tomato sauce with onion and butter

I could no longer resist this sauce, and frankly, I don’t know why I even tried to: food bloggers obsess over it, and they’re not a bad lot to base a recipe selection upon. Adam of Amateur Gourmet fell for it five years ago. Molly at Orangette raved about it over two years ago, with a bonus approval marking from Luisa at Wednesday Chef. Then Rachel Eats fawned over it too, and Rachel, you see, she lives in Rome right now — I want to be in Rome right now — Rome, where you can get authentic, perfect tomato sauce a zillion places every single day. And yet she stayed in and made this one. That sealed the deal.

tomatoes + onion + butter
telephone cord pasta

So what is it with this sauce that it moves people to essays over it, tossing about exclamations like “brilliant!” and “va-va-voom” and promises that “something almost magical happens”? Is it garlic, a slip of red pepper flakes, a glug of red wine or a base of mulched carrots, onion and celery, as so many of us swear by in our best sauce efforts? Is it a spoonful of tomato paste or a pinch of sugar? Is it the best olive oil money can buy? It is none of these things, not a single one: It is butter. And an halved onion, cooked slowly as the sauce plops and glurps on the stove, then discarded when it is done.

love these tomatoes

onion, halved

Butter and the juice of stewed onion is all it apparently takes to transform a two-pound can of tomatoes to something velvety and lush. It manages to remind you of how fresh and sweet tomatoes are in the summer, but more fitting for the winter when canned tomatoes are the order of the day. And best yet, you can make it with ingredients you probably already have in your pantry, with the kind of limited attention span had by those of us who hang out with monkeys all day.

almost done
simple, totally uncompromised sauce

One year ago: Clementine Cake and Mushroom Bourguignon
Two years ago: Chicken Caesar Salad
Three years ago: Cauliflower and Brussels Salad and Leek and Mushroom Quiche

Tomato Sauce with Butter and Onions
Adapted from Marcela Hazan’s Essentials of Italian Cooking

Another thing that blew my mind about this sauce: I, for one, am a grated parmesan junkie. I not only sprinkle it over my bowl of pasta, I like to have additional nearby, to apply a fresh coat to the layers of pasta that follow. So you can imagine my shock to find that I liked this dish even more without the parmesan. The flavor of the sauce is so delicate, fresh and sweet that it needed nothing at all.

Serves 4 as a main course; makes enough sauce to lightly coat most of a pound of spaghetti

28 ounces (800 grams) whole peeled tomatoes from a can (San Marzano, if you can find them)*
5 tablespoons (70 grams) unsalted butter
1 medium-sized yellow onion, peeled and halved
Salt to taste

Put the tomatoes, onion and butter in a heavy saucepan (it fit just right in a 3-quart) over medium heat. Bring the sauce to a simmer then lower the heat to keep the sauce at a slow, steady simmer for about 45 minutes, or until droplets of fat float free of the tomatoes. Stir occasionally, crushing the tomatoes against the side of the pot with a wooden spoon. Remove from heat, discard the onion, add salt to taste (you might find, as I did, that your tomatoes came salted and that you didn’t need to add more) and keep warm while you prepare your pasta.

Serve with spaghetti, with or without grated parmesan cheese to pass.

* I liked this enough to make us more the next day, but I only had a can of tomato puree. It also worked well, despite having slightly less texture. You will need a little less simmering time as the tomatoes are already broken down.

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985 comments on tomato sauce with onion and butter

  1. I’m a parmigiano junkie too…so I would probably add it out of sheer habit. My cousin made a sauce very similar to this when I was a teenager. When I tasted it, I wanted to marry her. But that would have been awkward…

    1. Shannon

      I have always loved and thought adding more than the average amount of butter increased the flavor and richness of a tomato sauce. Never thought of doing onion this way and also not even adding garlic! I really really resisted that as I wanted to give this recipe my dedication haha. So it’s on the stove now! Making penne and I do have my triangle of parm close by, but I will also resist this to sample the first few bites without…at least 😅.

      Thanks for putting this recipe out there. Also, I used diced tomatoes, its what I had on hand.

  2. Melanie

    My mom has been making this sauce since I was a little kid. I used to eat it straight from the pan when she wasn’t looking. If you keep a can of tomatoes on hand in your pantry it’s a great last-minute dinner.

  3. Maria

    Hi Deb:
    The recipe, as I understand it, does NOT call for you to puree the sauce (or even chop in a blender) after it has been cooked. I happen to like my sauce not too chunky. Do you think it’d be alright to puree it in a blender after its been made?
    Also-while this recipe sounds intriguing and woefully simple, I must ask-is it greasy?
    I will try it, just wondering if you could elaborate on the above.

  4. This sounds perfectly easy and yummy to fit in my day, as I hang out with three monkeys. & thanks for all the photos of your son. I have my new baby but still enjoy seeing your cutie :)

  5. I agree with Sarah, it seems a little too easy to make sure a delicious sauce. I think I will have to make that sometime this week, especially with the telephone cord pasta!

  6. Joshua

    This looks great, but why use unsalted butter and then add salt? I don’t understand the big difference. I see this in recipes all the time and have blissfully ignored it so far.
    Does anyone know a good reason why we have to use unsalted butter?
    P.S. I love your site, Keep up the good work!

    1. deb

      Joshua — It allows you to choose how much salt you put in, if you feel it needs it at all. (As I noted, many canned tomatoes come already salted; the brand I used did.)

      Shauna — It reheats just fine.

  7. Shauna

    I have two cans of San Marzano tomatoes in my pantry that I was wondering what to do with – now I know! Out of curiosity, how well does this sauce keep in the fridge? If it keeps fairly well (or will at least last 1-2 days without getting icky), I’d love to make a little extra and take it to work with me on Tuesday for lunch. Thanks!

  8. delphine

    This looks amazing and blissfully easy, but most importantly, Deb, I have to thank you from the bottom of my metric heart for including measurements in grams this time for us folk on the other side of the pond! I am sure all our gratitudes know no bounds!

    1. deb

      Pasta shape — I can never resist this when I see it. We call it telephone cord spaghetti. I believe it’s actual Italian name is fusilli col buco or fusilli bucati lunghi.

  9. I love the combination of butter and tomato sauce, I’ve always added butter to the pasta immediately to cooked pasta and then added tomato sauce. Cooking the tomatoes with the butter sounds even more decadent! Thank you for adding the instructions for tomato puree, I assume it would be the same for crushed tomatoes as well.

  10. Jami

    How crazy. I just was quickly going to check to see if you had a good spaghetti sauce recipe here because my husband just requested it for dinner tomorrow. And here it is! And I was playing with MY little monkey imagining a way to incorporate a roux of sorts into the sauce, as I do with my favorite slightly creamy tomato soup. And here is this awesome recipe with butter. Whoa.

    1. Devin

      Simple and delicious. I made it this afternoon and I’m sure it’ll be even better tomorrow. Going to pair it with the mini meatballs using chicken sausage because it’s what I’ve got on hand.

  11. I’m pretty sure that I was one of the bazillion other women who asked for–and got–the DVD Julie&Julia and the two-book boxed set of Julia Child’s cookbooks. So far, what I think I have learned is this: butter makes everything better.

    I’ll put the canned tomatoes on my shopping list. We’ll be simplifying a meal this week for dinner, I think!

    I like your Curly-Sue noodles… super cute.

  12. Deb

    This is our go-to sauce, and one of the recipes in my husband’s repertoire when we met. I find that it really relies on good quality San Marzano tomatoes. Good quality pasta is key, too. Also, the onion (particularly the inner, small pieces) is delicious spread on some nice bread.

  13. Any suggestions for adapting this sauce for diced tomatoes? My husband brought home a 6 pound can of organic diced tomatoes and I have no idea what to do with it, other then invite all of my friends over for an old fashioned spaghetti dinner…

  14. I agree, everything tastes better with butter but it has to be GOOD butter, not the fake, lower-fat content, ones…. I am generally not a fan of canned tomatoes (never tried this brand before)… but if I could make my own tomato sauce and not rely on a jar to put into some of my dishes, it would be perfect! Yes, I know, the more I cook for my family, the more I am turning into an ingredient-control-freak…
    PS: Nothing wrong in spending the day with monkeys when they are so cute!

  15. Tanya

    Deb – I don’t have canned tomatoes where I live, because there are always tonnes of fresh tomatoes that are relatively cheap. Any idea on how many fresh tomatoes I would need to make this sauce and what variety? Thanks!

  16. I just got Marcela’s cookbook for Christmas and had yet to try a recipe yet – this will surely be on my list. Who knew a basic tomato sauce could be so viral in food blog world?

  17. Wow. Here is a recipe I am actually familiar with ! I love this style of sauce. My mom is definitely no cook, (though she is an excellent baker), and she makes her sauce this way.
    What a great idea for dinner tonight – I don’t really want to go to the market with a snow-storm coming, (the lines… the lines…)
    Cute monkey ;)

  18. Marci

    Butter is a really great addition to pasta sauce – I’ve been using it for years, but in a much more complicated recipe. Will have to try this one too!

  19. Jeannie

    Another recipe that I am going to make right away. Heidi Swanson at 101Cookbooks posted a similar one using San Marzano tomatoes last year I think. So I am going to try out this one, how could I not with all the quality endorsements and Treasure Island here in Chi-town carries San Marzano..woo hoo!

  20. Kat

    Instead of discarding my onion, I keep it around for breakfast the next morning. I make toast, drizzle balsamic vinegar on top, put some of the onion on (with leftover tomato sauce if I happen to have any, though I usually don’t!), and then put a poached egg on top of that. Yum.

  21. Jordan

    Ohhhhh, yum.
    I just made this- your post was that inspiring.
    And it is DELICIOUS. Magical. Buttery, tangy, simple, drool-worthy.

    Oh, and Maria? I pureed it with an immersion blender because I like smooth sauces and it worked out great- I don’t think you could go wrong with a little blending action.

  22. Anna H.

    This is one of my favorite Marcella Hazan recipes, and while it works beautifully with canned tomatoes, I have to say that it is just divine with fresh ones. You should definitely try it during the summer!

  23. Lauren

    I made a really yummy tomato sauce the other day with butter since I was out of olive oil, which is what I always use. I was shocked by how special it tasted! Always butter for me from now on!

  24. Wow, I am intrigued…
    I get fresh butter from a local dairy. When aged it develops a Parm flavor. Might have to give that a try. Also, it is my understanding that salt increases the shelf life of butter, so unsalted butters are generally fresher/tastier. Finally, glad of the suggestion to spread the onion over bread because tossing the onion might have killed my frugal heart! Thanks for another great share.

  25. Diana

    Silly question of the day you put the tomatoes and the liquid/juice in the can as well into the pan as well or JUST the tomatoes????

    1. deb

      Diana — Tomatoes and their liquid.

      Grimsaburger — It would be great for pizza, however my personal favorite pizza sauce is barely even a sauce, just pureed canned tomatoes I doctor up with a pressed clove of garlic, pinch of salt and red pepper flakes. It “cooks” in the oven!

  26. Amber

    My favorite part of reading your recipes these days is the picture of Jacob you always put at the end. You give me a visual dinner and dessert in one go!

  27. Rachel

    This reminds me of the Cooks Illustrated quick tomato sauce. I don’t remember the details, but you do grate onion and use butter– so the onion basically melts into the sauce. It was really yummy.

  28. did you try menemen? menemen is Turkish food :) yummy :)
    menemen’s simple recipe: green peppers+ tomatos+ eggs + olive oil and also if you are use + yellow onion! that’s that :)

  29. Rhonda

    Yes this looks so good and simple. I will hunt for the tomatoes tomorrow. I was wondering what you did with the onions but Kat seems to have a great idea. Why not have that along with the pasta?

  30. Be warned, the pictured San Marzano brand is not an authentic San Marzano tomato at all. The real ones from Italy are far better. Read the fine print on whatever you buy!

  31. Diane

    I have a pantry full of home-grown San Marzanos just waiting to be turned into something wonderful…I’ll go down to the basement and get an equally delicious home grown yellow onion….unfortunately (wait, maybe fortunately,) I will have to use butter from the store! This is the perfect recipe for lazy rainy days…like today! Thank you and your little monkey helper! (He is a doll)

  32. Incredible! The only pasta sauce I’ve ever made by hand was one that accompanied a penne a la vodka recipe, and it relied on lots of garlic, shallots, basil, heavy cream and various Italian spices to make it delicious. If a wonderful sauce is truly this simple and easy to put together, I can’t wait to try it! (I’m also a parmigiana obsessor. One day I will retire to the countryside and make giant slabs of cheese till the end of my days, oh yes!)

  33. Susan

    You know, I don’t know why I’ve never made the connection, but I’ve always put a junk of butter on stewed tomatoes and in tomato soup when I make them, but I’ve never thought to do it with tomato sauce. I’m sure that’s why I’ve never liked homemade tomato sauce; I don’t make it because it’s always so caustic! I’ve tried, hated it, then turned to..gulp..Prego as a pasta sauce! All because homemade wasn’t supple enough. Will give this a try.

  34. Diane

    Joephoo–you are so right. However the true San Marzano grown in the volcanic soil of Italy is hard to obtain here in my small rural town. San Marzanos grown elsewhere do not have that same divine taste, but they are excellent sauce tomatoes because they are so meaty and the taste is still wonderful.

  35. Kelli

    This sounds amazing! I will use some of my home canned tomatoes, which have the BEST flavor on their own, so I can only imagine how tasty they’ll be in this sauce!
    Out of curiosity, what are San Marzano tomatoes? Is it a brand or a variety of tomato? If it’s a variety, are they only from a certain region? I’ve never seen them here, but in Montana we don’t have a lot of variety in our grocery stores. :)

  36. Stefanie

    Seriously? Canned tomatoes, butter and an onion? I’m definitely intrigued. I can’t say I’ve ever made a tomato based pasta sauce that does not have garlic in it. This one I’m going to have to try!

    Thanks Deb!

  37. Elissa

    This is my family’s go to sauce – and really the main reason that tomatoes are planted every year! I’m glad it’s made an appearance on your site :)

  38. Laura

    This is one my favourite sauces. I puree the cooked onion with a few of the tomatoes to give it a beautiful rich, creamy texture. It is absolutely divine.

  39. MmM! As soon as I saw this I just had to make it. I added two whole garlic cloves and some shredded basil leaves for garnish. Because I’m gluten-free I served it over spaghetti squash. It was delicious <3 Thank you for posting! It looks like I might be changing my staple.. the butter is a revelation.

  40. Okay, you’ve convinced me, I am finally going to try this recipe. I’ve got a can of those same San Marzano tomatoes setting in my cabinet right now. But I’ll have to make a special trip to find those long, curly noodles. Can’t wait to try this!

  41. Amy

    I recently read a novel in which one of the characters makes this exact recipe and have been thinking about trying it ever since. I think I will have to go ahead with it now that I have the proportions. Thanks!

  42. I think my teenage monkeys and the big ape I let sleep with me will all dig this the most. Telephone cord pasta! How quaint and anacronistic! It might as well be buttonhook pasta, lampblack pasta, telegram pasta. (marconi macaroni?) Marcella RULES.

  43. I just clicked onto SK and now I have said pasta sauce simmering on the stove less than five minutes later. San Marzano tomatoes are a staple ’round here! I love their fresh sunshine-y taste so much that I use them for anything requiring tomatoes (pretty much). I can’t wait to try it.

    1. deb

      Sonja — I bought them at Whole Foods but I see them at other stores too. Mostly I’m impressed by how unbattered they look when they come out of the can.

  44. Amy

    Wait–you just throw three ingredients in a pan and let it cook? For real? I can’t wait to try it. My husband likes his sauce chunk-free and I like more texture, so I’ll probably try it with diced tomatoes as a compromise.

  45. Steve

    I almost bought those tomatoes yesterday, but I read the fine print, and it says “Made in the USA” near the bottom. I think Cento has a special snipe on their labels for the ones that are authentic. They are hard to find though.

  46. I’ve seen this recipe everywhere lately, but you just convinced me to try it. Your pictures are always so delicious! Oh boy, it’s midnight and now I want spaghetti!

  47. Beth

    Deb, you are amazing. I am relatively new to the blog after having a homemade oreo at a new years eve party, and since then, I have tried to look at every entry. Your photography is stunning. Keep up the good work!

  48. Amanda -_-*

    I sit here looking at the remainder of my spaghetti that I was already unimpressed with and wonder… why didn’t I get online BEFORE I made dinner?

    On a different note, does anyone know of any canned tomatoes that don’t have citric acid added to them? One of my sons has a citrus allergy, and our last experience with canned tomatoes (when I had a pregnant moment and forgot he couldn’t have them) was somewhat less than wonderful.

  49. Will

    I just cooked this using a 102 oz can of peeled tomatoes I just happened to have from Sam’s Club. 2 LARGE onions were plenty enough for that amount. I added 2 cloves of fresh garlic and some black pepper, because that’s how I roll.

    This is my new go-to recipe for tomato sauce – simple, wholesome, REAL ingredients. I love it because it tastes like tomatoes and isn’t overwhelmed by all the other things that are usually in tomato sauce. I feel like I’m back in Italy! Smitten Kitchen saves the day again!

  50. cybercita

    i just came home with four cans of cherry tomatoes from buon italia at chelsea market and i think i’ll try this. {those canned cherry tomatoes are unbelievable, by the way. they’re near the front entrance. i highly recommend them.}

  51. Austin

    Do you drain the tomatoes from the can first or keep that in the sauce? If drained is the tomato weighed or do you just go by the can then drain.

    1. deb

      Austin — Both tomatoes and juices.

