simple tomato sauce

simple tomato sauce | The Clever Carrot

You have not lived until you’ve tried Marcella Hazan’s tomato sauce.

I had no clue what I missing until I innocently sampled this recipe over pasta one night. I wanted to lick my plate clean. In fact, it reminded me of how my grandmother used to make tomato sauce. The secret? Butter. Yes, butter. Sounds like an unusual ingredient for tomato sauce, but it adds a subtle creaminess and mellows out the acidity of the tomatoes. Heaven.

This recipe requires only 3 ingredients, 1 minute of prep time, and is dead simple to make. You literally throw everything into a pot and cook it. You don’t even have to chop the onion, OK?

simple tomato sauce | The Clever Carrot

For the tomatoes, you can use fresh or canned. Either way is totally fine. Just make sure that whatever you buy is good quality. My preference is whole, peeled San Marzano tomatoes that I crush directly in the pot. I also use less butter than the original recipe and have adapted my ingredients based on availability; red onion, shallots, fresh basil- it all works.

This is the only tomato sauce I make.

simple tomato sauce | The Clever Carrotsimple tomato sauce | The Clever Carrot

This simple tomato sauce is not only tasty, but it’s very versatile. I usually make one big pot and freeze the leftovers in different size containers and ziploc bags. This way I can pull out whatever I need, whenever I need it.

Then you can do this (and thank me later):

  • add fresh or dried oregano to make a zesty pizza sauce
  • use in soups, stews and gravies
  • lasagna
  • spaghetti & meatballs
  • baked ziti
  • bolognese
  • add sauteed garlic and chilies for a spicy Arabiata sauce
  • use as a base for fish stew and/or steamed mussels
  • and of course, anything parmigiana

simple tomato sauce
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
Serves: 3 cups
  • 2 lbs. fresh, ripe tomatoes OR 1x 28-oz. can good quality whole, peeled tomatoes in juice (I use San Marzano)**
  • 4 tbsp. unsalted butter
  • ½ tsp sugar + more to taste
  • 1 medium yellow onion, peeled and cut in ½ lengthwise
  • handful of fresh basil (optional)
  • salt & pepper
** If using fresh tomatoes, cut a small X into the bottom of each tomato. Blanch in boiling water for about 1 minute or until slightly soft. Drain and remove the skin. Cut into chunks. Proceede with recipe below.
  1. In a large saucepan, bring the tomatoes, butter, sugar, onion, and basil (if using) to a gentle boil.
  2. Reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer until the tomatoes are soft and the sauce has reduced slightly, about 45 minutes.
  3. Gently break up the tomatoes using the back of a wooden spoon or potato masher. Discard the onion (for a smoother consistency, puree the sauce with a hand-held or standard blender).
  4. Taste your sauce. Season with salt and pepper, and additional sugar if necessary.
  5. Serve with extra fresh basil leaves.

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    • Emilie says

      Cheers Laney! She certainly was :) Everyhting that came out of her kitchen was amaaaaaaaaaaazing!!!

    • Emilie says

      Totally. I love being able to taste the quality of ingredients, and not the quantity necessarily. And the butter just takes it over the top. You must give it a try! xo

    • Emilie says

      Yes, that’s the one! I’ve changed it around just a little, but it still has the same great taste. I love the addition of basil… it’s amazing :)

  1. says

    Oh, Emilie…this is perfect…love the simplicity, and the butter is an ingredient I’d never thought of…you bet I’m trying!! ~~ally xo

    • Emilie says

      Butter makes everything taste better, right? ;) I hope you enjoy sweet Ally! Thanks for stopping by xoxox

    • Emilie says

      Hello Mimi (that was my grandmother’s name!) I think you are going to like this recipe! It’s simple and delicious. Definitely give it a try! :)

    • Emilie says

      Quiet? What does that sound like?! If you find this so called ‘quiet spot’, come and kidnap me (with or without the sauce… ha ha!!!) xo

    • Emilie says

      Yes- there is nothing like a good sauce! Sometimes the most simple recipes end up being the best! Thank you Ale :)

  2. says

    Marcella Hazan is a goddess, one of the titans (titanesses?) of Italian cuisine. This recipe made quite a splash, mostly I think because of its supreme unfussiness. It is awfully good, isn’t it ?

    Your photographs are so gorgeous, and their simplicity is an apt stylistic match for the simplicity of this sauce. Brava!

    • Emilie says

      A goddess indeed!! I gravitate towards unfussy recipes in general, so Marcella’s sauce was right up my alley. I mean, you can’t beat throwing in the onion whole, right?! And then when I realized that it tasted just like my grandmother’s, I was in heaven!
      Thank you so much for your kind words Adri!! xoxo

  3. says

    Now, in my mind the butter totally makes sense. Maybe it smooths over the acidity of the tomatoes?? I have no idea, but I can’t wait to make a batch of this. Anything made by your Grandmother must be fantastic! xx

    • Emilie says

      Hi sweets! You’re right actually… and it also adds the most wonderful flavor. The hint of sugar rounds everything out as well. It’s the only way I make tomato sauce. You’re going to LOVE this recipe!!! xo

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