Classic Pasta Sauce with Tomatoes, Onions, & Butter

Classic Pasta Sauce with Tomatoes, Onions, & Butter

Somehow, I’ve been missing the memo on Marcella Hazan’s classic tomato pasta sauce recipe for nearly three decades now. I’ve been making my sauce the “normal” way: saute onions, garlic, and maybe some carrots in olive oil with some herbs and seasonings, then pour in some sort of liquid-y canned tomatoes. And that’s perfectly good!

But friends. When I tell you sometimes the best things are the simplest, I’m not joking. This pasta sauce, originally published long before I was cooking, has four (FOUR) ingredients: 1) tomatoes, 2) onions, 3) butter (a lot of it), and 4) salt. If—like me—you love to cook, you will be tempted to FUSS with it. “What if I added just a little bit of garlic? Some basil would be nice,” you will think. But when I tell you this woman knew what she was doing. Well. You’ll just have to see for yourself.

The ONLY liberty I’ve taken here is substituting canned diced tomatoes for canned plum tomatoes, because that’s what I have in the pantry, plus I used a bit more tomato total due to the size of the cans. You will want to top the finished pasta with a shower of Parmesan and black pepper—but don’t go adding it to the sauce (at least, not until you’ve tried “the original.”)

I hope you have a chance to serve this classic comforting dish this week. And remember: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

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Classic Pasta Sauce with Tomatoes, Onions, & Butter Recipe

This comforting, classic recipe is one you'll return to again and again.

Makes: 6 servings Classic Pasta Sauce with Tomatoes, Onions, & Butter

Prep time:

Cook time:

  • 1 28-ounce or 2 14.5-ounce cans diced tomatoes
  • 5 tablespoons butter
  • 1 medium yellow onion, peeled and cut into 2-3 large chunks
  • Salt to taste

  1. In a medium saucepan, add all ingredients. Add the tomato juices with the tomatoes.
  2. Bring the sauce to a low boil, then reduce the heat to medium. Steadily simmer the sauce for 45 minutes. Stir occasionally and use a wooden spoon or potato masher to gently crush the tomatoes.
  3. When the sauce reaches your desired thickness, add more salt to taste. Remove the onions from the sauce.
  4. Serve over pasta and enjoy.

Notes and Nutrition Information

  • This recipe makes enough sauce for 1 to 1 1/2 pounds of pasta.

  • The sauce will separate a bit in the refrigerator due to the fat content, but you can store it in an airtight container and mix it back up for two-three days. My favorite way to save leftovers is in airtight freezer bags for up to six months.

  • If you like, freeze the removed onions and add them to tomato-based soups in the future.

  • Cooking note: this recipe teaches an important lesson about acidity: added fat content and time on the stove will fix most dishes that are too bright.

  • One sixth of this recipe as written contains approximately 116 calories, 10 grams of fat, 7 grams of carbohydrates, 2 grams of protein, 2 grams of fiber, 4 grams of sugar, and 102 milligrams of sodium.

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