      Pasta brand — I’m sorry, I do not remember. Italian, maybe imported, very tasty, also from Whole Foods. That paper box was covered with clear plastic.

  52. Lauren C

    My Italian-descent mother always put a half or whole onion in her tomato sauce, along with a batch of meatballs… but rather than discard it before serving, she would save the soft, sweet, tomatoey onion for my brothers and I to fight over!

  53. eli

    EEE! what a co-inky-dink! i am cooking this as we speak (type)! such a perfectly wonderful sauce… truly a celebration of simplicity. there is a time and place for things like sausage, capers, oregano, and the like… this is not one of them.

    i cooked something off this blog recently, and it was spectacular. my wine brain can’t remember it now, though. dar! pity. regardless, like i said, it was spectacular… and that’s all that matters, right?

  54. cheril

    I have also read several blogs featuring this recipe. Last night I decided to modify my own simple sauce– EVOO, garlic, crushed red pepper and basil– and add magical butter at the end. Wow wee!! That’s good. I am on a fire roasted tomato kick so I used a can of Muir’s. I can’t wait until tomorrow night for the leftovers.

    Your little monkey is growing so fast. Thanks for sharing your photos.

  55. all i can say is: THANK YOU. my friends have thought for years that i am a total weirdo, because my mother taught us to put a lovely little pad of butter on top of our spaghetti sauce before digging in. it is perfection. i must make this!

  56. coco

    This winter I have found that a knob of butter in the pan before a can of tomatoes makes ALL the difference between a “meh” sauce and something that feels like a REAL dinner.

  57. Melissa

    I made this tonight for dinner and I LOVED it. I added a little salt to the sauce and a little butter to the cooked noodles as well. I also ate some of the onion with a little sauce spooned on to it. Odd for me to have a sauce with no garlic, but it was divine. Can’t wait to share it with my Italian mother.

  58. Deb – I made this exact sauce years ago, maybe 5 or so. Know where I got the recipe? A Nicholas Sparks novel – True Believer. I was shocked to see that you had it posted. And yes, San Marzano makes all the difference!

  59. Nan

    Sounds way too good to be true…but I’ll put aside my diet and give it a try. I’m reminded of what Julia Child said, “If you’re afraid of butter, use cream.” And if this sauce had both butter AND cream then I might be a believer. But I’ll make it just like you said…can’t wait! PS – Love the little monkey!

  60. This is the sauce that converted my formerly red sauce phobic six year old. (Previously she only ate green sauce, aka homemade pesto, on her pasta.) Please, please don’t discard the sweet, soft, cooked onion deliciousness. We love to nibble it on the side. You can also skip the pasta entirely and call it tomato soup. Try it in the summer with 2 pounds of fresh San Marzanos in place of the canned ones for a true tomato treat.

  61. When I was in college I dated a guy whose grandma made sauce that looked JUST like this. She was born in Sicily and her recipe was, apparently, an old family recipe. Shortly after we broke up I tried to get the recipe out of his family and they wouldn’t give it up (imagine that). I’ve been trying to replicate it ever since but it never occurred to me to use BUTTER instead of OLIVE OIL! So sorry for yelling, but this is the jackpot! I believe my 13-year search for this sauce has finally ended. Thank you thank you thank you!

  62. Carla Hinkle

    This is my go to tomato sauce. I love, love, love it. I use a pastry cutter to mash up the tomatoes as it is cooking. It really has no equal! (And PS, I have used many, many brands of tomatoes and it always turns out great.)

  63. Bearfoot

    I have always “Dressed up” my ragu with pretty much the same stuff. I haven’t tired butter yet though. I will say this though.. that looks MIGHTY tasty..

  64. Katie K.

    I’ve been cooking this recipe for years, but I always use a 28 oz. can of Muir Glen Chopped Tomatoes, a stick of butter, a pinch of salt and 2 onions cut in half. The onions taste great. Please don’t discard them; eat them with the pasta.

  65. MapleLeafMeg

    I have all these things, YAY!! I’m making it tomorrow. (All things pasta have a special place in my heart)

    I’ve been reading your blog since last spring and you quickly became my go to blog for interesting new recipes. My friends are still raving about the pear bread.

  66. Sasa

    Marcella’s Tomato sauce number 3! It’s the first savoury thing I learneed to make properly. It’s nice if you put all the tomatoes through a mouli into the pan at the beginning too – even silkier.

  67. Carli

    I had been craving something all evening long, but I didn’t know what exactly… And then I saw this at precisely midnight. I started on it right away, though I was incredibly skeptical. Thank you, thank you. I know it’s bad to eat right before bed, but I have a feeling I’ll be sleeping much sounder tonight than I have these past few nights.

  68. Denise

    Butter: check. Onion exactly half: check. Tomatoes… Beefsteak ok? Someone mentioned blanching then peeling and another mentioned dicing. I think I will try both and have this for lunch tomorrow. Over wheat noodles to compromise for the butter! I have been craving a very simple pasta dish and this is the ticket. Ingenious.

  69. Gosh, I am in such good company at the top of this page, all
    brought together by the wonderful Marcella Hazan. Your instructions and advice
    are impeccable as usual.
    I make this last Thursday to go with wonky potato gnocchi – delicious.

  70. Stuart

    I will try this right away, but I have to agree with joephoo, who questioned the pictured can of tomatoes, though I believed they were imported, they were salty. Go for a real Italian brand, even if they cost a little more. They’ll have less salt and the tomatoes will ‘transport’ you to Rome with less effort. Also, the technique of using the onion for flavor, but removing it, should have wider application. I do something similar to this in which you first soften a roughly chopped onion in oil, then remove it, then add tomatoes to the oil, which imparts the most delicate onion flavor and is easy on the stomach.

  71. linda

    this recipe seems like a little treasure… that little monkey’s smile melts your heart!

    your blog istruly interesting & your approach to each post so thoughtful…you give us wonderful recipes from simple to sublime w/great”notes”…truly helpful.
    p.s.: cookbook plans? cooking classes by sk in the future for us east coasters?

  72. jt

    This looks wonderful. It is a sauce version of Martha Stewart’s tomato soup. i’ve done her soup with all olive oil, 1/2 olive oil 1/2 butter and all butter. The butter is what makes it! Thanks! if you haven’t tried her soup, can’t remember the name, but I think it is literally 4 ingredients:this sauce recipe + chicken broth.

  73. Nancy

    I too have been making this quick, easy sauce for years. Because the flavor of the sauce is simple and not complicated with meat and a lot of herbs, and because the consistency is fairly thin and not chunky, it is perfect on homemade ravioli where you want the pasta to really shine. What’s NOT to love?! Confession: I do sometimes add a clove of garlic.

    Also, for Joshua — salt is not only added to butter as a flavoring, it’s a preservative. If you look at the pull dates on boxes of butter you’ll see that salted butter has a much longer shelf life than unsalted. It makes sense really — our fore fathers salted lots of stuff to make them last through long winters.

  74. Robin Packer

    Ahhhh, this sauce is perfect with homemade ravioli or any other stuffed pasta. I have gotten into some of the more complex recipes lately (vodka, bolognese, good think marinara). The sauce isn’t over bearing with the delicate pasta and all the flavors shine through!! Thanks for the reminder – this will be on our family’s menu this week, or maybe for a very special dinner party I am doing for some missionary friends in Feb… Thanks again!

  75. Mary

    don’t know if someone has already mentioned this but this sauce freezes beautifully too. I make it in the summer with garden fresh tomatoes. I love what Hazan says about the sauce in her recipe ” I have known people to skip the pasta and eat the sauce directly out of the pot with a spoon”

  76. My grandmother has always done tomato sauce this way! She sometimes uses half butter- half olive oil for ‘health’ reasons (that’s her personal take on health, bit given that she is 83, she must be right :)). She would sometimes chop the onion and sautee it in butter, if she is after a chunkier sauce.
    About the right type of tomatoes: you can use also ‘passata’, if you like your tomato sauce very smooth, but don’t use a blender, or it will have too runny a consistency to be authentic. With fresh tomatoes, I find that the result is even better if they are very ripe: first you blanch them in boiling water for a minute, then you peel them, then you roughly chop them, and then you make the sauce as you would with canned tomatoes.

  77. Wow… couldn’t be any easier, could it? The only sauce I’ve been making (for years!) is also very easy, with just a few more ingredients. San Marzano tomatoes (thank you Costco for the giant can that’s cheap), along with a carrot and celery. They add a touch of sweetness to the sauce.

  78. I made this sauce several times and played around with herbs and hot peppers. If there is any left over sauce, it can also be used as a base for vegetable soup.

  79. Frannie

    I have loved a recipe from one of my food magazines that has you grate the onion and cook it in 2 T of butter until it is golden, then add the tomatoes. With 5 T of butter I am guessing this is even more wonderful. Can’t wait to try tonight!

  80. A Canadian in Deutschland

    My boyfriend has a strange love affair with spaghetti and ketchup (I just don’t get it) as comfort food. On days like today where he requested comfort food, I’m always left wondering what to eat – if this sauce tastes as good as it smells (it is simmering as I type) it is my resolution!
    Danke schön!

  81. this is one of those recipes that i’ve (also) read on every blog, always make a mental note of it, but have never actually made it. maybe this will give me the kick i needed – thank you.

  82. I made totally lame tomato sauce last week — even sadder because it was meant to accompany my beautiful & delectable meatballs. It’s pathetic that I can make a perfect meatball but not even a halfway-decent sauce. I told myself I needed to find a good (but simple) sauce recipe and here you have it. I will try this today. If this is as good as it sounds, I will be indebted to you *forever*.

  83. Tricia

    This is my go-to babysitter’s-coming dinner. But I often wonder why the babysitter gets the good stuff. This is a fantastic sauce.

  84. Wow…I cannot believe how easy this looks. My husband is the designated pasta sauce maker in our house. I have never been able to make a batch that is as good as his. So I’ll have to try this out to see if I can improve.

  85. chavi

    Just served my hubby and kids this pasta and tomato sauce for dinner – when I told them it was made from only three ingredients, their mouths fell open. So easy and sooo delicious! Will definitely be making this again.

  86. I’ve been making this sauce for a long time, I do feel guilty because of the amount of butter, but no other sauce has the same “mouth feel’, and as far as simplicity goes, this wins the first prize too

    I even use it to top my pizza every once in a while…

  87. E

    You should never puree tomatoes in a blender. the metal blades alter the natural sweetness of the tomato. Don’t even break the tomatoes while the sauce is simmering, the seeds can make your sauce bitter. In the last 5 minutes of cooking, break the tomatoes up on the side of the pot w a wooden spoon. They will be cooked and softened. The more energy you put into “smashing” then, the smoother your sauce will be.


  88. Marci E

    Since one of my favorite treats is baguette bread smeared with cold butter, then dipped in simmering tomato sauce, this recipe looks like my nirvana.

  89. Erin

    Magical! In my family, we refer to this as “Granny Spaghetti”. This has been my family’s go to comfort food from the time my mom was a little girl and her mom, Granny (who was Irish and born in Dublin, not one bit Italian) made this for her. I’m not sure how far back it goes, but our original verson is identical. We lightly crush the San Marzanos in our hands when they go into the pot. Now, my sisters and I also add 2 cloves of garlic in with the butter, onion and tomato. And it’s important to really use enough salt. It is pure freakin’ heaven! I love the simple purity of this so I don’t add cheese, but once in a while I do add red pepper flakes. Oh my gosh, drool is coming out of my mouth now….

  90. My latest, favorite winter tomato discovery is oven dried tomatoes – delicious! And now I get to try a sauce that I hope can replace all my over priced jarred sauces – I grabbed some San Marzano’s at the store after reading this yesterday and plan to make the sauce to go with meatballs – will report back. (:

  91. laurie

    Not quite as fancy, but my husband’s favorite sauce is Hunt’s tomato sauce and butter. I read somewhere that this is a variation of so-called “Jewish spaghetti.”

  92. Rachel R

    On the salted butter subject, and along the same lines as Stephanie’s answer: I’ve also read that salted butter can be lower quality – the salt masks the poorer taste – while unsalted butter HAS to be better quality since the manufacturers can’t mask the flavor. I don’t know if it’s true, but hearing it convinced me to buy unsalted butter thereafter. As others have said, you can then salt the recipe to your tastes.

  93. Laura

    My boyfriend and I made this last night and it turned out marvelously! We used diced tomatoes, so the consistency was a little weird. So we just put it through the blender, for a nice smooth texture. We also added some browned ground beef after the sauce was done and let that simmer while the pasta cooked. What a lovely dinner (and lunch for the week!)

  94. Janet

    Funny you posted this, I’ve been pondering tomato sauce ever since I saw that cream cheese ad where the guy adds a lump to what looks like tomato sauce. Makes me go “Ewww. Really?” every single time. This, however, looks fabu. Can’t wait to try!

  95. Liz

    I have been using a version of this sauce exclusively for at least a year. I dice the onions and sweat them in the butter, and at the end I puree everything. I love the simplicity of it!

  96. Julia B.

    The thing I love about this sauce is that if you have picky friends who are anti-onion chunks, it gives the flavor without the pieces. (And I cook for many of those people). I like beefing it up with some basil, thyme, and a dash of sweetener (carrot grating or honey) to make marinara. You’ll never make anything simpler! I love it!

  97. Hi Deb,

    I typically love the chunky style tomato sauces, although I’m definitely prone to the “trying to squeeze too much in” conundrum. I’ll be making my soup, merrily adding onions, carrots, celery, mushrooms, eggplant, broccoli, celery, herbs, etc, and then I’ll realize I’ve made a ratatouille and not a sauce!

    Keeping it simple is a challenge for this over-acheiver, but this recipe looks simply divine :)


  98. I’ve been making a version of this sauce for a bit; I do sweat the onions and leave them in but still a VERY simple sauce. And, of all the sauces, over all the years..the one my 26 year old will insist I make if she is coming over for dinner.

    It might sound plain…but come on, butter makes it anything but!

  99. Wendy

    Thanks for the recipe. I’m totally making this right now for lunch. Was planning to have spaghetti anyway, but didn’t have jarred sauce, but had a can of whole peeled tomatoes. I have the rest of the ingredients too – so this is perfect!

  100. Ren

    Perfecto!! I just made this and even though I had diced tomatoes and not whole, it was still so tasty especially with loads of reggiano! Pefect for the pregnant woman cravings of pasta and sauce! I would never have thought that such a simple recipe could be so tasty!

  101. Leah

    Made this….LOVE this! It went against every fiber in my being to not include garlic, but I resited, and I’m so glad I did. What a gorgeous flavor…I think garlic would mess it all up. Thanks for sharing this one :)

  102. latenac

    I’m surprised I have actually made something before you. I love this sauce. I love it with pasta but I must admit it’s even better with potato gnocchi. Even better if you put it in a baking pan with gnocchi and grate parmesean all of it and bake in a 425 oven for 10 minutes until sauce is bubbling.

  103. tinarina

    This is one of my favorite Marcella recipes. I sometimes put it through a food mill at the end, which makes it even more concentrated–but it makes less sauce.

  104. nancy

    This sauce is perfection. I needed to make a second batch (with diced tomatoes) to make sure we have enough for dinner – we dipped cheese bread or parmesan chicken in this gorgeous sauce for a snack after sledding today.

  105. VCW

    My mom’s been making this for years since we were children. If you don’t have tomatoes at home, ketchup works just as well, sometimes even better depending on your mood that day.

  106. amy

    of course you would have to post this TODAY, and not, say, Saturday–when just yesterday I had two foodies over for dinner, and was assigned to make tomato sauce, which I had never in my life attempted before. sigh. better late than never, right? my attempt was okay, but not WOW. can’t wait to try this one.

  107. Krysten

    Ah Marcela — this is one of my favorites. I also really like her chopped vegetable sauce (so easy, freezes beautifully) that is at the beginning of her chapter on pasta sauces — there are two versions equally good — but I like the one with marjoram.

  108. Michelle

    this looks fabulous and the perfect thing to throw together after a long day of classes. my stomach (and my boyfriend) thank you :)

  109. Ok, after eating it, I must admit it is very good. But what’s exciting is that I think I know the secret to my favorite Indian restaurant’s chicken tikka masala! Butter! I’m sure of it now! Their sauce is always ultra creamy, yet more cream never makes it quite right. I can’t wait to experiment with butter! Thanks :)

  110. Dana

    Excellent – Family loved. Served as a side dish with Spicy NE Clam Chowder. Can’t wait to start experimenting with with other addins and throw aways… You made my day.

  111. Dana

    Also – had some large flakes of shaved parmesan left over so I put into the sauce until soft and ate those… another new treat….

  112. manuela

    beautiful recipe!
    As for your wish to live in Rome, you surely know that there are many Italians that would like to trade places with you and live in NYC–at least for a while.It is the human condition to always wish for what we don’t have. I was born and raised in Italy and now I live in the US–which I love :)

  113. Geri

    I saw this and wondered how it could be so fabulous. Then I saw where it had been adapted from, and it all made sense. Marcella’s Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking is the most used cookbook in my house, and my Parents’ house as well.
    Looks like I’ll have to give this one a try!

    1. deb

      Those who wish to make this sauce with fresh tomatoes — I just found an original version of the recipe online, where Marcella Hazan includes directions for preparing “canned” tomatoes for fresh. [Link]

  114. Shauna

    Deb: Thanks for the info about the fridge storage! I’ll see tomorrow how the leftovers turn out. If they’re half as good as the original batch, I’m going to have one awesome lunch at the office! :) I did tinker with the recipe slightly by adding in some shredded rotisserie chicken (at the kids’ request) and sauteed up some zucchini with olive oil, salt and pepper. The husband said that the salty/peppery zucchini was a perfect addition to the sauce, which he described as “being on an awesome saucy roller coaster”. Win!!

