Marcella Sauce — Most Famous Tomato Sauce in the World!

by Dorothy Reinhold on August 17, 2011

Print This Post Print This Post Marcella Sauce -- Most Famous Tomato Sauce in the World!

It’s August, and tomato vines are heavy with red goodness. So we all need a master recipe that takes advantage of rightthisminute freshness, whether it is from our own garden, or the farmers market nearby.

I’ve been hearing about the most famous tomato sauce in the world for awhile now. It’s Marcella Hazan’s Tomato Sauce with Onion and Butter, from her book “Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking,” circa 1992. It has three ingredients. Yes, that’s all it takes for true, classic, tomatoey “gravy.” Tomatoes, butter and onion. No olive oil, no garlic, no basil, no oregano, no nuthin’ else.

Marcella Hazan, in case you didn’t know, is a reigning goddess of Italian cooking. What she knows, she teaches. And what she teaches, we learn. It’s a beautiful circle.

Her sauce has been swooned about all over the web, including here, and here, and here, and here, and here, and here, and here. I could go on with hundreds more references, but you get the picture.

I am adding my voice to this chorus: This sauce is every bit as good as everyone says it is. Now that I’ve made it, I want to make it again. And again. My Italian roots demand it.

A word to the wiseguy: Use the best quality ingredients you can find. If you don’t have organic heirloom garden-fresh tomatoes in season, use canned Marzano. And if you think you’re going to be a smart alec and cut down on the butter, just don’t. The butter makes this sauce! It smoothes out the acid of the tomatoes in the best way, and adds a rich undertone.

Freeze your tomatoes

Freeze your tomatoes for easy skin removal.

Tomatoes on a plate

Take them out of the freezer and thaw on a plate.

Thawed tomatoes on a plate.

Thaw. Skin slips right off!

Tomato sauce in the pot Shockingly Delicious

All 3 ingredients into the pot.

Potato masher with tomato sauce

Mash tomatoes with potato masher while cooking.

Recipe: Marcella Hazan’s Tomato Sauce with Onion and Butter

Summary: A three-ingredient simple sauce that tastes transcendantly of tomatoes! Marcella Hazan’s brilliant, deeply rich sauce will make a convert out of you. Yes, it is not only the most famous, but the best tomato sauce in the world.  


  • 2 pounds fresh, ripe, heirloom organic tomatoes (or 1 28-ounce can Marzano tomatoes with juice)
  • 5 tablespoons unsalted organic butter
  • 1 onion, peeled and chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt (or to taste)


  1. If using fresh tomatoes, they must be peeled first. The easiest way is to put them in the freezer and freeze solid. When frozen, take them out and thaw in a bowl on the counter (they will weep tomato water as they thaw). When they have thawed, the skin will slip right off and can be discarded.
  2. Put tomatoes and their juices in a saucepan, break them up with a knife or spoon, add the butter, onion, and salt, and simmer, uncovered, for about 45 minutes, until droplets of fat float free of the tomatoes. Stir occasionally during cooking, and use a potato masher to mash up the tomatoes. The sauce will thicken while cooking.
  3. Serve with cooked pasta. Offer Parmigiano-Reggiano to grate over the pasta. Close your eyes and enjoy!
  4. Serves 4. Makes 2 cups of sauce – enough for 1 pound pasta.

Quick notes

Adapted from Marcella Hazan’s “Essentials of Italian Cooking.”

How I changed the recipe: Marcella calls for cutting the onion in half and simmering the two halves with the sauce, then discarding the onion before serving. I can’t stand discarding food, and I also didn’t want to have a saved cooked onion in the refrigerator, so I chopped the onion and cooked it in the sauce. We loved it that way! I also prefer to freeze my tomatoes as an easy way to get the skin off. You could certainly blanch them and then skin them, but that requires an extra pot and I’m lazy that way. Just put your tomatoes in the freezer the day before you want to make the sauce, and you’ll be good to go.


My suggestions for variations:
–sprinkle with drained capers and fresh basil cut in a chiffonade
–serve your pasta alongside grilled Italian sausages
–after the sauce has cooked, stir in some canned Italian tuna to take your meal in a whole different direction. Garnish with chopped Italian parsley.

Marcella Hazan's famous tomato sauce on Shockingly DeliciousPreparation time: 10 minute(s)

Cooking time: 45 minute(s)

Number of servings (yield): 4

Culinary tradition: Italian

My rating 5 stars:  ★★★★★ 1 review(s). I would give it 10 stars if I could!

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