Pasta with Simple Tomato Sauce
This recipe has been in my back pocket for several years now, something I pull out when I have no time to babysit a pot all day (or even all hour). I haven’t been hoarding the recipe, I just haven”t gotten around to sharing it beyond the pages of my book PREP. Some of you are probably already familiar with the recipe, since it’s based on a world-famous sauce by world famous Italian cookbook author, Marcella Hazan. Truth? I don’t know of a pasta with simple tomato sauce that’s easier or better than this one. And since we need basic recipes built on staple ingredients right now, it’s time to pass it on.
Just a Handful of Ingredients
This sauce features just five ingredients, all of which you likely have in your pantry: canned tomatoes, onion, butter, olive oil, and salt. Marcella’s original recipe calls solely for butter, no olive oil at all. But in the interest of slashing some of the saturated fat, I’ve scaled back the butter and added a splash of olive oil. The resulting sauce remains pleasingly full-flavored with about 12 fewer saturated fat grams per pot.
Use Whole Tomatoes
The recipe calls for whole plum/roma/San Marzano tomatoes. Those are the dense, meaty, oblong ones sold peeled in cans. I find the quality of canned tomatoes varies widely based on brand. A few favorites I’ve discovered are Mutti, San Marzano, Muir Glen, and Cento (or other Italian brands labeled with a “D.O.P.” designation). Once you’ve got the tomatoes in the pot, squeeze each one in your hand to smash it into bits.
Easiest Ever Cooking Method
This is a sauce you can have simmering on the stove in about five minutes. That’s in large part because you don’t need to chop the onion. Just cut it in half, remove the skin, and plop it right into the pot, where it infuses the sauce with flavor as it simmers.
Scoop Out the Onion
After about 40 minutes on the stove, the sauce is done. Use a slotted spoon to remove the onion. You can throw it out or save it for another use, such as adding it to a pureed soup or whirling it with cooked beans for a spread or dip.
Toss with Pasta
Once the sauce is done, taste it. Add more salt, if needed. You can also add fresh cracked pepper, a handful of chopped basil, a small spoonful of Calabrian chiles, smashed anchovies, crispy pancetta, meatballs or whatever else you fancy in your sauce. Toss it with any pasta shape you like, use it to sauce pizza, layer it into lasagna, or spoon it over Italian-style subs.
For more simple pasta recipes, you might like:
Pasta with Simple Tomato Sauce
I used to think a good Italian tomato sauce involved hours at the stove and a long list of ingredients. Then I made this for the first time, a recipe invented by a famous Italian cookbook author named Marcella Hazan. It was an eye-opener because the sauce was so surprisingly simple, yet flavorful. You don’t even have to bother chopping the onion; just cut it in half and throw it in. Who needs pasta sauce from a jar with a recipe like this?
- One 28-ounce can whole peeled tomatoes
- 1 large yellow onion, cut in half and peeled
- 3 tablespoons butter
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more for salting the pasta cooking water
- 12 ounces rotini, spaghetti, or any other pasta shape
- Parmesan cheese to pass at the table
- Optional additions: handful fresh chopped basil, fresh cracked pepper, 1/2 teaspoon minced Calabrian chiles, or 1 to 2 smashed anchovies
Empty the can of tomatoes with the juices into a medium pot. Add a few tablespoons water to the can, swirl, and empty any remaining juices to the pot. Use your hands to squeeze the tomatoes so they break up into smaller pieces.
Add the onion halves, butter, olive oil, and salt. Put the pot on the stove over medium-high heat. When the liquid begins to simmer, set a timer for 40 minutes. Adjust the heat as needed to keep the sauce at a simmer.
When the sauce is almost done, cook the pasta in a large pot of salted water. Drain well.
Scoop out the onion halves and discard or reserve for another use (see Notes). Taste the sauce and add more salt, if needed.
Toss the pasta with the sauce and serve, with freshly grated Parmesan to add at the table.
You can try repurposing the cooked onion by blending into a pureed soup, adding it to a veggie or chicken broth, blending it with beans, or adding it to a batch of mole.