  115. Maria

    Magical is right! We love this sauce – it’s so delicious and low effort – you don’t even dice the tomato. Marcella is a genius, and therefore so are you for sharing the magic….

  116. Michelle

    Thank you for the fantastic smell that’s coming from my previously lonely kitchen!…this recipe looked so simple I couldn’t resist trying it…and I have the black bean soup cooking away in my slow cooker…simply wonderful!

  117. arabella

    Isn’t it amazing? Somehow I came by this recipe a few years ago (not through the internet! gasp!) and I make it all the time. It is just SO so so so good. I make a pile in the summer with fresh tomatoes, freeze and have it in the fridge at all times. Just in case there is a tomato sauce emergency….. :)

  118. A.A.

    Soooooooo…I’m a major blog stalker that NEVER comments. Until now. Made this sauce tonight with Hunts diced tomatoes, salted butter, the onion, and stale speghetti. Wonderful. Just wonderful.

  119. Circle F

    I can’t wait to try this… thank you so much …… one of my favorite dishes is to cook elbow macaroni and then add crushed tomatoes, tomato sauce, butter, salt, pepper and a good bit of sugar… then simmer it for a while … the pasta drinks in the sauce and it is wonderful.

  120. Ilana

    My 6 year old who claims not to like onions and takes out of a dish any resemblance of them, kept asking for more helpings of a spaghetti with this sauce. I made it with tomato paste and water instead of whole tomatoes because chunks in the sauce is another issue my kids have. And no need to discard the onion, because onion cooked in tomato sauce is delish with rice or even just on bread as my husband proved yesterday. And so easy! Almost no hands on!

    I unintentionally browned the butter first, I wonder if it made a difference.
    My favorite tomato sauce so far. Thank you!

  121. Hannah

    I LOVE butter!!! As the French say, “The secret to a wonderful life & delicious food is…BUTTER!!!” Thanks, Deb for this delicious, insanely simple recipe. I’ll be making it as soon as I can =) I’ve been lurking around your blog for ages, ever since I tried making your cinnamon rolls. They won me over and I became an avid supporter but haven’t posted until now.
    I was just wondering if I could use a red onion, instead of a yellow onion?

  122. Diana

    Made this tonight. Being half-Italian, I never thought I’d meet a tomato sauce I didn’t like. Well, this is it. Bland, watery (despite an extra half an hour on the stove in hopes it would “thicken up”, and pasty. Might as well have put ketchup on my noodles and called it a night.

    The “discarded” onions, however, were absolutely delicious. We ate them instead of the pasta.

  123. sandra

    made this sauce umpteen times… and the quality of canned tomatoes makes a huge difference. There’s also another recipe in Hazan’s book that calls for minced carrots, onion and celery which I also make for the kids when I feel that they’re lacking in the green stuff. The addition of veg makes a brighter-tasting sauce but this sauce is the perfect tomato sauce – mellow and sweet. As many others have said, it’s wonderful over ravioli and other stuffed pastas. never fails to be a hit with everyone – even tomato-sauce-hating-kids.

    i freeze batches of it and sometimes use it as a base for other sauces.

  124. Kitty

    I made this for dinner last night with linguine, and it was a really good base. I’m British, so had to slightly ad lib with the ingredients, using canned whole plum tomatoes, and added a splash of red wine vinegar as I thought it was a tiny little bit too sweet.

    I served it with roasted yellow and red peppers, and crispy bacon bits, as the other half tends not to eat a meal without any kind of meat in it :) It didn’t need any cheese at all, which made me feel better after putting in so much butter!

  125. chisai

    This has been my go-to tomato sauce since forever since Hazan’s first Classic Italian Cooking book came out. It is ridiculously simple and ridiculously delicious. I usually triple the recipe and freeze. The tomatoes, at the end of cooking are fabulous. I usually just take them out of the pot and eat them. They’re the cook’s treat.

  126. Although I’ve been reading blogs for awhile, I don’t remember any of those bloggers writing about it. That part of my memory must have been erased, what other explanation would there be for me NOT remembering this sauce. I need to try this ASAP.

  127. Karen

    I am so excited to make this sauce. I have multiple food allergies and intolerances, and have recently developed an intolerance to garlic, of all things. Most canned sauces call for garlic, and most other recipes have so many steps it’s hard to fit it into the routine while making lasagna, or other dishes…if this works out i’ll have a new go-to sauce that is just as easy as popping open a can–and which doesn’t trigger my allergies! Yay!

  128. Rachel

    wow, this looks very interesting! I never would think of butter and tomatoes together…got to try this. Maybe just a smidge of roasted garlic…

  129. Jen

    I’m a recent convert to your basic, awesome tomato sauce as it is seriously so basic and awesome, but this sounds incredible. I can’t wait to try it!

  130. I’ve always used butter in my tomato sauce, but the onion trick is new to me. What a perfect solution for the picky eaters in my house – all the flavor, but no little chunks!

  131. Becky

    I made this for dinner last night, and I used the leftovers to make your Eggs in Tomato Sauce for breakfast this morning. I’m so glad I doubled the recipe!

  132. Amy

    Perhaps all the raves about this sauce set my expectations too high.
    Certainly, for the small number of ingredients, the amount of work required, and the overall cost, it was delicious– albeit a little watery.
    If you’re used to making traditional Italian red sauce that sits all day long on the stovetop with garlic, onions, basil, etc. this is completely different.
    I suspect I’ll make this sauce again on a rainy day when I’m short on ingredients.

  133. Butter has been my mom’s secret ingredient in her tomato sauce for longer than I’ve been alive. Her method is slightly different (dice the onion finely and saute in butter with some garlic, simmer for longer and add the bulk of the butter at the end), but the same result – people go absolutely nuts for it!

  134. MmeMcM

    My mother started making this years’ ago. (Also try Marcella’s sausage and cream sauce…Oh. My. Goodness.) This is comfort food at its best, and now my own children love it too.

  135. Summer

    This is so serendipitous… I have been reading True Believer by Nicholas Sparks (not so good book) and this EXACT recipe was talked about in the book and I wondered how could something so simple be so good. I am going to have to try it now! Thanks! :)

  136. jp

    salt is a preservative – unsalted butter is fresher all things being equal. Additionally, you can control the salt in your dish better.

  137. This reminds me of the sauce my grandmother used to make… just kidding, I’ve never had anything but jarred! But this recipe looks easy enough and yummy enough that I just might try it!
    Could you use this as pizza sauce, too? If not, does anyone know what you would add to make it into pizza sauce? The whole pasta/pizza thing confuses me.

  138. Sara

    I assume from the photo that you don’t drain the tomatoes, you just dump the whole can into the pot, right?
    This looks very good. I’m hoping I can find that pasta aroun here, super fun!

  139. We had this sauce over spaghetti last night and loved it. James Beard has a very similar recipe in Beard on Pasta (Light Tomato Sauce). He chops the onion and adds a tsp. of dried basil and only adds 4 Tbl butter to 28 ounces of canned tomato.

  140. tanner

    Had this Sunday night over fettucine, and it was marvelous. It sort of gave me a high-brow spagettios flashback, in a very good way.

  141. Diana

    Laura @261, how is that the same sauce? Because it also has tomatoes in it? You’re talking about something with HEAPS more spices and aromatics in it.

    I’m clearly one of the lone voices of dissent here. I’ll stick to my usual long-simmering sauce, or if you wants a quick fix, I recommend the one in Mark Bittman’s book. This sauce is WAY too bland. Butter or olive oil, doesn’t matter.

  142. Rauchelle

    Thank you, thank you, thank you! My two year old, son who’s favorite saying right now is “I don’t like that” before he tries anything, ATE THIS!!! I made it last night and have now added it to my favorite recipes list.
    Any other recipes for 2 year olds?

  143. latenac

    I don’t think this recipe would replace a regular tomato sauce with herbs, etc. I’m not sure the comparison is fair. It’s a tomato sauce that has it’s uses and it’s very good and simple. The onion adds a nice savory flavor and the butter makes it unctuous. But if I’m making just regular old spaghetti and meatballs or pasta with a tomato sausage sauce or lasagna, I’m going to go a different route with the tomato sauce.

  144. I made this last night and it was so damn good. My husband and I were all sorts of quiet eating it. I used a couple of shallots because we were out of everything in out house and egg noodles. Thanks for the post.

  145. Kat

    I just read a recipe exactly like this in a magazine that advertised it as the pasta sauce for non-cooks. When I saw that it was butter, an onion, and a can of tomatoes, I pffft-ed and promptly flipped the page, because I AM a cook. But now that the Smitten Kitchen has approved, I just might have to try it! And next time, maybe I’ll take myself a little less seriously. Thanks, Deb! And the baby is ADORABLE.

  146. Terri

    I had my 11 year old son make this last night. It was good but not great. Great to keep the ingredients on hand though to make on those nights when it seems there is nothing to make!

    It is a good recipe for kids to make and feel accomplished!

  147. I am mildly freaking out because I see your “One Year Ago” recipe was Nigella’s Clementine Cake which I read about last night (before reading your blog this AM). Why is it that recipes come to us and basically continue to pop up all over until we are forced to make them? We had pasta last night, but this is a perfect recipe for later this week…

  148. I love recipes like this–turning such a short list of ingredients into something so delicious seems almost like alchemy.

    Thanks for posting this. I have been living under a rock and hadn’t seen any of the previous takes on it so I’m really glad to find out about it now!

  149. Joe

    To answer Joshua’s ? (post # 11) about why use unsalted butter:

    In French cuisine it is typical to add unsalted butter to a sauce in order to achieve a velvety texture. This recipe calls for 5T, had it been salted the sauce would be dominated by salt, in turn, drowning out the intricacies of the mellow onion and tomato flavor.


  150. Lauren K

    So good that it’s inspired me to comment for the first time. I ate the entire pot in one day. Next time, I’m doubling the recipe.

  151. sebastian

    it might be possible that i did something wrong, but in all honestly it didn’t live up to the expectations i had of it.
    it tasted pretty much exactly like what my grandmother does – sliced onions, tomatoes and a bit of olive oil cooked till everything is soft. it’s okay, but i’m not crazy for it.

    maybe it’s better when i add the cold butter at the end so it still has that delicious buttery taste. or maybe half cold and half browned butter… maybe tomorrow!

  152. The simple things are best–not that cooking something with such dexterity is so simple! But the ingredients are terrific, fresh, and straightfoward. Of course, it’s definitely all about the butter. Which is a beverage. Most days.

  153. I saw this and started screaming at my boyfriend. In our home this sauce is made with a whole stick of butter and occasionally another onion. It was the first thing I learned to cook from memory, taught to me by my mom, herself a devotee of Marcela Hazan. We make it quite frequently, often to go alongside roasted chicken legs, and have never had anyone not love it. Amazing stuff!

  154. Jean Marie

    Deb to the rescue again! I was just wondering what we were going to have for dinner tonight and here it is. All ingredients are in the pantry and anything with butter in it has to be good. I think we’ll try spreading the onion on some crusty bread too.

  155. Alyson

    I LOVE this sauce. I was taught how to make this sauce while I was living in Rome. I add a few whole garlic cloves along with the onion. Amazing flavor. Thanks for posting!

  156. This is my favorite tomato sauce ever. Have been making it exclusively for the past year, I’m afraid it may have ruined other tomato sauces for me. It’s definitely the butter that makes it and I have to confess I’ve been known to sometimes add more than the 5 tablespoons.

  157. Karen

    holy cow! I made this last night. I was not a believer, really, how could something SO simple taste SO good. I even told the husband that it was something he could make! We poured it over Ziti, layered with fresh mozzarella and wow. that’s all we had to say, wow.

  158. AmyB

    I want to make this this weekend for my boyfriend, so I walked over to the Italian Import store (here in Victoria BC) during my lunch today, but all they had were San Marzano whole peeled tomatoes with Basil. Should I use these, or opt for some regular brand peeled tomatoes? I can get organic canned tomatoes at my grocery store…

    1. deb

      AmyB — I’d go for a regular brand so not to cloud the flavor with the basil, which won’t even taste fresh. (As it would if you felt like adding it later.)

  159. For a long time, I have been on a quest to find a great tomato sauce. It sounds as though I may have just hit the jackpot! I, too, am a Parmesan cheese junkie, so I was interested to hear you say that you liked it more without the cheese (blasphemy, I tell you). Love the photo of the dried pasta noodles.

  160. Carol

    LOVE this sauce! Made it twice! Day one as an ab fab pasta sauce and day two as an ab fab soup. For the soup I started with the same ingreds and then added a little dry vermouth and tarragon and blended with the immersion blender.

    Note although both versions were ab fab, nether were good for the abs :(

  161. Karen

    Oh, this was amazingly good! What I found was that I did have to use my hand-held stick blender to coax the sauce into a more regular consistency, but it was well worth the teensy bit of extra effort.

  162. Oh how I miss this long Fusilli. I always bought this instead of regular spaghetti noddles while I lived in Jersey but have never been able to find it since. I will definitely try this sauce soon. It sounds so simple and delicious.

  163. This is my “go to” recipe…I cook this Marcella Hazan recipe at least once every a few weeks. And, I do use whatever type of tomatoes I happen to have. It’s all great!

  164. Monica

    I just made this sauce last night, and even with hum drum tomatoes it was very good. I simmered it a little longer and used a potato masher to get it the constancy I wanted. Very good, was a hit with myself, my husband, and kids (ages 2 and 11mo). The next day I used it for sauce on pizza dough and it was fantastic for that as well!! Recipes like this are pure gold, thank you so much.

  165. I got really excited when I read this and made it straight away – it intrigued me as I am on a low budget. I even restrained myself from my instinct of putting garlic in everything, and spices and herbs.I wanted to trust the recipe. However I was quite disappointed – it had a nice taste but really was just tomato. Why did I think it would be more than the sum of its parts? The left over onions were delicious however. Next time I’ll go back to my usual sauces full of fresh vegies and garlic and spices and herbs and flavour!

  166. MapleLeafMeg

    Made it, liked it, didn’t love it.
    I found it bland but I may try using it as a base for my regular pasta sauce.

    For those who found it too watery – are you simmering it too low? I found it too watery after simmering it for 45 minutes. I turned it up slightly and 10 minutes later it was perfect.

  167. I made this tonight as an easy dinner-for-one while my boyfriend is out of town. Perfect! A fun, yummy change from the usual olive oil sauce. I agree that the richness of the sauce doesn’t want parmesan. I was tempted by a jar of “passata” – Italian strained tomatoes – at Zabar’s when I picked up the San Marzanos. I have never seen it sold in the US before. My boyfriend’s mom uses it a lot for her red sauces. The end result looked a lot like the passata in the bottle. Have you ever tried it? Do you think it would substitute in this recipe?

  168. Ended up fixing tonight sans meatballs (see comment 179) and it was great. My husband and I cut up some of the cooked onion and ate it alongside the pasta. We must not be Italian purists because we tend to douse our pasta in sauce and used the entire recipe on half a pound of pasta. Nice introduction to a simple home made sauce.

  169. Susan

    Okay, this recipe finally got to me so I had to make it. It’s good! Mine was nice and thick, was it the San Marzano tomatoes? It’s a great simple little tomato sauce that can be used to make a more complex pasta sauce, just like you would use a canned tomato sauce. It’s good on it’s own, too, because the onion does give it a nice flavor. I liked the butter in it, I but I probably won’t use as much the next time I make it as it was a little too buttery flavored for my taste. I’m going to jazz it up with some herbs and meat to use in the lasgna I’m making tonight. Thanks, Deb!

  170. griffen

    Made this for dinner last night. Brilliant. My husband isn’t big on pasta sauce sans meat, but he loved it. So tangy and fresh, just perfect really. Thank you.

  171. I have come across your blog in recipe searches so many times (especially through foodgawker), and only just found out that you’re a GW alumni as well!

  172. shelley

    This is the sauce I have been looking for for half my life, at least. Ever since the first time I had noodles with tomato sauce at this little italian (really italian for the first time in my life after being raised on ragu somehow) restaurant.
    I forced a boyfriend (didn’t last long since he had to be forced) to go eat italian food in NYC with me so that I could again experience the best sauce ever. I knew it was simple, but years of searching somehow availed me nothing. My next best version had what I knew was waaaaay too many ingredients.
    I thank you from the bottom of my heart.

    And will never forget this recipe.

    I am so glad I took up running – now I can eat more of this!

  173. You are such a bad influence on me… here I was last night, nearly 9pm, sated from dinner and then this… I had to make it… and lo and behold… we had it for lunch today with ‘pasgetti…. and it was wonderful… then my friend who used to live in italy and portugal for a while told me that many italiens us butter, not olive oil… go figure… any’ho.. thank you so much for this recipe that will most certainly become my other go-to-sauce (besides Tessa Kiros’ one from Apples for Jam).. btw.. a pinch of dried oregano was recommended by said friend as well.

  174. Jen

    A perfect example of simple ingredients + little effort = big reward! Has anyone tried making this with fire roasted tomatoes? That’s all I have in my pantry and I need to try this sauce ASAP.

  175. Nicole

    Just made this sauce tonight and it was truly amazing! It is my new go-to sauce. Thanks for such a great blog, Deb – lots of yummy recipes and loads of inspiration!

  176. I just wanted to let you know I tried this sauce this weekend and it is AMAZING! So simple, yet sooo good! I’m having my grandparents over next weekend and this is on the menu!! SO excited to make this for them!! Thank you!!

