tomato sauce perfection with four simple ingredients

I’ve owned Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking for thirty years. It was produced back in the days of cook books with no pictures! Imagine a volume of recipes with nothing but a few pencil illustrations to inspire the user. For a cook book to stand the test of time, without stunning food pornography, the recipes have to work. I’ve mentioned my cook book addiction to you, several times, so suffice to say I own too many cook books that were impulse buys based solely on the photography. If more than two recipes fail, the book gets filed in my library never to see the light of my kitchen again.

My copy of Ms. Hazan’s classic is sauce spattered from constant use during the early days of my Italian cooking journey. I worked my way from cover to cover but, until yesterday, had never made her ‘tomato sauce with butter’. To think, that recipe has been sitting on my book shelf, for the last thirty years, waiting for me to find it.  It’s shear kitchen witchcraft! Four ingredients: tomatoes, butter, sugar and an onion producing an absolutely spiritual eating experience. Hands down, it was perfect!

I’m sure you think I’m exaggerating so here’s the thing. It’s four ingredients and an hour on the stove to find out for yourself. I’d love to know if you agree with me.

Tomato Sauce with Onion and Butter
adapted from Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, by Marcella Hazan

2- 28 oz Italian plum tomatoes, diced (San Marzano, if you can find them)*
½ cup unsalted butter
1 large yellow onion, peeled and halved
½ teaspoon sugar
Sea salt, to taste


  • Force the tomatoes through a food mill, using the smallest disc.
  • Put the tomatoes, sugar, onion and butter in a heavy saucepan over medium heat.
  • Bring the sauce to a simmer and keep it there for about 45 minutes stir often.
  • Remove the sauce from the heat.
  • Remove the onion – instead of throwing it away, I used it on a sandwich!
  • Add salt, to taste (if your tomatoes are salted, you don’t need to add more)

THE LOVE: Keep the heat at an even steady simmer. You don’t want your sauce to boil.

click here for the printable recipe

one year ago: pasta puttanesca

two years ago: maple pudding

Thanks for reading.