of olive at the end and add more to taste as needed.
Hi Alexandra, thank you again for sharing your culinary wisdom with me!
My first go round came out fantastic! I ended up using Bianco Dinapoli Tomatoes – Whole (only bc The NYT recommended them!) and 4 TBSP of Olive Oil. Also, and I hope you don’t mind, but I simplified the recipe even farther by skipping the purée step (as I enjoyed the whole food texture)!
Oh yay! Wonderful to hear this, Steven. I love anything that calls for simplifying 🙂 🙂 🙂 Well done!
This recipe is wonderful. I have made it numerous times and found that using cherry tomatoes just takes it over the top. Much more flavorful and the sweeter cherry tomatoes balance out the acidity. Also I substitute at least half the butter with olive oil.
Great to hear! I’m going to try this. Thanks so much for sharing 🙂