  177. my 1st time popping by here…love the look and feel of your blog! I also am a fan of such simple sauces…they highlight each ingredient so much better than the sauces that have a lot more going on in them. Beautiful pics here too!

  178. Kathleen

    Oh, how I love this sauce. We’re buddies. It’s ridiculously forgiving and flexible, and I even made it for 50+ kids on our church’s beach retreat last summer (it was a hit). I’ve made it with more butter, less butter, ground beef, basil, I’ve quadrupled it, etc., etc., and it really seems like I can’t screw it up. I use it in everything from lasagna to polenta pie. Gush, gush, gush.

    I always add about a head of roasted, peeled garlic nearish the end of cooking, which really rounds it out (I find it a bit acidic without the garlic) and adds an amazing depth of flavor.

  179. Wow! I do believe this is the most trafficked food blog I’ve ever come across! Kudos! Looks wonderful! Those noodles…so fun! Where can one find those? I hope your answer isn’t homemade! Congrats on all your blogging success!

  180. Sharon

    I was thinking about sauces yesterday morning! You are my FOOD ANGEL! It is wonderful and amazing! We eat the first batch and I made a second one immediately afterward last night!

  181. Amy J

    I can’t gush about it like everyone else, but it was a good solid sauce. (Used the correct tomatoes). Tasted good on ravioli, and as a shrimp dip, but did not blow anyone away.

  182. carolyn

    Made this last night over fresh-bought spinach and ricotta ravioli for a home-alone dinner (husband was working late). Unbelievably delicious. Licked bowl clean and considered seconds. Husband called, said he hadn’t had dinner. Called upon every ounce of willpower to put aside remaining half for him. Husband came home, ate, licked the bowl clean, said I am the best wife of ever. :)

  183. Emily

    So good, I had to stop myself from eating the sauce from the pot while I waited for the pasta. And very cheap. But now I want to do something with those tomato soaked onions.

  184. This is the base of how I prepare my Filipino spaghetti!! I add a little bit of ground beef and a bit of sugar …. but the butter is the one that makes it gooood! Thanks for the recipes.

  185. Elizabeth

    Am eating right now. Love it, I used the only can of whole tomato’s that whole foods had from Italy, organic butter and onion. Slightly sweet, smooth and so yummy. My monkey and I are enjoying lunch today, was making for dinner but couldn’t wait!

  186. Laurelpaige

    I just made it for lunch, it was yummy but not FANTASTIC!!!! Next time I will add another onion and a few cloves of garlic and possibly a bay leaf? I do agree, no meat and when I added grated parm- it was way too overpowering. The sauce is very delicate, just needs something.

  187. I love love love this sauce, and I always have some in the fridge. I don’t have San Marzanos at my regular grocery store, but Muir Glens work fabulously. Anything else, though, it really falls flat. (Centos are too acidic, and store brands taste like nothing.) This is a prime example of using the best ingredients because there are so few components.

  188. carla

    Oh my god this sauce was divine! I’m so used to using olive oil and garlic in all of my pasta tomato sauces that I would have never come up with this.

  189. Heather

    Making this tonight for dinner and it already tastes wonderful! Also am making the southwestern brisket in the crockpot for tomorrow! My house smells so yummy! I love love love love your site and all of your recipes, and the adorable baby is a plus too.

  190. I am eating it right now–I thought the butter plus 45 minutes of simmering would turn out to be magic. But this sauce is just basic and very standard.

  191. Sarah

    I was worried that my husband would balk without some sort of protein, so I threw in a pound of peeled shrimp the last 10 minutes and let them cook in the sauce. Divine!!

  192. Ginger

    I rarely follow recipes to the letter, I tend to tinker. I will add, subtract or substitute ingredients depending what I might have on hand or what I think might enhance the final result. However since I had all the ingredients on hand right down to the brand and type of tomatoes I decided to proceed exactly as stated (including the no cheese recommendation.) What a wonderful surprise, marvelous! I can’t say I won’t tinker with a bit of garlic or red pepper flakes on part of a double or triple batch in the future. But this truly was a delightful surprise.

  193. Jess

    I love this recipe, it’s my go to recipe for tomato sauce. However I also love to tinker and almost always add in some garlic. And I usuall chop of the onion and keep it in the sauce. And since I am a bit of a wimp about butter I usually don’t put in 5 tablespoons. I know. wimp.

    Last weekend I had some unexpected company and nothing on hand to serve them. I decided to see if I could do a speedy version of the tomato sauce. I sauted the onion and garlic in some olive oil, threw in a can of tomatoes and the butter and let that cook for maybe 10 minutes before I pureed it with my immersion blender and served it with some spagehtti and ikea meatballs. It tasted great.

  194. Made it tonight, and the Finicky Two even ate it up. I now realize why the pasta I made for the (butter & Parm) is so good when I hit it with the “grown up’s” pasta sauce. It’s like a Vodka sauce!

  195. Amy

    Made this tonight, it was fine…not spectacular. I cut the butter in half, and used Publix’s canned tomatoes. I’ll try it again with ‘more expensive’ Italian tomatoes

  196. I made this sauce for dinner last night and definitely enjoyed it. As someone who loves a lot of sauce on my pasta, I found that to fully experience the flavors I needed to spoon some extra sauce on the already sauce-tossed noodles. I believe that if slightly tweaked, this would make an excellent pizza sauce. Perhaps adding something to give it some extra tang?

  197. Heather

    Okay, we made the sauce and loved it. It tasted SO familiar to us though… This is the SAME sauce the local pizza place uses on their pasta and pizza, SAME. So funny. So yummy!

  198. Angela

    I thought it was okay, but my family loved it so its keeper. Added a little sugar, more salt and simmered it for a lot longer than was recommended. Added basil and took out some of the onion and added 2 cloves of garlic. What is really great about this sauce is that you can make it your own. Added turkey meatballs on the top after putting the sauce on the noodles. My two daughters and husband inhaled it!

  199. CaitlynLacy

    I’ve been a long time reader but this is the first time I’ve ever commented. I’m a broke college student who loves to experiment with food, but doesn’t have too much time or money to spare. This recipe was PERFECT. I had all the ingredients on hand and the sauce simmered as I was finishing up my homework. The sauce was velvety and luscious. It tastes like actual tomatoes unlike so many jarred brands.I’d recommend it to anyone.

    Thanks so much!

  200. Let me preface my comment with this information: I have never, ever, liked tomato sauce. No matter who made it, or what jar it came in. If I -had- to have it, everything but the kitchen sink got thrown in to disguise the taste – broccoli, carrots, hamburger, sugar, pepper…

    But I was actually craving spaghetti, so when I found this recipe I had to give it a shot. It was FANTASTIC. I can no longer say I hate tomato sauce.

    I ate it with gluten free pasta, slow cooked chicken, gf flat bread, and roasted broccoli… and ate several slices of the onion too.

    Tomorrow I might throw the leftovers in a pot with some chicken broth and basil and make soup.

    Thanks sooooo much for sharing!!!

  201. Momma D

    Yes, this is a basic marinara type tomato sauce but so refreshingly simple and delicious! I am usually the type to slave over a sauce with 20 steps and another 20 ingredients. Sure, it’s good, but not always practical. This is such a fantastic simple sauce for when there is no time or no need for a fussy sauce! Thanks for such a nice go to pasta topping! Oh and my kiddos licked their bowls!

  202. I made this last night and it was so good….I even saved the onion to have with my lunch one day this week. It was husband approved too. I worried it would be too simple and plain but this was great! Thanks for another wonderful recipe!

  203. I live in Milan, Italy and made this sauce for a room full of Italians last night with huge success. Usually a “pasta al pomodoro” isn’t exactly worthy of raving reviews (too common to be complimented much), but every single person at the table reiterated numerous times how much they liked this sauce. Grazie!

  204. Lindsay

    I too made this sauce last night and have to admit I was skeptical. No basil or parsley? No GARLIC?? Turns out it didn’t need any of those. Absolutely delicious. I passed the recipe on to both sons and 8 friends. This is a new “regular” in my kitchen!!

  205. Wendy

    Oh my my my! Absolutely delicious! I made this in the morning. Had to use salted butter as I had no unsalted. The tomatoes had no added salt though. Tasted it before I left for work and I wasn’t impressed at that point so I added a bit of salt, stirred it up and threw it in the refrigerator for the day. We had a visitor when I got home from work but was afraid to serve it to him because I hadn’t had a chance to try it myself. After he left, we boiled up some bowties and my husband and I devoured the entire pan of sauce (minus a little to take to work today!) My husband who isn’t a red sauce lover, was amazed by the simplicity and taste of this sauce. I believe I’m going to make it again tomorrow! And yes, I used Parmesan initially but the second bowl I didn’t and preferred it that way also!

  206. Fayet

    I feel like a real chef now that you mention my basic tomato sauce in your beautiful and always inspiring blog. Thank you, I feel flattered! :) And now I finally have a recipe to pass on besides saying “Well, you take some butter, and tomatos, and an onion, and, well.. cook it?” Now I can just link to your page. Thanks!

  207. Dawn

    I ‘ve wanted to make this since the minute you posted! Finally made it last night and as many have stated, it was delicious. This will definitely stay in my repertoire of easy, ingredients-on-hand recipes. Thanks for posting, Deb!

  208. I must confess. I was skeptical. But I had to nick 1/2 cup of crushed tomatoes out of a 28 oz can last night for some baked beans and didn’t want the rest to go to waste. So I lopped off 5 Tbs of butter, hacked an onion in half, and went for it. Truly, I didn’t believe that these three ingredients would render the velvety wonder you descibed. Oh but they did! There’s something about dairy fat (vs. olive oil) that stifles the acidity without dampening the flavor. Thanks so much!

    PS – Unfortunately my tomatoes were the “with basil” variety. The basil didn’t affect the flavor so much as the appearance. Sad, wilted strips of basil. Ugh. Will definitely go for plain tomatoes next time.

  209. I was inspired to try this last night, as I was bored and wanted to cook. This was fantastic– super simple and super delicious. And cheap! I didn’t use San Marzanos, I used Red Gold, and the whole meal (with a loaf of bread thrown in) was like $6, which, I assure you, is not normal in my household.

  210. Chelsea

    I tried it last night, and didn’t do the best job- I never set the timer, and left it going for a while and found that “medium heat” was waaaay too much, at least on my stove top. And combine that with the fact that I didn’t end up washing the spinach I was using in my main course, and I just packed it up for lunch and ordered take-out.

    HOWEVER! Now that I’ve had it, it’s so great! I can’t wait to try it again and do a proper job of it.

    I too couldn’t find San Marzanos- I’m jealous of good grocery stores! I live in Queens, and usually have to settle- but found Hunt’s worked pretty nicely.

  211. Kelly

    I made this exactly as directed and yes it is delicious! I was skeptical as I like spicy tomato sauce with red pepper flakes and lots of garlic. I wanted to give it a try though. I have seen other versions of this sauce where people put some full cloves of garlic in and then fish them out like the onion. I might try this next time.
    Instead of parmesan I added a chiffonade of basil. It gave the dish a “spring” touch that I liked. This is my first time posting here, even though I have made a lot of recipes from this site. Even my bf knows smitten kitchen as my laptop is always on the counter while cook recipes from here. Thanks for making my day with new recipes. I’ll try to be braver and post more comments.

  212. Sudhana

    I added fresh basil, garlic and hot pepper at the last minute, and I am glad I did. MUST. HAVE. GARLIC AND SPICY.

    Great simple recipe though, I made lots and am freezing for future use.

  213. Kirsten

    I made this (my first tomato sauce ever!) last night. Loved it. I may never buy a jar of pasta sauce again. The only change I made was that I let it simmer on the stove for longer than 45 minutes, so it cooked down quite a bit and just barely covered about 7 oz of spaghetti. I also stood at the counter and ate most of the onion while I waited for the bread to come out of the oven. I’m also looking forward to trying the pizza sauce you described in the comments. Thanks always for inspiring me to get into my kitchen!

  214. pws

    i’ve been making this sauce since molly first posted about it on orangette and it’s been a permanent part of my cooking routine ever since — you can be sure we’re enjoying this delish sauce at least a couple times every week or two :). it’s just too easy!

  215. I can’t believe I’m writing a third comment on this one post, BUT, it was the husband’s night to do dinner tonight and despite having just made this two days ago, he decided he wanted it again – especially when I told him you don’t even have to chop the onion. I lay on the sofa with my son in the adjacent room and gave him instructions and he made it like a pro, even adding sliced garlic, a dried garden chile, and going out in the rain and picking fresh rosemary and oregano. I came into the kitchen to start the pasta and bread and he asked, “Does this count as me cooking a dinner, even though you are now helping?” Answer: “Yes!” – Now he has a dozen ideas of how to add and make different sorts of sauces. This little sauce has turned out to be fabulous in more ways than one! Thanks.

  216. jen

    i don’t know what has thrilled me more…all the wonderful recipes (w/amazing presentation) that i have found here in such a short time, or the fact that you have posted THIS one! I have been making this one almost half my life, and it could be the most amazing thing ever! Marcella came into my life about 15 years ago, and she has never disappointed. I have no deficiency of her enlightment in my life, nonetheless, it almost made me giddy when i ran across this post! I have much respect and admiration for what you do; thank you so much!

  217. stephanie

    I just made this and it was amazing! I have the kitchen aid pasta press (buy it! buy it!) and i made fresh spaghetti for the sauce. perfect! i wish i had doubled the recipe because we ate it all

  218. Jacob

    First time commenter, though I have been consumed with your sight for nearly a year. I have made TONS of the recipes on the blog, and continued with this one. Delicious, and super easy. Just one thing, and it is not necessarily a bad thing, but when I was first stirring this up I couldn’t help but notice something. It smells like a grown up version of “Spaghettio’s”. Has anyone else noticed this? Love, love, love your blog.

  219. Julie

    I am agreeing with evidently everyone on the planet – I made this last night and it was GREAT. Will become a regular in my recipe repetoire.

    The only thing I can’t abide is throwing away those onions. Did we learn nothing from our Depresson-era grandparents?? I have a big family, so I doubled the sauce recipe (it doubles beautifully, BTW) and pulled out the onions and stuck them in a Tupperware in the fridge. The next morning I diced a big chunk into my eggs. Tonight for dinner I diced up another into the stuffed baked potatoes. They are like onions poached in tomato juice and butter. YUMMY.

  220. I have to admit that I am floored by the attention this recipe gets! Not because it’s not good… but because this is basically my grandmother’s spaghetti sauce that I’ve had my entire life. We’ve been awesome all this time and didn’t even know it :)

    The differences… we dice the onion and leave it in, and when there are meat-eaters involved, add in a pound of cooked, crumbled ground beef. I think what causes so many people to be surprised about the flavor is the lack of sugar? Canned/jarred spaghetti sauce with sugar added has always tasted off to me because I grew up with this plain basic sauce.

  221. Jangann

    I’m with Sudhana — I loved it but next time will spice it up.

    Had this on baked polenta — make up some simple polenta with broth, milk, and butter, then spread it on a jelly roll pan (use cooking spray first). Bake 30-45 minutes, until the edges are crispy. Top with sauce! I did a bunch of onions and mushrooms on the side, and had to stop myself after 3 servings!

  222. Lexi

    Hi Deb!! Love the blog so so much! This sauce looks great, just one question. Can I use this sauce with your recipe for Ina’s meatballs from a few years ago? I’d follow your ammended recipe for the meatballs and then just simmer them in this sauce. Would it work!? Thank you!

  223. Susan

    I was a bit sceptical about this recipe because of the small list of ingredients, however, I was intrigued and tried it lat night. It was wonderful! As the butter started to melt, the sauce became creamy and had a lovely rich smell. We all loved it! Will definitely make this again and again!

  224. Laura

    You’ve made me a believer. I made this last night with some sturdy penne pasta, and I feel in love. I had to clean out my bowl with bread because I could not fathom leaving any behind. Once I was done eating, cleaning, putting everything away… I made another batch… at 11:30pm. THANK YOU FOR THIS RECIPE! I was tempted to begin throwing things in there, like some garlic, some fresh rosemary… but I controlled myself and I’m SO happy I didn’t deviate! Coming from a girl who was couldn’t make spaghetti to having the BEST I’ve ever had, this is monumental. THANK YOU, DEB!

  225. Amy J

    Made this last night. Everyone gobbled it up. So easy and so much better than anything from a jar (btw, is anyone else a PO’d as I am about how expensive some jarred sauces are these days?? $10 for Rao’s? C’mon, it’s tomato sauce!). One last comment on this sauce: Don’t skimp on the butter!

  226. debra f

    I just stubbled onto your site and bookmakred it, it’s a keeper! I am amazed and looking forward to trying this in the next week. It’s difficult time finding San Marzanos in the regular supermarkets -so I’ll scout a few upscale markets. It’s the lack of ingredients that has caught my attention; cooking sauce and sunday gravy for over 40 years…this will be nice to do on a Wednesday night after work! And to add to Amy J on jarred sauce prices increasing…the jars are now narrower and last year contained 26oz and now most are 24oz! Thank you Deb for a great site-will contact my sis and others who will love this site.

  227. ClaremontBride

    I’m so glad you shared this wonderful recipe! It tastes so much like the homemade tomato sauce my Italian grandma used to make. She would use fresh tomatoes from the garden and add fennel seeds and Italian sausage, but her secret was using butter instead of olive oil. I made your recipe last night, and it was delicious—I will never buy a jar of pasta sauce again! Every recipe I’ve tried from your blog over the last two years has turned out perfectly, and several have become a permanent part of my cooking repertoire. (My family begs for your blueberry crumb bars!) So here is a long-overdue “Thank you!”

