My grandmother used to make the best tomato sauce.
Don’t roll your eyes at me! I know what you’re thinking… your grandmother made the best sauce. Am I right? I totally get it. But for argument’s sake, her version was extra special because she added butter. That’s right, butter. Sounds like an unusual ingredient for tomato sauce, but that was the French in her. Even as a kid I remember how incredible it tasted.
When I began to experiment with my own sauce, it never tasted like hers. Of course not. Why? Because my grandmother never included butter in her written recipe (and I obviously forgot). It was one of those things that she just threw in at the end, and somehow it got lost in translation.
But that’s why we have Marcella Hazan.
You don’t know Marcella do you…
Don’t worry, neither did I until I tried this recipe. In fact, it was her famous sauce that made me realize what was missing from mine all these years! It requires only 3 ingredients, 1 minute of prep time, and it’s dead simple to make. You literally throw everything into a pot and cook it. You don’t even have to chop the onion, OK?
Besides the butter, this sauce is all about the tomatoes. You can use fresh, ripe tomatoes 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 and have adapted my ingredients based on availability; red onion, shallots, fresh basil- it all works.
Lucky for me, it’s very, very similar to my grandmother’s.
This simple tomato sauce is not only tasty but 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
- spaghetti & meatballs
- baked ziti
- 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
- 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
- In a large saucepan, bring the tomatoes, butter, sugar, onion, and basil (if using) to a gentle boil.
- Reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer until the tomatoes are soft and the sauce has reduced slightly, about 45 minutes.
- 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).
- Taste your sauce. Season with salt and pepper, and additional sugar if necessary.
- Serve with extra fresh basil leaves.