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Oct 29, 2006 04:22 PM

An incredibly luscious tomato sauce

I've been watching the Cookbook of the Month goings on from the sidelines, and saw raves for Marcella Hazan's tomato, onion, and butter sauce:

I made this sauce last night, and it's is incredibly good. Spoon, plate, bowl, pan-licking good. Just ask my partner, who is much more restrained that I am, who was caught in the act of licking her plate clean.

To quote Hazan herself "This is the simplest of all sauces to make, and none has a purer, more irresistably sweet tomato taste. I have known people to skip the pasta and eat the sauce directly out of the pot with a spoon." She's right.

This is really not a great picture, and doesn't do it justice, but for what it's worth:
Just imagine rich, sweet, buttery, intensely tomato-y goodness as you look.

(For the NY based hounds, the pasta is cavatelli from the beloved Borgatti's in the Bronx: . Their pasta has such great flavor and texture, and was lovely here).

2 cups canned tomatoes, cut up, with their juice
5 Tbsp butter
1 medium onion, peeled, cut in half

Add all of the above, cook uncovered at a slow simmer for 45 minutes or "until the fat floats free of the tomato."

She instructs you to discard the onion before serving, but it tastes lovely, and I wonder what else can be done with it (besides, well, licking all the sauce off). I topped with some minced parsley and grated parmesan.

So, I challenge you. Do you have any tomato sauces that surpass this in richness and simplicity? I don't know about 5 tbsp of butter becoming a regular thing, so if you have alternatives, please share them here!

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  1. I have a recipe that is similar to Marcella’s, it’s from Jeff Smith, aka The Frugal Gourmet Cooks Italian, the recipe is called Fresh Tomato Sauce Sicilian. I used to follow the recipe to the letter and could never make it perfect every time. One day a friend brought over Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan and things changed in my kitchen for the better. Although the Frug’s’ recipe is still a great one, it wasn’t until I read Marcella’s’ “where flavour starts” and the following battuto, soffritto and insaporire that I began to understand the importance in the “basics” of Italian cooking. Now I apply Marcella’s techniques and have consistent results every time. I use fresh herbs from my garden and use only the best canned Italian plum tomatoes for best results. The Italian canned tomatoes are sweet and yield a very rich and thick sauce. Read the label for exact origin of the tomatoes and steer away from enhanced (i.e.) added salt, sodium, calcium, citrus, or herbed content, always go with one ingredient, plum tomatoes from Italy. Fresh tomatoes can be a challenge because they are not always sweet and tasty when cooked so canned works best. When I stopped using fresh tomatoes, in tandem with Marcellas' techniques my sauces came out perfect every time.
    As for the butter, well, you can leave it out but the sauce will not be as sweet and rich in flavour. The Sicilian Sauce I spoke of earlier calls for 6 Tbs of butter. I’d be happy to share my version of the ‘Frug’s ‘ Tomato Sauce Sicilian as it is very similar to Marcella’s but has a few more ingredients, but still simple and very tasty.

    1. 1 or 1 1/2 cup chopped onion (onions add sweetness, and you can add more if you like a sweeter sauce)
      1/2 cup chopped peeled carrot
      1/2 cup chopped celery (or bulb fennel in season)
      2 Tbls garlic (approx 5 cloves)
      olive oil to sweat the aromatics
      2 Tsp of fennel seed(if using celery)
      1/2 tsp red pepper flakes, or to taste (I like more)
      4 bay leaves
      3x 28oz cans of chopped tomatoes
      1 6oz can of tomato paste
      2 cups red table wine
      2 tsp of Italian seasoning, or a mixture of oregano, basil, thyme, rosemary,
      salt and pepper to taste

      add the onion, celery, carrot and garlic in 1 gallon saucepan and sweat with the olive oil till translucent.
      add tomatoes, bay leaves, hot pepper flakes, fennel seed and tomato paste and wine.
      Bring to a low boil, reduce temp and simmer for 3-4 hour, but the longer the better.

      Remove bay leaves, and puree mixture with a stick blender, add herbs and correct salt and pepper seasoning.

      After pureeing you can add peppers, mushrooms or other vegetables that you desire.

      Garnish with parsley and serve over pasta or freeze.

      1. As I've noted before many times, I usually serve that Marcella sauce as a soup. Even people who dislike tomato soup love that one.

        1. One of my favorite of her sauces - I love to add basil and diced mozzarella with the pasta.

          1. That sauce is truly divine. I've made it a few times now, and I still am stunned at how something so simple could be so delicious. The post that you link has me asking about variations, but I can see why Karl was so adamant about no need for that. It is perfect just the way it was intended...I have cut down the butter just a tad (like 3-4 TB) and find it just as satisfying.

            I love all of the simple tomato sauces that I've tried. The latest was her tomato sauce w/ heavy cream which was delicious, although I probably favor the onion one if forced to choose.

            Here's a photo:

            4 Replies
            1. re: Carb Lover

              Wow, that picture looks incredible. Is that with food milled fresh tomatoes?

              I think I used less than 5 tbsp of butter as well (wasn't measuring, but I'd guess it was about 4), and it was still incredibly rich.

              But the beauty of this recipe is its intense rich, sweet flavor despite its utter simplicity. Using canned tomatoes, I'd say there was 5 minutes of active prep time, max.

              1. re: rose water

                Yes, fresh San Marzano tomatoes using her food mill method. The version w/ cream calls for 3 TB each of minced onion, celery, and carrot, but they just melt into the sauce. Also calls for about 1/3 c. butter and 1/2 c. of cream, but I reduced the amounts of each just a touch. What was amazing about this sauce was that it had the lusciousness and meatiness of a bolognese w/ no meat.

                When I make these sauces in the winter, I'll be sure to use the San Marzano canned tomatoes.

                1. re: Carb Lover

                  Trader Joe's canned whole plum tomatoes with salt and basil are rich, sweet, and wonderful. And I think 99 cents for the 32 ounce size.

              2. re: Carb Lover

                The amount of butter is not really that much per portion of to coat 3 oz of dry pasta. And it is certainly lower in calories than an equivalent amount of olive oil (5T of oil would be 600 calories per pot; 5T of butter is 500 calories per pot); moreover, olive oil could not duplicate the effect of butter in the recipe.