  228. Jennifer

    This was okay, but I miss the basil and garlic. This was more like tomato soup than pasta sauce. That said, it would make a REALLY GOOD tomato soup.

  229. RDaneel

    Not that I think anyone will read comment #388, but I tried this sauce the other night and was a bit underwhelmed, based on it’s storied history. It taseted good, but not it lacked complexity and depth of flavor. It did, in the words of my wife, tase “exactly like tomato sauce from any central-NJ strip mall pizza joint named Nino’s or Tony’s.” Which, depending on how you feel about central-NJ strip mall pizza joints, is not a bad thing.

    For anyone seeking an alternative that takes about the same amount of time to prepare (or less), Cook’s Illustrated has a Quick Tomato Sauce that is amazing. Grated onion browned in butter with oregano, garlic, tomatoes, and fresh basil and a hit of olive oil. Yummy and deep.

  230. Mamasue123

    Tried this a couple of night ago, hubby and daughter(picky eater) loved it! So did I, kept sampling it while it was cooking. Yummy! Thanks.

  231. I made this when I was first recommended to this Marcella Hazan recipe because it was so un-daunting – the ingredients were in my cupboard, and I only have to stir the sauce. It’s a great recipe – the simplest ones are always the keepers.

  232. Amanda

    i’m making right now. this is out of control delicious!!! i started eating it from the pot before the tomatoes were even hot and it was already soooo good! and now it’s ready! time to eat:)

  233. caitlin

    i made this and your strawberry shortcake to surprise my boyfriend tomorrow for our 5th anniversary. thanks, deb! i’m hoping i’ll convert him to liking this sauce rather than the junk in a jar he likes.

  234. Jennifer

    I just made this for dinner using the San Marzano tomatoes, a vidalia onion, and earth balance vegan butter. It came out really nice. I am sure it would be even more delicious with real butter, but this recipe is still a great option for vegans or the dairy-averse with one easy substitution. Also- the onion is super yummy – don’t throw it out!

  235. stephanie

    i’m making this right now :D (yes, i’m 26 and making sauce at midnight on a friday, whatevs)

    also, as suspected, in case anyone is still looking, pastene has the ‘telephone cord’ pasta in a plastic bag in the ‘international foods’ aisle in regular old grocery stores. (shaw’s and star here.) i didn’t buy though cuz i am brokebrokeBROKE and couldn’t justify spending an extra $3 for the shape :p next time!

    pastene also has great tomatoes as well – my mom has been making sauce forever (we NEVER eat jarred, ew!) and this is the brand she uses for paste, etc. though hers is much different, lots of garlic and simmering meat and whatnot, no onion or butter, i’m curious!

  236. Dancer who eats

    Yum, this is the best tasting tomato sauce that is done in 45 without massive chopping. I think I will keep searching since I like some garlic and herbage.

  237. mm

    made this sauce yesterday, but cooked with cover on. was very good, but a little watery.
    think it should be cooked UNCOVERED, right??

  238. Deb

    I’ve done this recipe dozens of times but just a bit different. I roughly chopped up the onion and cooked them first until they were nice and lightly browned. I then added a large can of tomato sauce and a large can of whole tomatoes. When the mixture was nice and hot, I added about 6 TBS of the butter. I let it simmer for about an hour then took my hand blender and blended it all, adding a touch of salt. It comes up kinda orange but, damn, it’s good. My sister makes my grandmother’s sauce for eons and can’t believe that this sauce could be better. I make all kinds of tomato based sauces and I think this one is just fabulous. Thanks for sharing!

  239. I just tried this and it was delicious. I too am a big parmesan fan and though I sprinkled a small amount on top, it was just overpowered by the fabulous tasting sauce. I don’t think I let it simmer for the entire 45 minutes but by the time my spaghetti was ready, the sauce had thickened and the tomatoes had been crushed to perfection.


  240. Nannarella

    Hooray for simplicity! I live in Rome with a very picky eater (my 10-year old) who will not tolerate bits of onion or even chunks of tomato, so I make this with pureèd tomatoes.
    Interesting how Italian foods are marketed in the US- There are no “San Marzano” tomatoes here (or “Portobello” mushrooms for that matter). There are an astounding number of varieties which are sorted by purpose, usually. The pachino is considered the best, but it wouldn’t be suitable for long cooking.And there are a lot of rules! Tomato sauces usually include onion or garlic – but not both! The onion ones go on to be topped with parmesan, the garlic ones go in the direction of hot pepper, parsley or anchovies. Of course no one agrees. I’ve been served pasta with tomato sauce topped with a curl of butter, while my father-in-law thinks cooking with butter is disgusting.
    Great blog!

  241. bea

    Hi everybody. It’s nice to see how a simple “sugo di pomodoro” (tomato sauce) can generate such enthusiasm on the other side of the ocean! here in Italy this is an everyday basic. This recipe is how it’s done in northern Italy. Some like to add a whole carrot along with the onion, and discard it in the end. And marjoran or thyme. In the south, it’s olive oil, garlic and (fresh) basil. Ciao!

  242. Tamsin

    I made this sauce the other day and it was wonderful! I made the full recipe for two of us and used the leftover sauce on a pizza the next day. I also saved the onion to go on toast with balsamic and a poached egg (as recommended by Kat), it was all amazing and so simple. Will be making this again for sure!

  243. Cathy

    I made this sauce last night and it was delicious and so incredibly easy! I will most certainly be making this many times again in the future!

  244. rita

    I feel like I wasted my good San Marzano tomatoes by using pretty crappy butter. Oh well. I have another can and will try this again with some nice butter that I bought at Fairway, and I’m hoping it will go better. It was good, but I know it could be greater.

  245. laura

    i just made this but i left the onion in and added spinach (sorry to all you purists :) ) it is phenomenal!! i am serving it to my host family tonight because they thought pasta sauce was ketchup. i am confident this sauce will sway them!! thanks deb!!

  246. nancy

    I made this tonight and it was phenomenal. Actually, I made two batches (one right after the other) because I worried that one 28 oz can of tomatoes would not suffice for the hulking teenagers I feed. I discovered that this sauce goes much further than store-bought jarred sauce, or even the better quality stuff we buy from our local pasta shop. I have tons left over, so I’m hoping it will keep for a few days as we use it up. Anyone know how long it can be safely stored in the refrigerator?

  247. Mimi Wan

    Deb, this was so good!! I made it because I had everything but the pasta. The pasta looked wonderful so I went to Whole Foods and got it. First off, this was super easy and I had the San Marazano can of tomatoes. My husband who does not like red sauce said this was the best sauce ever. I LOVED the pasta as well. Thanks so much!!

  248. amanda

    deb – thanks for sharing. we don’t have an ounce of italian blood in our family, but we pretend we do. my faux italian mother (who is 100% dutch) will be bowled over by this recipe. it’s so yummy and perfect for a winter’s meal. (i did however add freshly grated parmesan and coarsely ground black pepper) i discovered your website just a week ago and am hooked. :)

  249. Kate

    It took all of my self control not to doctor this up with capers or garlic or hot pepper flakes — it seemed too simple to taste good but it was fantastic. Anyone can make this, which makes it even more remarkable.

  250. bless you for this statement – “I, for one, am a grated parmesan junkie. I not only sprinkle it over my bowl of pasta, I like to have additional nearby, to apply a fresh coat to the layers of pasta that follow.”

  251. Panya

    Made this tonight as a base to try to duplicate the jarred sauce we usually buy. I wanted to like the original recipe, but I’m not a huge tomato fan [I prefer them in the background, so to speak]. I think that if I did like tomatoes more, this would be the perfect sauce. So I added garlic and veggies, and used an immersion blender at the end [I dislike chunks]. It tasted exactly the same as the jarred kind! I’ve never made any sort of tomato-based sauce before, therefore I view this as a huge accomplishment. I’ll still keep a few jars on hand for quick dinners, but I see myself making this sauce a lot. I might even try to freeze some!

    Thanks for making this sound good and easy enough that I just *had* to try it!

  252. Jessie

    Made this tonight for my girlfriend and our houseguest, and WOW is it good! We used it on cheese tortellini with a side of garlic bread, and I have to say it was one of the easiest (and tastiest) things I’ve made. I used Organics brand tomatoes, and they seemed to work out well, though I’m curious to make it with the recommended brand, just to see how much more heavenly it can be. Thank you!

  253. Rosie

    I made this last week and I found it faaaar too butter-y… I don’t make a lot of butter/cream based dishes so maybe my tummy wasn’t used to it, but they did not agree! I think I might put in a lot less butter next time… I really want to make it again because dammit that onion tasted soooo goood once I pulled it out of the sauce!

  254. birdgal

    I’m just going to chime in here and say I made this last night with the baked chicken meatballs you posted a couple months ago and it was AWE.SOME. Tasted just like what I had in Italy and so super simple. It’s amazing what just three ingredients can do together!

  255. TinaW

    This is my absolutely favorite sauce but I never managed to get it on any pasta. As soon as it’s done, I pour it into a bowl, grab a baguette, and start dipping pieces of bread into the sauce until I’m stuffed full. I have made this probably 50 times or more.

  256. Kelsey

    Omg, deb, this is my FAVORITE sauce from her book (and they’re all pretty amazing)! So glad to see you exposing it to a wider audience.

    A new twist my boyfriend suggested is that rather than discard the the onion, separate it into layers and make stuffed onions! We adapted the Joy of Cooking stuffed onion recipe. With the tomato-y goodness permeating the onion from the sauces, these were a truly delicious afterthought.

  257. Laura B

    Yum. Made this as the first dish on the new stove (after being stove-less for 9 months). Fantastic with porcini mushroom ravioli from Zabar’s. Drove my roommate (who foolishly declined to share) nuts with the smell.

  258. Wow who knew something so simple could be so incredible! I think next time I’ll make double. Deb, do you think I can freeze the leftovers so I always have some on hand? And I LOVE your blog by the way!!!

  259. Kristin T

    This is my new favorite tomato sauce. “velvety and lush” is exactly right. When I pulled the onion out, I had to eat some – and found it tasted not like onion, but the sauce itself…. I couldn’t bear to throw that out, so I whirled it til smooth in the food processor and stirred it back into the sauce – the only discernible difference this made to me was increasing the volume of the sauce, thus MORE TO EAT :) Thanks for sharing the recipe. (!!!)

  260. Jane

    I made this tonight for myself and my boyfriend who, convinced that you (Deb) had actually written this recipe, told me that I had to comment on “that woman’s blog” and tell you that you’re a genius. Even though you didn’t write the recipe, I still think you’re a genius for posting it, because it truly is delicious!

  261. Lyndsay

    It was yummy but my tomatoes didn’t disintegrate like yours did. I think I simmered it for closer to an hour and it still didn’t look like yours. Too thin with chunks of tomatoes.

    1. deb

      Lyndsay — It’s not disintegration as much as breaking apart the pieces with your spoon. I broke mine up a lot because I don’t like very chunky sauces on spaghetti.

  262. Karen

    Perfect sauce! It is amazing how three simple ingredients can transform into such deliciousness! Love your blog. Thanks for posting this recipe!

  263. Mistress Mary

    I loved this sauce! Mine turned out much darker than the shade of the one pictured here. This is a constant problem of mine. The hue of those served in restaurants and pictured in books/online are always much brighter (more pink?) than the sauces I make at home. Is is the quality of the canned tomatoes? Or am I over-cooking the sauce?

  264. I cannot wait to try this sauce!! I love to put a pad of butter in soup, it gives it a wonderful silk-like feel and “shines” it up a little, too!

    Thanks so much for sharing this wonderful recipe! By the week’s end, we’re going to be eating this sauce. Maybe make a little extra? I mean, I got to dip the bread in something! Thanks again!

  265. Jennifer

    This is bubbling away on the stove right now, and smells delicious! My fiance doesn’t like texture to his tomato sauce, so I put it through the blender. I keep sneaking tastes. Its amazing!

  266. I just tried this tonight and it really impressed me on how delicious this is considering the number of ingredients. I usually love a spicy, chunky sauce that has been given a healthy handful of fresh basil and parsley at the end so this is really refreshing to my palate. It really doesn’t need much else than the ingredients given, but my tomatoes didn’t break down as nicely as yours, even after smashing them on the side of my pot with my wooden spoon. Even though I’m making it tonight, I’m serving it tomorrow for dinner. I can actually have dinner on the table in the time that it takes to boil noodles. Wow.

  267. Heather

    Wow, this really is good. The butter adds a whole new level to the flavor. I actually grew to like it more by the end of the bowl. I wanted seconds but was too full. Thanks for sharing such a tasty and simple recipe. I wish there were more 3-ingredient recipes this magical!

  268. Miz K

    This sauce was so nice the first time that I just made it again, four days later – but took it in a very different direction. I added a hefty TBSP or so of curry and two cans of chickpeas. Close to the end, I threw in a handful of chopped cilantro (I know, I know!) I’m eating it now with rice and plain yogurt and it’s wonderful – the butter taste still really shines through!

  269. Katherine

    I *just* made this amazing sauce. It is in my mouth as I type, and oh. my. goodness. it is heavenly. So creamy, so rich. It is my new go-to dish. Thanks so much for the recipe!

  270. Sarah whalen

    I’ve made my own sauce for years and I have to admit I have ALWAYS used butter, people cring alittle when I tell them but then they taste it and are blown away! I’m glad to see more people are jumping on the butter wagon.

  271. valerie

    #388 hit the nail on the head! it totally tastes like semi-crummy pizza joint pasta sauce (or possibly school cafeteria sauce), which isn’t to say it’s terrible–there is a nostalgic factor at work here. it just didn’t wow us. nor did it properly cover our noodles. the onions, however, were delicious. i snacked on them later and they more than made up for any disappointment over the sauce itself.

  272. This sauce is amazing! After making it I realized it was the same recipe that my favorite Italian restaurant on the UWS uses as their pomodoro sauce. This + fresh pasta = total win. Thanks for posting! :D

  273. I’m making this recipe right now and from what I have tasted in the pan, it’s going to be great. I did use a shade under the 5 tablespoons of butter, but only it ease my conscience a bit. Thanks for sharing!

  274. Rachel

    i was so taken in by the reviews of this recipe all over the internet (and an interview with marcella, done while having dinner at an olive garden!), i was compelled to try it last year. i followed it verbatim and ended up with what basically tasted like a slightly onion-y, greasy plate of hot canned tomatoes (and i used san marzanos, felt like such a waste).

    not a fan – but give me her smothered onion sauce any day. the first time i made that, i was still a little high with happiness the next day.

  275. Leah

    I made and love this recipe! I blended all of the ingredients and added just a bit of garlic and parsley. I had leftovers so I put it in the freezer. I am quite sure it won’t stay frozen very long :) I was also thinking about using this as a pizza sauce for my homemade pizza…could be good!

  276. Lane

    I’ve made this twice in the past week and totally love it. Even my mom loved it and she isn’t usually fond of my cooking. Thanks for sharing.


  277. I have also made this twice this week. First I made it to eat of spaghetti:

    Then, the next night I made it for eggplant and fried green tomato parmesan:

    Both times it was amazing! And I love the San Marzano tomatoes! I will probably make some version of this sauce forever anytime I need any type of marinara. Thanks!!!

    1. deb

      Shannon — Love the links! Love seeing what people have made from recipes, and I know it is helpful to other readers who might be interested in seeing how it comes out for others. (The links that are less useful to others are ones to unrelated or off-topic recipes, so no worries.)

  278. Ok, I stumbled upon the recipe and found myself intrigued. You mean to tell me no garlic or olive oil or salt or basil or oregano?! I have made countless sauces, and none have had such a basic ingredient base. I am going to try this….tonight!

  279. katie

    This is like crack cocaine… totally addictive! I could drink this! I’ve been thinking about this recipe since you posted it and finally made it last night. So super easy and so amazingly delicious. I couldn’t stop talking about it or thinking about it even after it was all gone. This is a keeper. Thank you!!

  280. Joey

    Eating this now over pan-fried slices of leftover polenta. Yum! I generally make pasta sauces with more “stuff” … capers, olives, anchovies, garlic, red pepper flakes, whatever … and I’m sure I’ll make those sauces again. But sometimes I just want simple and quick. This was just as easy as opening a jar, and sooo much better! Awesome.

  281. Jessica

    I made this last night. It was wonderful! Really tasted fresh and sort of “restaurant style.” One recommendation: I would drain the can of tomatoes before putting it in the saucepan, as I like a thicker sauce. Thank you — wonderful!

  282. Holly

    Made this for dinner Saturday night. The kids and I loved it. Hubby wasn’t so sure. Oh well, that’s okay. I made him the Balthazar Cream of Mushroom Soup on Sunday and he was thrilled!

  283. Judith

    I’m making this right now and it smells delicious! I’m getting a little nervous about how much it’s cooked down when I still have t minus 15 minutes to go!

  284. I gotta admit I’m on the other side of the fence on this sauce. The second I saw those 70gram of butter, I thought to myself that it had to be too much. I double- and triple-checked the recipe, comparing it to the one on some other blogs (hats off to Salt&Fat for pointing me here), making sure it was really that much butter.

    The smell coming from the bubbling pan alone was nauseating. Had to open the kitchen window. Dear Deb, no offense meant, really, and I could not possibly argue with 400 comments all saying how great theirs was! But something is off on this side.

    I initially thought it could be that American butter was somehow different than mine (forgot to mention, I’m from Portugal, and our cuisine is very Mediterranean, very centered on olive oil like in Italy). And Wikipedia does say the following: “Throughout Continental Europe, cultured butter is preferred, while sweet cream butter dominates in the United States and the United Kingdom. Therefore, cultured butter is sometimes labeled European-style butter in the United States.”

