Simple Tomato Sauce for Pasta

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?

Servings 4 servings
Author katiemorford


  • 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: 1/2 teaspoon crushed Calabrian chiles in oil, handful fresh chopped basil, fresh cracked pepper, or 1 to 2 smashed anchovies


  1. 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. 

  2. 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.
  3. When the sauce is almost done, cook the pasta in a large pot of salted water. Drain well. 

  4. Scoop out the onion halves and discard or reserve for another use (see Notes). Taste the sauce and add more salt, if needed.

  5. Toss the pasta with the sauce and serve, with freshly grated Parmesan to add at the table. 

Recipe Notes

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.