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Classic Recipe: Marcella Hazan’s Famous Tomato Sauce

It’s extraordinarily simple and minimalist—but it’s very satisfying.

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Photos by Faith Durand

When it comes to essentials, like tomato sauce, originality is overrated. Marcella Hazan’s classic tomato sauce is famous and adored, and justly so. Scads of bloggers and food writers have written about it, so I’m just following along. This is one of the best sauces I know, and it only needs four (yes, four) ingredients.

The idea behind this tomato sauce is simple: Simmer a can of tomatoes with an onion and five tablespoons of butter. Add a pinch of salt and pull out the onion at the end, and you’re left with a bright, velvety tomato sauce with a rich roundness from the butter. The butter doesn’t saw off the edges of the tomatoes’ tanginess in the way that sugar does; instead it complements the brightness and makes it shine.

This tomato sauce is also entirely hands-off; you don’t even mince the onion. It’s a great way to knock a meal together with a few cupboard staples. Serve it over pasta with a flurry of cheese, and enjoy tomato sauce with the flair of restaurant richness.

It doesn’t replace my favorite meaty sauces — it’s extraordinarily simple and minimalist — but it’s very satisfying, and its ease cannot be beat. This sauce is also spectacular as a topping for ravioli or a filling for lasagna.

My only change to the original recipe is the addition of black pepper. Look, I just can’t eat a bowl of pasta without a bit of black pepper, and I think this sauce benefits from just a little flurry of pepper at the end.

Marcella Hazan's Amazing 4-Ingredient Tomato Sauce

Yield: Serves 2 to 4


  • 1 (28-ounce) can whole tomatoes, no salt or herbs added
  • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 small white onion, peeled and cut in half
  • Kosher salt

To serve:

  • Cooked pasta
  • Shaved Parmesan cheese


  1. Place the tomatoes, butter, onion halves, and a pinch of salt in a large saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Lower the heat to maintain a gentle simmer and cook, stirring and crushing the tomatoes lightly with the back of a spoon occasionally, until droplets of fat appear on the surface of the tomatoes, about 45 minutes. Remove and discard the onion. Serve over hot pasta with Parmesan and black pepper, if desired.

Faith Durand is the Editor-in-Chief of Kitchn and the author of three cookbooks, including the James Beard Award-winning The Kitchn Cookbook, as well as Bakeless Sweets. This recipe was adapted from Marcella Hazan's "Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking."

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This post originally appeared on The Kitchn and was published July 22, 2019. This article is republished here with permission.

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