    Thought that might be it, maybe it is the butter, but on the other hand you all say that this recipe comes from an Italian cookbook, and I also noted a couple of Nederlanders (the Dutch, hallo!) around here, so no dice.

    I can only conclude that two decades of food cooked on nothing but olive oil, and every now and then some lard, made my taste buds insusceptible to the wonders of butter. I’ll be traveling to America sometime this year and I’ll definitely give this another try with the exact same ingredients you used.

    Thought you’d like to hear my thoughts, hope they were somewhat insightful. Cheers

  285. Sarah H.

    I didn’t love this like crazy, but I didn’t hate it. I also made it in the crockpot, so it really was no effort. But, it took about 5 hours on high to get to what I thought was a good level of cookedness.

  286. Michelle

    Made this yesterday, using everything as indicated. Didn’t love it, very acidic even with a few pinches of sugar. Reminds me of tomato soup. Will try tonight to see if sitting for 24 hours made it any better.

  287. Made this last night and it was great. I am vegan so I used Earth Balance instead of real butter. I really enjoyed it, as did my husband. Mine seemed much chunkier than your picture but after reading your comments I may not have broken it up enough or let it cook long enough to get as thin as I desired. I was really thinking I needed an immersion blender to get the consistency I wanted. Thanks for the great recipes, as always.

  288. Tanya

    Whispering… I’m on the other side of the fence also. I didn’t love it (unsophisticated plalate?). I jazzed it up and turned it into tomato sauce for pizza. And that was delicious. My 18 mth kept coming back for spoonfuls. Thanks for the recipe!

  289. SaraMae

    OMG – this was so delish! I made it last night and served it with a chicken breast and cheese tortellini. I reduced the butter by a smidge, but it was delish! So easy!

  290. Rachael

    I found your website while looking for this recipe. (I thought I had seen it on Lidia’s show but didn’t find it on the site.) You are now bookmarked on my computer. :)

    I usually make a meaty, spicy, hearty pasta sauce, but wanted something lighter and easier for weeknights.

    I have the 102-oz can of diced tomatoes from Sam’s, so I will use 2 onions; I am going to serve it over gnocchi, with a nice salad and home made bread. It is PERFECT in my head, hee hee. I’ll let you know how it comes out.

  291. Julia

    Was very skeptical of this because I generally love my tomato sauce with garlic. But found a can of San Marzanos at Target the other day (still not cheap, but the things u find at Target these days!!), so figured I try this – OMG, this is sooooo good – very subtle, gentle, fragrant from the butter and tomatoes. Made it for dinner tonite, but snuck some for lunch with leftover pasta and it is soooo yum. If anyone is wondering about trying it – DO!! It is the easiest thing ever and soooo good.The only seasoning needed is salt – and that is key. I am hooked on this…..and San Marzanos!! Trouble!

  292. I made this last night and it was wonderful. So purely tomatoe-y. Splurged on San Marzano tomatoes at Wms-Sonoma because I was there. I used salted butter and still needed more salt when I served it. Did not even bother with the Parmesan.

    I served this over P and S Ravioli Company’s Ricotta Cavatelli and it was a wonderful meal.

    I had enough left over to have a couple of small cups as soup with tonight’s dinner. Yummy.

  293. Lauri

    It is cold and rainy here in Texas. I had everything in the pantry…..Oh my! This was absolutely delicious!!!! Need I say more?

  294. Kara

    This will not be the last time I make this sauce–and I didn’t even have San Marzano tomatoes for this first batch! Absolutely perfect for a Chicago winter day.

  295. mm

    i made this a few nights ago and found it lacked any kind of ‘kick’. it tasted ok, but the butter was over-powering and there was a pool of butter left at the bottom of my bowl. i ended up adding some garlic and red wine because it simply wasn’t tasty enough, but even that didn’t balance out the sickening taste of butter.

    anyway, my boyfriend thought it was ok but it felt like we were over-simplyfing a sauce that should usually have much much much more flavour.

  296. nina

    i don’t know what i clicked on at some point during the day, but when i returned to my laptop after having been gone all day, this page was on my desktop. looks so easy and so yummy….can’t wait to try it. you seem like my kind of cook (simple & basic fresh foods, made @home – not too many ingredients to overwhelm). thx!

  297. lee

    This was delicious! I’d never made a tomato sauce before, but this was so simple – and the flavor was amazing. Thank you so much for sharing this! =)

  298. katherine

    Hi, I just found your blog via a friend’s link to a different recipe. I live in Morocco (American working abroad) so while we have most ingredients around and great produce, we don’t have random things one would easily find in an American pantry or supermarket. For example, we have fresh tomatoes or double pureed tomato paste. I usually make my tomato sauce using a combination of the two, but I was just wondering what you would advise doing if I wanted to make this recipe.

    The blog looks amazing! I can’t wait to try some of the recipes out

    1. deb

      Canned tomatoes are just fresh ones blanched for a few seconds in boiling water so that their skins slip off easily. So, use an equivalent weight of those. Making a little X in the bottom of the skin before blanching them makes it even easier to get the skin off. It may take a little longer to cook yours to a saucy consistency but it will be worth it!

  299. mia

    i made this 3 times in 2 days. i used the same san marzano tomatoes you used in your picture the first time. DELICIOUS. i hate using a lot of butter and thought it would be too greasy but it was perfection. it was so delicious i went back to the store the next day to get another can of tomatoes (they were sold out of the whole) so the second time i used whole italian tomatoes w/ basil then added one smashed clove garlic, and cut back to 4 tbsp butter. i found adding freshly grated parm and cracked black pepper at the end added a good kick. the third time my friend made it w/ just regular red gold whole tomatoes…it was watery and very acidic. using san marzano/italian tomatoes is a must. THANK YOU FOR THIS RECIPE =)

  300. Kate

    I made this last night and it is a keeper! It reminds me of a pasta dish I used to order at a now closed Italian restaurant in Atlanta – I have thought of that pasta many times since, and my mouth would water – now I can make it! I used a sweet onion, similar to a Vidalia and added a little kosher salt at the end. I also used Parmesan because I am one of those that likes to keep the Parm handy for the next layer. I even ate a few bites of the onion and it was devine…am keeping the onion for pizza topping. Deb, I am glad you broke down and made this after so many great reviews and now I am glad you paved the way for me to enjoy it too.

  301. i made this on sat again – i think its gonna become a weekly ritual to have this stuff in my fridge at all times. i’ve been keeping the onion – chopping it up – and sauteing it on high heat with whatever meats/veggies i’m cooking.

  302. Vortexgirl

    I love this recipe! Today is the 5th time making it in the past 2 weeks. The first time I tried it, I followed the directions precisely. Now I am doubling the recipe, as I find that one batch is barely enough for 1LB of pasta/2 people. I also like to add red pepper flakes to make it more like an arrabiata sauce. The other thing that I’ve done a few times is add Tofurkey Italian sausage (you could use real sausage, I happen to be a vegetarian) about 10 minutes before it’s finished cooking. You really can’t ruin this recipe and it’s so delicious.

  303. Julie

    I really wanted to say that I LOVE this recipe… but I find it just ok. Keep the lid off, it won’t reduce properly otherwise. I succumbed to wanting my roommates to be satisfied so I put in some dried herbs and Italian style sausage last minute (otherwise I probably would have tried it as is). I did enjoy the separate onions, but the sauce itself just doesn’t have enough flavor for me.

  304. i just tried this recipe for the first time today, it really is amazing! and i completely agree… i’m one of those people who sits with the bottle of grated parmesan next to my plate, and i keep adding layers of the parmesan after i eat each layer of pasta… i didn’t need the parm at all! this recipe is delicious and so easy, thanks so much!

  305. Kati

    I don’t get it. The sauce is okay, not great, and I don’t get all the squealing about how wonderful it is. It tastes like a creamy canned sause.

  306. Cathy

    very yummy! I bought the same noodles and all… love their curly personality :) The sauce was great, though somewhat on the sweet side for me. I am curious how it will be as leftovers since pasta seems to be 10 times better the next day.

    Thanks for the recipe, I really have a great time scouring your site for creative and adventurous recipes!

  307. I actually think you’ve started a red sauce revolution with this sauce. I have made it now like 10 times, including a party of 8 for my husband’s 35th birthday (it’s what he wanted…he can’t get enough of it!)
    And as for the onion, I’ve been chopping it up, throwing it in a pan with some balsamic, salt & pepper and caramelizing them, then I toast baguette, spread each piece w/ herbed goat cheese and throw the onions over the top, for a yummy bruschetta. The two dishes together with a nice salad make an absolutely perfect meal.
    Also- I’ve been using pastured salted butter, and I like the sauce the best with that.

  308. Brad

    For those of you complaining about acidity, this will vary from can to can and brand to brand of the tomatoes you use. Some sugar can help take the edge off. Next time, try a different brand. When you have such a super simple recipe like this, the quality of individual ingredients will make or break your dish.

    Too watery? Bring to a boil and reduce; or once you have the technique down you’ll know if your cans gave too much liquid and can pour some off before cooking. This is the best option, since reducing a watery sauce can take forever when you’ve had a really long day and just want to eat some dinner.

    Also, I always de-seed my tomatoes before I make a sauce. Those seeds will just make your sauce bitter. Remove from can, break open with fingers over sink, rinse seeds away, plop into sauce pan with enough of the strained tomato liquid to cover.

    I’m not sure if it makes any difference because I’ve never tried any other way, but I also always brown my butter instead of just melting it. Maybe there’s no difference but it doesn’t take long so why not give it a try?

    This is a great, easy recipe for a simple sauce you really can’t mess up once you know how to make it. It’s not the Italian tomato sauce that simmers for hours on end with Italian herbs and spices. It’s a SIMPLE sauce with SIMPLE flavors you can make with hardly any thought at all. If you need a complicated tomato sauce with more flavors, try another recipe. But if you can appreciate a simple sauce solely starring the awesome flavors of tomatoes, onions, and butter then look no further.

  309. M

    I didn’t love this sauce. Way too much butter for me, and the final sauce tasted very flat. Unfortunately I didn’t have super fancy canned tomatoes, pretty cheap ones actually, so maybe that makes all the difference.

  310. nb

    i thought this was decent – definitely not a replacement for my usual tomato sauce, but surprisingly flavorful for a 3-ingredient sauce. i agree with other commenters that the key is using good tomatoes – that will easily make or break this recipe. but unlike many other commenters, i did NOT find the butter to be overwhelming at all – in fact, i didn’t really taste it (which is how it should be – it enhances the sauce without dominating it).

    for me, this sauce is perfect for things like pizza, calzones, etc – recipes where the sauce really matters, but it’s not the star of the show.

  311. Meghan

    I made this sauce on Friday night with the whole tomatoes as stated (I found this brand at Whole Foods – made a special trip there just for these) and I made it again last night with the San Marzano brand again, but in the diced variety. My fiance was VERY skeptical but once it was on the table, he could not stop raving. It tasted better with the whole tomatoes, not sure why. I will be keeping a few cans on hand for those nights that I don’t feel like making anything elaborate. Last night I did add some frozen Trader Joe’s meatballs and they went really well with the sauce.

    LOVE your site!!! Keep up the good work.

  312. This might become my go-to weeknight sauce… delicious! I didn’t get the tomatoes sufficiently squished with a spoon, though, and ended up tossing it in the blender to get my desired consistency.

  313. Nichole

    First time here and I thought I will try this sauce out….seems easy. Made it and meh, it was ok. So I tried it again and took the butter out and added 2 garlic cloves, and italian seasoning. I didn’t miss the butter. I do like the fresh taste of the sauce though, and I like knowing what is going into my food. Thank you.

  314. All by itself, I thought I had done something wrong….? Tasted a smidge bland. But with ricotta gnocchi, Oh MY! it blew my mind. They were perfect together. YUM!

  315. jemma

    instead of chucking the onion away after, i sliced it up a little and ate it with the sauce. after being simmered for so long it was soooo delicious :D

  316. sqv

    Mmmm, made this 2 days ago and it rocked on spag; then reheated the [pitifully small pot of] leftover sauce today with some cut-up mushrooms and a few generous handfuls of spinach. Still rocked, plus it satisfied a craving for slightly heartier sauce. The butteriness is pretty amazingly tasty.

  317. This has become part of our weekly rotation, and tonight I tried it with Muir Glenn organic whole tomatoes rather than the San Marzanos, and the tomatoes did not break down into the sauce. I ended up pureeing the entire contents – onions and all to make it a cohesive sauce. I do not recommend using the above brand of tomatoes for this recipe – it is worth buying the San Marzanos, which work beautifully.

  318. Alex

    I made this tonight and it was awesome. I used Light Butter ( 50% less fat) and I cut the fat down to 3 tablespoons and yet this is completely amazing still!

  319. moon

    The original recipe calls for plum tomatoes, and the recommended type is San Marzano which are particularly sweet, meaty, have very few seeds, and break down easily into a thick sauce when cooked–as is true of most plum tomatoes aka paste tomatoes for this very quality. San Marzano refers to the region where these are traditionally grown, and many say they are sweeter for the volcanic soil in which they grow–but SMs are also an heirloom plum tomato (in other words, the name of a specific type of tomato–similar to how there are many red apples, and some are called cortland or macintosh or red delicious; or how Vidalias are sweet onions grown in Vidalia, Georgia, but the same onion cultivar grown elsewhere does not taste the same –and you can find them grown anywhere and often fresh at farmer’s markets.

    Any canned PLUM tomato will be a good substitute; whole round tomatoes are more likely to have an acidic flavor and/or more watery and to have many many more seeds. The difference in what you use can account for a shift in flavor & texture and will be the difference between this being a wonderful taste treat and something not so good. You don’t have to use imported tomatoes–any peeled plum can do, while using SMs would be best (the can shown is not an import, but US grown SMs), and the imported ones even better as they are significantly tastier. If you taste a tomato from the can and it is sweet, then you are in business. Cooking it won’t make it any better. Don’t be afraid to add enough salt, or the sugo will indeed be bland.

  320. the best place to get the canned San Marzano’s from Italy are at Cierello’s in Grand Central Market -t hey have a more colorful wrapper and I can’t remember their name. I received this tip about 12 years ago when I plopped myself right into RAO’s looking for a “job” when I first moved to NYC… I was put on a waiting list and called 18 months later — but was already employed by then. However, they gave me the label off of their can in the kitchen that day and I carried it around until I stumbled upon it many years later — Also FYI a friend of mine took an amateur cooking course at FCI and this is one of the first recipes they made!

  321. I was dubious, but thought, what the hey, at most I’m out a couple of onions and canned tomatoes. I was pleasantly surprised at the result. I couldn’t get enough of the stuff. My husband liked it, too. When I think of all the jars of Prego Sauce I’ve bought..or worse yet, the times I was craving pasta, but didn’t cook it because there was no Prego Sauce in the pantry. I ALWAYS have onions and canned tomatoes on hand. Thank you so much for sharing this!

  322. Samma

    I’m making this tonight for my boyfriend, who swears by Prego, almost as a contest to see if it is truly as good as you all say! He claims it cannot be THAT good with only those three ingredients, and actually bought mushrooms to add “when it comes out too bland”… we will see, we will see.

  323. Jane B

    I finally made one of the recipes on your site. I don’t much like the kitchen where I’m living at the moment, so I don’t do much “proper” cooking. This sounded too good and too simple to resist. It was perfect – an ideal supper for a grey and rainy Saturday.

  324. I was really surprised by how easy and GOOD this was. Butter is a miracle. I only had Hunt’s petite diced on hand, and so the sauce came out watery at first BUT a little soft butter with flour rubbed into it dropped into the sauce for the last few minutes or so made it nice and thick without affecting the flavor at all. Yay! I absolutely love your site – I’ve been hanging around for a while and your work is so beautiful! Thanks! :)

  325. aj

    Okay, where did I go wrong? I was so excited by this recipe, also thinking I must have been missing out all these years. I cooked the canned Marzano tomatoes, butter and onion for 45 min – one hour, and salted…When I finished, it tasted like…
    Canned tomatoes! Could my tomatoes have been too old? My onion didn’t contribute enough…Any suggestions, fellow cooks?

  326. Hannah

    Wow!!! Need I say more?!
    Ok, I admit it. I was…definitely sceptical. But who can blame me? JUST tomatoes, butter and an onion? THREE ingredients? No chopping + no work + no effort on my part = a delicious sauce? Maybe…mmm
    I decided to risk it. I needed a super quick meal for a family of hungry kids. So I dumped in the ingredients. One can of tomatoes (no fancy brands over here in Africa, just plain old canned tomatoes), salted butter (!!), about five fresh, peeled tomatoes and a red onion, peeled & cut in half. I was really worried. Here I was without San Marzano tomatoes, a yellow onion & unsalted butter trying to make a sauce that everyone said was wonderful with all the wrong ingredients and expecting perfection…
    Well, 45 minutes, a few unexpected guests and 500g of mince meat (stirred and cooked into the sauce!! I had to flesh out the sauce for all the people I was feeding) later what can I say?! Wonder of wonders, IT WORKED!!! I know right!! Why did I ever doubt you, Deb?!
    A few notes: I liked the cooked onion so much (even though it was red) that I pulled it out of the sauce, chopped it up (so easy since it was so soft) and threw it back in. I did add a little ground black pepper (I’m a ground black pepper addict!!) and needed more salt even though I used salted butter. The mince combined perfectly with the tomatoes and I was surprised that the fresh tomatoes just cooked right into the sauce like that. I had no lumps, bumps, nothing. I did use a potato masher to make sure my tomatoes were really crushed so maybe that’s it.. After adding the mince, I kept the sauce on a VERY low heat during the afternoon. It thickened up, perfumed the house with its aroma and the flavours really came into themselves. I kept tasting it, unbelieving!! No herbs? No garlic? No olive oil?
    There was plenty to go round all the kids, extra for leftovers (even more delish!) and was labelled the best spaghetti bolognaise I have EVER made!!
    I’m more than pleased…I’m SO excited to have found a recipe where I can wow everyone and produce something so good without minimal (VERY minimal!!) effort.
    THANK YOU!!!

  327. Meghan

    I’ve tried this sauce a few times and I have to say- I love it! I normally try to stay away from cooking red sauce, because well… my boyfriend’s mom is a full-blooded Italian from Queens and I just can’t compare, but I actually got a “Wow.. this sauce is great!” from him, so that has to count for something!

  328. I made this sauce last week, and my husband and I loved it! I made homemade whole wheat spaghetti noodles to go with it. I am wondering how this would taste made with olive oil instead of the butter just for comparison’s sake. Has anyone tried it?

  329. Lianne

    I made this sauce last week and it was amazing. It’s the only tomato sauce I’ll make from now on (okay, there is one other, but only because it’s my husband’s favourite). I think the quality of the tomatoes is the key – I couldn’t find San Marzano’s but bought plum tomatoes imported from Italy. It tastes exactly like a sauce that I love that costs $8.99 a jar (CDN) – obviously only bought as a treat. Now I need a spicy version, any suggestions for the best way to spice it up?

  330. Chris M

    I made this sauce last weekend but used omega 50/50 butter and stewed tomatoes and it turned out great! So yummy! I also added some fresh garlic to give it a little more kick.

  331. Kristin

    I just made this sauce tonight…I made a larger batch because I had a big can of San Marzano tomatoes. And it’s a good thing I did…because it was deeeelish. Thanks for the recipe!! :)

  332. Just last week my roommate, who is Italian, made lasagna for me and our other roommate. I was horrified when he added a large pat of butter to the canned tomato puree (along with salt and pepper) and then let it simmer. First, who the heck needs that many extra calories, and second, surely this was not the correct way to make authentic Italian tomato sauce?!
    Well, it was wonderful. As in, the best I think I’ve ever had. And I lived in Rome for a while a few years back. So…now that I have stumbled across this recipe, I stand corrected! And the worst part? I have Marcela Hazan’s Essentials of Italian Cooking on my shelf and I don’t think I’ve ever looked up tomato sauce in it. Clearly I have much to learn! (And thanks for the recipe…I can’t wait to test it out. :) )

  333. penelope

    SOOOO good. I, too, have seen this recipe published before but never tried it until your endorsement. That, and plain laziness for not wanting to make a big pot of sauce. And I’m beyond happy. At first I thought “that’s it? no garlic? no basil? no… anything?” and the first 15 min or so of I kept thinking, it needs something. Butabout 30 min into the simmer, you just taste delicious tomatoes. It’s so clean, but a little rich. Really, this is a perfect sauce. Delicious over those no-yolk egg noodles. Thanks!

  334. Elizabeth

    I have to say that I’m usually very good at being able to imagine what something will taste like from reading the recipe. However, this one eluded me. I couldn’t imagine it. It’s simmering away on my stove right now and I just took a tiny taste. Holy COW! It’s DELICIOUS! Totally unexpected, refreshing, light, and complex. Where have I been these past few years?

  335. Susan

    All I can say is OMG!!!! I made this over the weekend but ate it last night. OMG. My pasta were these ribbons that resembled lasagna – only 1/2 to 3/4 inch wide. OMG!!!! I too did not add cheese – just a little freshly ground pepper. I kept groaning with bliss whilst eating this.


  336. Allison

    I can’t stop making this – It’s the best example of the results being infinitely greater than the sum of its parts.
    I mean, eat-with-a-spoon-and-lick-the-pan/plate/bowl deliciousness. I’ve had it on pasta, over chicken, over a poached egg on toast with parmesan… It’s the perfect sauce.

  337. I love the simplicity of this recipe and the results are fantastic. This sauce took a package of store-bought tortellini to another level. Like some other readers, I pureed this with an immersion blender. Thanks for sharing.

  338. Joelle

    So, I finally got around to making this. Don’t overcook it! It gets dry…still tasty, but just not as smooth as I like. You’re right about it being good without cheese!

    BTW, the pasta are “fusilli lunghi.” Colavita (carried occasionally in Giant here below the Mason-Dixon line) makes it and a whole bunch of other fancy shapes…and only about 30% more than regular old De Cecco spaghetti (I buy it whenever I see it!).

  339. Vikki

    It is the middle of the night now (because my monkey woke up) and I have an urge to make this right away as I am reading your recipe, because it sounds so good!

  340. Liz

    This was incredibly tasty, and my husband, self-proclaimed picky eater, LOVED it! Definitely a new, easy staple at our house!

  341. Reta and Laras

    We made this for our early dinner and it was EXCELLENT! It tasted refreshing and was quite simple to make. Perfect for after school dinner. Thanks always for sharing.

  342. Joanne

    Wow – comment number 541! Made this last week with San Marzano tomatoes, fancy small-batch organic butter, and Rustichella d’Abruzzo Fusilli col buco (and a plain, old, yellow onion!). It is delicious, but you can definitely taste the butter. I absolutely loved the small portion I had, but was getting riched out by the end. It has since been reheated multiple times and absolutely abused in the microwave and still is pretty creamy. Amazing sauce, but too rich for me to be my go-to marinara.

  343. Ernie

    I have made this sauce three times so far. The first time was soso as the tomatos I used weren’t the best. The second time was better and today I finally found out what the secret is: Keep the lid off! This is one of the instructions on how to cook tomato sauces Marcella gives in the foreword of the pasta-section in her book. This is why it so it is not part of the original recipe. But it is crucial!

  344. Jenn

    Delurking to say that I have made this sauce twice so far and it was great both times. The first time I ate it as is over noodles and it was perfect for me while my husband was stuck with soup following oral surgery. The second time, I plopped in some leftover warmed chicken meatballs (another great recipe of yours!) in the final 10 minutes, making it a more hearty “manly” meal on a Friday night. Thanks for the great recipes!

  345. I made this sauce soon after you posted it, but I am afraid that I am in the very tiny minority of dissenting voices. Yes, the sauce is very simple and easy to make, but it pretty much ends up tasting like, well, tomatoes. I found the texture luscious (because of the butter), but the flavor was a little flat. Maybe I’m just used to jazzier sauces, but I thought it needed some spice, some kick, and most definitely, some GARLIC! However, in reading all 500-plus comments, I came across a poster (Mara, #165) who was bragging about her incredible homemade meatballs, so I popped by her site, and used her recipe as a guide to make some truly terrific meatballs of my own! And they were SO flavorful, that they went perfectly with the low-key tomato sauce. So on its own, I personally do not favor this tomato sauce, but with some zesty meatballs thrown in, it becomes a must-make!

    1. deb

      Gina — That’s awesome that you got some great meatballs out of the deal! Go SK comment sections! Anyway, you’re not alone. I’d say that 90% are blown away by this sauce and the other 10% feel as you do — their comments are sprinkled throughout the section too.

  346. I tried this the other day, and it really is the butter that matters most. It’s such a perfect, smooth, sweet, round sauce – but not sweet like it’s sweetened, more sweet like… well, think of the way the salt in salted caramel makes it taste so much more balanced and sweet and creamy. The butter in this adds a quasi-sweetness that does the same. It’s so good. We didn’t even bother taking out the onion. It fell apart into halved layers and the smaller ones practically melted, and I think my brother just ate the larger ones as they were. Really good with simple linguine, but I couldn’t find the telephone cord pasta anywhere!

  347. Robert

    If you reduce the butter by a couple tablespoons, remove a bit of the tomato juice (from the can) and let it simmer even longer, it makes excellent pizza sauce. I’ve made both that and the standard recipe at least a dozen times (combined) since this came up and love them both.

  348. I made this recipe and wrote about it here:

    I am sadly among the minority here too. Mine ended up tasting like plain old tomatoes too. I am certain that has to do with the fact that I like a sweet red sauce, and that I used regular, not the Italian tomatoes. I’m going to give this recipe another try with the fancier tomatoes and see if that doesn’t make the sauce less acidic for me. This was also my first shot at making sauce from scratch. I usually just serve up the premade stuff in a can. Thank you for the recipe and the idea that it isn’t as hard as I once thought to make things from scratch!

  349. I chanced upon your blog and have to say it is a great one! I also have Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking and trying out various recipes from there. I haven’t tried this one yet though but after reading this post, I will probably have to go try it!

  350. I’m late to this party as usual, but just had to say this sauce was the reason we had a delicious home cooked meal last night despite a 5pm run to the grocery store. I left it simmering while I put my toddler to bed, and returned to find dinner ready to go. It will definitely be a go-to for those crazy nights! Thanks for bringing it to my attention!

  351. Michelle

    I’m very fussy when it comes to pasta sauce-I’ve never made a recipe I like as much as my mother’s, but I liked this *almost* as much. I’m not a fan of chunky sauces, so I bought San Marzano crushed tomatoes instead of whole tomatoes, and I love how the sauce tasted so fresh and…tomato-y. I felt sad throwing the onion away so instead, I used it for the baked chicken meatballs also on this site and it was perfect. I loved the consistency and flavor of the sauce, and didn’t feel like I needed to fuss with it and add garlic or anything else. The butter adds a delicious richness to the sauce without being overbearing. This will now be my go-to sauce.

  352. Rachelle

    I just reviewed this on epicurius and then wondered why I was the first. Turns out you’re all here on SK! Here’s what I think:

    Meh. For some reason I was really intrigued by this recipe. I’d never had tomato sauce with butter, and thought maybe the combination was a bit magical. I did not have San Marzan tomatoes, but I did have a half-dozen heirloom tomatoes from last summer as well as some ordinary diced tomatoes. Apart from that I followed the recipe exactly, and felt very underwhelmed. I guess I just prefer food that’s got more pungent flavours. Tomorrow I’ll add a bulb of roasted garlic and maybe some thyme to see if it improves the leftovers.

  353. I’ve made this sauce about six times since you’ve last posted. San Manzano tomatoes are hard to find at the standard grocery store but I’ve found one variety that has turned out superbly, the organic store brand available at Ralphs is Southern California. I already forgot the name, but know that they turned out the best. I’ve tried tomatoes from Target, Stater Bros., Vons and Progresso. I liked Progresso the least. Today I am making it with from a Trader Joe’s variety, it’s still cooking but I can tell they will also turn out well. My sister bought me a $7 can of San Manzano tomatoes for the restaurant supply store and I have a feeling that the price and quality will create a wonderful sauce. The key to this sauce is the canned tomatoes, I wouldn’t bother with using the fresh variety since the canned has turned out well. Thanks SK! You’re the best.

  354. Cynthia

    Another wonderful recipe, thank you! I used the San Marzano crushed tomatoes (I grabbed the wrong can) and they worked wonderfully. Thanks again!

  355. Birdie

    Deb – try making this recipe with REAL san marzano tomatoes. The ones pictured here are san marzano – but they are grown in North America. Try ones that say “Product of Italy” or even better – DOP certified, San Marzano – product of Italy. I’ve done numerous taste tests, and they are definitely superior!

    1. deb

      And yet, we still found the sauce delicious. I’m greatly looking forward to making it with local, not imported, tomatoes this summer.

  356. Asif

    Hi. I am definitely making this sauce this weekend. Can you tell me what brand of tomato sauce you are using? Did you buy it at wholefoods? I can’t wait to try this…read all the comments….and that is a whole lot. :)


  357. Can’t believe how much I love this sauce. It’s so rich tasting, I’d expect it to be a meat sauce.

    Definitely double the batch if you like sauce or want leftovers. I feel like one recipe is just enough for two plates for sauce lovers.

    I also don’t throw out the onions. I just chop them up afterwards and eat them. Too good to waste!

  358. I made this for dinner tonight and the sauce blew my FREAKING mind! It was so easy and delicious. I used fire roasted tomatoes with jalapenos which added heat. My Partner and I were licking our bowls.

  359. Erica

    I make this all the time – it is my absolute favorite. My husband made it for me 10 years ago when we started dating and I’ve kept both around. People are always shocked when I tell them that there are only 3 ingredients. It’s incredible on gnocchi.

  360. auspis32

    My roommate and I thoroughly enjoyed this sauce with mini rotini,a salad and nice red. I just moved into my apartment and had tons of crap to do. It was great to be able to literally throw the ingredients in a sauce pan, unpack, clean stir and repeat. I had a semi organized apartment and a delicious meal within 45 minutes. There where lots of yummy sounds made.

  361. Nina

    This is the greatest tomato sauce I’ve ever had, bar none. I’ve made it almost a dozen times since I found SK in February through Tastespotting, which is more than i’ve made any one sauce in my life!

    I tend to add a clove or two of garlic, halve the butter, rough puree the lot before serving (I’m a big allium fan), and double or triple EVERYTHING- but it’s amazing however you do it! I’m quite fond of a tablespoon of pesto stirred in, as well.

    For those of you who are hesitant to dump a whole stick of butter into what, strangely enough, always reduces down into so much less than you started with (could be the quarter cup one eats as it cooks), just cut the quantity in half. It’s just as magical.

  362. This is my favorite go-to sauce now! I make it at least a few time s a month. My favorite way to eat it is with Maestri Pastai old style pasta. I just blogged about it on It’s the perfect pasta to absorb all that tomato-onion-butter goodness!

  363. Asif

    I finally made this and luved it…and so did my family. The fun part is still to come…I am definitely going to experiment with it. :)

  364. jai in the UK

    I tried this last night, I found the sauce a little too tart so had to add a teaspoon of brown sugar to take the edge off the acidity. ( did not use those brand of tomatoes mentioned, as I can’t get them here in England )

    I still have half of it left, I will try puréeing the onions and add them to the sauce to see if will improve the flavour.

    But it is a nice simple sauce to make.

  365. I linked to this post today because I am DETERMINED to try this super yummy looking sauce SOON.
    Thank you for sharing the recipe and for your delicious blog. It makes me smile.

  366. Lisa

    I’ll admit, I’m a bit of a snob about pasta sauce–I’ve eaten homemade my whole life, and have a bit of a visceral reaction to anything from a jar. I was skeptical about this because of the simplicity, but I have to say that it was just delightful. Of course, the Italian in had to begin by sauteing a couple cloves of garlic and a bit of anchovy paste in some olive oil, but from there I followed the directions to a T, and was eating it out of the pot with a spoon by the end. I also can’t help but think it would be even more wonderful with some fresh basil chopped in! I’ll still be making my old standby, but this is a great alternative to it!

  367. Aly

    I’ve made this recipe more than 4 times and it only gets better and better. The trick is the salted butter. I used unsalted butter once and it wasn’t as delightful. So easy and so amazing.

  368. Carlos

    Delicious. I have a nice herb garden, so I’ve been toying with adding this and that to it. But…by itself, it’s wonderful.

  369. W Lisa

    My husband suggested I make this in our double boiler so that I wouldn’t run the risk of ruining our only good pot and wouldn’t have to camp in the kitchen. After about two hours of slowly turning up the heat to maximum and putting a lid on the pot, it still hadn’t simmered. I wanted to give up and go to bed but he wanted to salvage the ingredients. So, it is now in a regular pot for an additional 45 minutes of careful babysitting at a smidgen above low.
    So, unless your stove is more powerful than my basic home gas one I really wouldn’t recommend trying to make this in a double boiler to save yourself worry and trips to the kitchen because it will never simmer.

  370. mandy

    This recipe changed my life. literally. i love it so much!! i now add a few handfuls of spinach/arugula to the pasta water at the end when i want to be “healthier”, and sprinkle goat cheese on top (an idea i got from Jamie Oliver). I share this recipe with everyone!!

  371. Derek

    For your readers wondering ‘why unsalted butter?’. It was explained to me in culinary school that when purchasing butter, i should simply pay for the butter. We go through hundreds of lbs of butter a year, and if it is 5% salt by weight, im only recieving 95% butter for my money. Also; some places use salt and preservatives to cover up funky flavors. 100% real unsalted butter every time for me please, kosher salt is cheap enough and I always have it on hand anyways. It is also much easier to control the final saltiness of the dish, if for example, you like to add a pat of butter at the end for richness.

  372. Terri

    O.M.G. I loved this! I used Italissima peeled tomatoes and only two tbsp of (salted) butter, but it was still amazing! Thanks so much!

  373. Jeff

    Just curious…why waste a perfectly good onion? I am trying the recipe right now, and since I am from Georgia and using a “world-famous” Vidalia Onion, I can’t see any reason not to eat it.

  374. Marie M.C.

    I STILL haven’t tried this. This week for sure. One question/suggestion. So many recipes leave me scratching my head — lid on or lid off. I’m guessing this is lid off? I’d be some grateful to see this question answered on ALL recipes. Many thanks, Deb. Love pictures of the world’s cutest baby! He’s growing like corn!

  375. efish

    I made this last night and found it a mixed bag. I used Cento brand San Marzanos imported from Italy, a sweet yellow onion and salted butter (because that’s what was open in the fridge). It came out too harsh and very acidic. I read one of the comments above saying it is common in parts of Italy to make this sauce with a carrot in addition to the onion, so I decided to try grating a small carrot into the sauce. It worked! It took the harsh edge off, without making the sauce sweet and added an interesting texture. I thought it was even better once it was on the pasta and topped with some Locatelli and cracked pepper. Can’t wait for my husband to try this, I’m pretty sure he’ll flip for it. Thanks for the recipe!

  376. NinaK

    Hi, I’m a new reader. I got very excited about this and tried it last week. I have to confess I wasn’t a fan, and my husband didn’t like it either. We join the group of people who just don’t like the butter taste in pasta sauce.

    So this morning I decided to try it with 4-5 glugs of of EVOO. I started it simmering while I was reading the morning papers, and soon it was done. Delicious–just what I hoped for. The good thing about this sauce is it’s so easy. I hope you will try the olive oil and let us know what you think.

    BTW, I also used the crushed San Marzano tomatoes this time, which was even less work.

  377. Betty Frost

    I tried this recipe from Marcella Hazan’s cookbook which was first published in 1973. I bought the 1979 addition. The recipe is sooo simple and delicious. I was thinking of it the other day and now I see this in your blog. I plan to have it again, and often. Thanks for the reminder.

  378. Momto3boys

    I am re-naming this as “Is There Anything I CAN’T Put This On Sauce?” Seriously, I sit and try to think of ways to eat this. So far I have my favorite: french baguette with ricotta goat cheese and THE SAUCE on top. I have also done toast with two over medium eggs and THE SAUCE on top. I love how the buttery-ness of the sauce melds with the velvet egg yolk! I’ve put it on pasta, I’ve put it on zucchini and onion saute and I’m sure I’ll find tons of other ways to use it. It’s just SO simple and SO good. Thanks!

  379. Karen

    Finally got around to trying this today and loved the simplicity! I couldn’t find any San Marzanos so I went with canned organic whole tomatoes and it was good. I do wonder how much better it would be with the intended ingredients? My husband and daughter were not big fans so I have to eat it myself… :) Which of course is no problem. I cracked open a jar of organic sauce for them and called it a day. Also enjoyed eating the onion after it was cooked! I kept nibbling it as is as it cooled. I can’t wait to make this again!

  380. Rebekah

    I did the same thing as Hannah #552– fished out the onion with tongs, chopped it up, and stirred it right back in. Delicious. I also added a clove of garlic (I know! heresy! but I love garlic and it just didn’t taste right without it) and had to drain some liquid to get the right consistency. I think next time I’ll double the recipe and drain one of the cans of tomatoes– that should be about perfect. No need for extra salt, pepper, or spices. This is going to make one heck of a lasagna on Monday.

  381. Hel

    Did anyone else try it and think “meh”? I was very excited about, but it just tasted like….heated up pureed tomatoes, basically. The butter was not enough to make any difference really, and while you could sort of taste that there’d been onion in it, the whole thing totally lacked any depth of flavour.

    Husband and son were also not impressed.

    I’m going back to my regular tomato sauce which uses garlic, herbs, olive oil or butter. I thought this sounded too good to be true…and it was!

  382. This is one of the best recipes I have ever tried. I LOVE this pasta sauce. The onion was one of my favorite parts. I let it cool & snacked on it while the pasta boiled. Mmmmmm

  383. this sauce, while refreshing and tasty is very one note. i know my palate as well as the palate of those who i cook for andso these are the slight alterations I made.

    In the beginning I took half of the butter and melted it in the pot with 1/4 tsp of oregano and 1.2 tsp of red pepper flakes along with one thinly sliced clove of garlic. Sauteed a little bit then added the onion, tomatoes and rest of the butter. It was pretty darned good. I like the idea of butter in place of olive oil–still doesn’t beat my nonna’s sauce that my mom, aunts and I make.

  384. Kelly

    We made this super simple sauce tonight and LOVED IT! And we’re folks that like big flavors. This was lush and a perfect basic tomato sauce.

    Haven’t yet made a single thing from your website that we haven’t loved. So looking forward to the cookbook!

  385. Coley

    I LOVE this! It’s simple and somehow both lighter and richer than traditional tomato sauces. I’ve made it a few times, with tweaks here and there- most often using fresh tomatoes instead of canned, and most recently using a combo of fresh roma and heirloom tomatoes (Ah-mazing!). I plan on freezing a batch or two to make the deliciousness last!

  386. laurel in madison

    this is one of our favorite dishes now. we love making it and then inviting friends over. everyone is amazed by the tastes and then we tell them how we slaved over it :).

    we canned tomatos this year so that we could make this throughout the winter, i think for the simplicity of this recipe we’ll be buying canned tomatos at the grocery store.

  387. roryf

    this is such a good recipe. doing it with a huge can of san marzano tomatoes from terroni in toronto. 3kg worth! so i tripled everything + a bit more, it’s on the stove now.. gonna give it 150 minutes at least

  388. Annie

    Oh. My. God. This was sooooo delicious. I made this last week for a friend’s birthday dinner and there wasn’t a drop of it left. I think I’ll make it tonight again for a boy. Fingers crossed he likes it as much as I do.

  389. This sauce has been my guilty pleasure for over 13 years! Marcella Hazan’s son wrote a pasta cookbook and included this recipe as an example of a pasta sauce cooked for children in Italy. I started making this sauce for my then two year old (who still loves it this wa)y, and absolutely loved it but thought it was borderline heresy to add butter to a tomato sauce! I guess it’s really only about taste after all.

  390. I just love this recipe. It has become my go to recipe for a quick and easy weekday meal since I usually have all of the ingredients on hand. Thanks for posting this recipe!

  391. Kate

    I am sitting in Rome in a tiny kitchen and this sauce is simmering on the stove while my husband and I listen to Sinatra and sip wine. Life could not be any better…perhaps until we taste the sauce! Thanks, always, Deb for your smitten cooking inspiration.

  392. Krista

    I discovered SK via my sister-in-law’s blog. She had made the Espresso Chiffon Cake with Fudge Frosting. I fell in love the SK’s wit, pictures, and recipes. When I found this one, I wanted to jump for joy. I remembered reading about it in one of Nicholas Spark’s novels and always wondered if it’s a REAL recipe. It is! I left the cooked onion in the leftover sauce. I liked it even better the next day warmed up.

  393. Alix Lehman

    Hazan says about the sauce in her recipe ” I have known people to skip the pasta and eat the sauce directly out of the pot with a spoon”. When I read that in her cookbook I was skeptical. I, like you, am a parmesian cheese addict. Plus a sauce that only has 3 ingredients?! So I made it. And I had to eat some crow. Something magical does indeed happen. You need need a definite hard simmer for the full 45 minutes but in that last 10 minutes the magic happens. I couldn’t get enough of this sauce and I almost skipped the pasta entirely. Absolutely unheard of in my world. So any of you who are waffeling on making this one…go right ahead and be prepared for the wonder that is this sauce.

  394. Cyril

    Hi!! I just tried this recipe & it was so delicious!! I’m always going to keep a can of San Marzano handy for when I crave this sauce. Thank you so much :)

  395. May

    I’m currently living in China and don’t have easy(cheap) access to things such as canned tomatoes, paste, etc (or cheese! :( Thankfully this sauce sounds good enough to go without!)… do you think using fresh tomatoes would work? Is there some sort of equivalent?

    1. deb

      Just use an equal weight of peeled, seeded plum tomatoes. You can strain the juices, to remove the seeds, and add them back in. If your tomatoes seem a little dry, you can add additional water as needed.

  396. Sara

    Added it as a base at the last minute to my Shakshuka recipe. Which I LOVED and the whole family raved about it! Hey, with my traditional morning mimosa and a chocolate croissant, some fine way to start a day!!Makes me wish I were sailing…

  397. Danielle

    My husband was very skeptical when he saw me trying, yet again, to make a homemade pasta sauce. The flavor of this sauce was great, though!! But we found the sauce a bit too thin. Next time I’ll exclude some of the liquid from the can of tomatoes to thicken it…?

  398. Erin

    I’ve received nothing but praise from my boyfriend after making this for him a few times… really delicious, and easy enough for even an amateur cook like me to execute :) Thanks!!

  399. Amy

    I’ve made this a couple of times and it’s wonderful. However, I have to threaten my BF with a wooden spoon to keep him from adding ingredients. He of the carrots-celery-onion-mushroom-red and white wine-garlic, etc spaghetti recipe has Opinions about how to make a tomato sauce. We’ve compromised, and I crush two cloves of garlic (to be fished out later) and a tiny glug of red wine (which he always attempts to lengthen) and two pinches of italian herbs and it is heavenly! I serve it over a four cheese tortellini and it’s great.

  400. Aimee

    I am not typically one to post before I’ve tried a recipe, but this sauce is simmering on the stove and I’m just waiting for the noodles to be done… and my son and I can’t stop stealing spoonfuls from the sauce pot.

    To quote my son, “It smells like tomato sauce only so much better!”

  401. shalom

    DH doesn’t usually like tomato based sauces. I drained the canned tomatoes, reserving the juice, & roasted them. Then I added them back into the juice and proceeded w/the recipe. When done I blended the onions into the sauce w/a stick blender & add some garlic powder. When he tasted the original base recipe w/o roasted tomatoes & garlic he said something about acid. Since I can’t have any sugar or sweeteners I added half & half (sort of making it like a bisque) – the natural sugars in the cream seemed to help w/the acid and changed the taste a bit. Then I used the sauce to make homemade manicotti ( He loved it & had no problem with the taste of the sauce. For me either way is great, but these changes make it possible to serve it to him also.

  402. shalom

    PS I have heard of using spaghetti squash as a pasta replacement & have tried it. I liked it, but it wasn’t really a pasta replacement. Except of the slight crunchiness, this sauce actually does make it seem to taste like pasta. Even my son, who is a huge pasta lover, thought so. He likes pasta so much that one of his favorite pizzas at CiCi’s Pizza (a pizza buffet restaurant) is macaroni & cheese pizza.

  403. My friend and I are teaching abroad and on a budget and since you posted this recipe we’ve made it 3 times already!!! Amazing flavors from such simple ingredients. We love to toss in some sauteed mushrooms. Great as a pizza sauce too. Thank you Deb for featuring the recipe! Beautiful photos as usual:-)

  404. jill

    Amazed at how easy and delicious this was. Will definitely be a go-to dish when I’m looking for something simple and tasty. I was eating the sauce straight out of the pan before it was even done. Yum.

  405. Jami

    I made this a while back and it was a hit, but it was a bit too chunky for my taste. I’m trying it again tomorrow with crushed tomatoes instead of whole.
    I’m also planning to use it on manicotti rather than spaghetti.
    We shall see…
    Not a cook at all, so I’m quite nervous about it.

  406. Archagon

    Hey! Quick question. You mention that the sauce is done when “droplets of fat float free”. What are they supposed to look like? I see a lot of fatty droplets in the beginning (presumably from the butter, or possibly from crushing the tomatoes with my spoon) and an orange foam around the halfway point, but nothing as obvious around the 45 minute mark.

    Also, the tomato flesh doesn’t get incorporated into the sauce very well, so I’ve resorted to using an immersion blender at the end. Should this be necessary? Am I doing something wrong?

    Thank you!

    1. deb

      The texture is up to you so if you prefer it after using a blender, go for it. If you’re not seeing droplets, just go by taste, or the clock. The tomatoes rarely take more than 45 minutes to break down but nothing bad will happen if you let it cook for another 5 or 10.

  407. Susie

    I made this sauce last night, as I don’t care for store bought sauce either. I think it is a great base sauce, although it did just remind me of tinned tomatoes cooked with an onion, but with a sauce texture. I added a clove of minced garlic and a tablespoon of italian seasoning and it was amazing (no salt, my tomatoes were salted too).
    I had a hard time crushing the tomatoes against the sides of my pot with the spoon. So I used a potato masher (I thought that might be helpful for others). I like a chunky texture but my husband doesn’t, so next time I will use stick blender.
    Great, easy recipe though, I am glad I found it, as I don’t have the patience for the complex sauce my mother used to make.

  408. Emily

    Amazingly simple and delicious. I believe the trick here is to use simple, quality ingredients. I buy locally made fresh pasta, great canned tomatoes and good butter. The combination really lets artisan pasta shine.

  409. Natalie

    I’m making this for the third time since discovering it…but I leave the onion in, use my immersion blender, and call it soup! Who needs pasta?

  410. sarah

    ok, deb, ive got to know…what do you do with the onion post sauce making?!?! yee who wastes nothing in the kitchen! im definately eager to make this sauce (just found it on your site today!). i love pasta! but im already horrified at the thought of throwing out an entire onion! could one throw it in the “freezer stock bag?”

  411. Sudhana

    When I make this, I always blend the cooked onion into a paste and stir it back into the sauce. The flavor is mellow, sweet, and a perfect complement to the tomato.

    And nothing is wasted!

  412. Nora

    This has only been on the stove for half an hour and I already can’t keep my spoon out of it. The house smells delicious! I love the idea of blending this up a bit and just calling it soup, because I’m pretty sure I’d be able to eat a bowl of it on its own. It’s the first time I’ve ever attempted a tomato sauce without olive oil and garlic, but it seems to be working out…

  413. Erin

    I found this recipe for the first time, and is now my all time favorite sauce! Best way to use up the onion: mince it and store in the fridge. Next morning smear on toast and dollop with a bit of the left over tomato sauce. Lay a fried egg on top and drizzle with olive oil. Gobble.

  414. BriAnna

    Just want to let you know we make this weekly–sometimes even biweekly. It’s incredible and so unbelievably easy. THANK YOU!

  415. Lori

    I make this all the time, without the tomatoes and without the onion and without the simmer time. I do add salt, though. Yum!

    True, but, seriously, I’ve gotta try this! Plus, great comments – I can’t wait to try butter in my tomato soup and other red sauces!

  416. Salma

    beware– I used a can of Cento stewed tomatoes that had been languishing in my pantry for ages, and my sauce has a distinct metallic flavor. This looks so good. Be sure to use good quality SM tomatoes. I’m going to have to trash this batch. I guess when you’ve only got 3 ingredients, you can’t cut corners.

  417. Lori

    OK – with such raves, I couldn’t wait to try this! I made it last night – couldn’t find the SM tomatoes, but did use Muir Glen, a highly rated brand.

    Well, I feel funny being one of the few dissenters, but to me, this tasted mostly like just tomatoes, not like anything delicious or interesting, even with all that butter. Certainly not that Italian essence i was expecting. It is possible my expectations were too high – with all the reviews, how could they not be? Or, maybe it’s because I am not even slightly Italian ;-)

    Slightly related – I always figured that real Italian flavor I treasure from some of my friend’s recipes came from all the meat they put in their sauces, and more specifically, from the fat. I always cut back in that area, so my sauces were never as tasty.

    Anyway, it was fun to read about this – thanks for the great blog, and photos. And I am still planning on trying butter in some other tomato recipes.

  418. Tarpo

    Used a tin of cheap whole tomatoes that actually had italian seasoning added, margarine instead of butter, and 2 small onions.. Basically what I had laying around..

    It was still one of the most amazing sauces I have ever tasted. So simple and clean tasting. Just amazing tossed with a little rotini.

  419. LauraD

    Deb, I made this tonight.. used the same can of tomatoes.. It was WONDERFUL!! Wonderful even after leaving it on the stove and asking my boyfriend to watch it while I was gone for an hour and him neglecting to do so!! Ha, ha.. It probably boiled down too much, but was still a delicious sauce. I will definitely make this again next week!

  420. AnnaB

    So I just made/tried the sauce and it was amazing!It was really really really easy to make and it tasted great. However, I must say it was a bit odd at first, when it was done simmering and I discarded the onion the sauce seemed a bit liquid for the most part with some odd chunks of tomato floating around, even though I took care to crush them as it says in the recipe. So I put it through the blender and it turned out nicely-textured and fit perfectly with my pasta. Thank you for the great and super easy recipe!!

  421. Karen

    Christina, I make this sauce in my slow cooker all the time–sometime around noon (or even in the AM) I toss the tomatoes, butter and onion in the slow cooker and turn it on high, cover it, and go about my day. A few hours later, I use my stick immersion blender to break up the tomatoes–my family likes their sauce smooth. I avoid blending the onions in, but you could if you want and they are soft enough.

    Then I leave the slow cooker on LOW, with the lid cracked to let moisture out, and the sauce reduces down. So anywhere from 1-4 hours on HIGH, and then an hour or two on LOW. If you want to leave the sauce all day to cook, since you’ll be out of the house all day, I’d put the stuff in, leave the cooker on LOW and covered until you get home, then mash the tomatoes, blend if desired, and leave it uncovered (maybe turn the heat up to High again) to reduce it while you prepare the pasta and other parts of the meal.

  422. lisa

    just an FYI, the pasta noodles are called “fusili”. They are very hard to come by in the grocery store, but you can find them in a bag, not box. Ronzoni used to make fusili years ago but no longer do.

  423. I’ve been eying this recipe for well over a year now and finally just made it tonight…and it was just awesome. I can’t believe that 3 ingredients can make such a spectacular sauce and that butter is one of them. Never in a million years would I have thought to cook tomatoes with butter to make a tomato sauce but it so, so works here. Thanks for posting this great recipe, Deb!

  424. Carolyn

    I’ve made a version of this sauce about a half dozen times now. I include a quick simmer of some garlic and oregano in the butter before adding the onion and tomatoes. I have also tried adding a sprig of fresh basil and wow, does that ever add flavor.
    I agree that butter is the key. Luckily, my neighborhood store stocks San Marzano tomatoes.

  425. Chad

    Will definitely be trying this. I have some purple Russian tomatoes I have frozen from my garden last summer that should be perfect for something like this. I’m always looking forward to new ways to make a quick fresh pasta.