Red Sauce

Once in awhile all I want is a shallow bowl of really plain spaghetti with red sauce – like the kind you get in the can, only not as mushy and with more flavour – the sort of thing I imagine would have been served in an Italian neighbourhood eatery in Manhattan in the 1950s. Something I could mop up with crusty, buttery bread and wash down with red wine. Something uninterrupted even by meatballs. (Which isn’t to say a batch of good meatballs wouldn’t do really well here.)

Having been MIA for the past three dinnertimes, and about to leave town for 10 days (yes, the boys will join me for some of it) I simmered a pot of red sauce to somehow maintain my presence when Mike inevitably makes spaghetti for himself and W for the next few dinners or so. I know, they could easily open a jar and be perfectly fine, but simmering a pot of sauce somehow alleviates some of that going-away guilt. And it warms the kitchen when it’s snowy outside.

Don’t worry – I’m not going to make you peel tomatoes and simmer them down. This sauce starts with good canned tomatoes. It’s one of those high reward for minimum effort recipes: for approximately three minutes’ investment, you can have your own pot of red sauce simmering, feeling all like an Italian Nonna who peels her own tomatoes every Sunday afternoon to make sauce to feed her family of twenty or so. The only thing we really have in common are the wiry chin hairs.

I’ve never been able to plate pasta in that swirly beehive Donna Hay-way – mine always just plops unceremoniously into the bowl, no matter what I do with the fork. I kinda like it like that.

My friend Gwendolyn reminded me of this formula last week, when she made a batch on Saturday morning TV – I first made it after seeing it on her blog. Adapted from Hazan’s The Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking via several food blogs. San Marzano or San Marzano-style canned tomatoes are packed in tomato puree instead of water and shouldn’t be too tough to find; if you can’t, swap any good jar of tomatoes, plain or fire-roasted. The butter may sound decadent-trust me, it makes all the difference here, elevating the sauce to a silky new level without making it greasy.

All that goes into the pot are tomatoes, a halved onion, and butter. After it does its thing you fish the onion out, although this time I whizzed it right into the pot. I made a double batch, and since I didn’t have any San Marzano tomatoes, I used a can of plum tomatoes and another of tomato puree, and it worked out just fine. You can break the tomatoes up with a spoon as they simmer, or stick a hand-held immersion blender straight in the pot. If you do this, don’t wear your brand-new white down vest from Old Navy.

I’ve made this before, but when I doubled it (here), I didn’t double the butter or the onion, and it was delicious. You don’t need salt. You don’t need pepper. You don’t need fresh basil or a pinch of sugar to balance things out. But you may need some freezer space so you can stash some of this loveliness away for another comfort food craving.

Marcella Hazan’s Tomato Sauce


Yields1 Serving

1-2 cans 28 oz (796 mL) can good-quality whole tomatoes, preferably San Marzano
1/3 cup butter
1 medium yellow onion, peeled and halved
salt, to taste


Put the tomatoes, butter and onion in a pot over medium heat. Once it starts to bubble, turn the heat down to medium-low and simmer for about 45 minutes. Put a lid on if you don't want any red spatters in the vicinity of the pot. Stir occasionally, squishing the tomatoes against the side of the pot with your spoon.


Fish out the onion halves (or leave it in and puree the lot) and if you like, blend until smooth with a hand-held immersion blender. Serve hot, ladled over spaghetti.



 1-2 cans 28 oz (796 mL) can good-quality whole tomatoes, preferably San Marzano
 1/3 cup butter
 1 medium yellow onion, peeled and halved
 salt, to taste



Put the tomatoes, butter and onion in a pot over medium heat. Once it starts to bubble, turn the heat down to medium-low and simmer for about 45 minutes. Put a lid on if you don't want any red spatters in the vicinity of the pot. Stir occasionally, squishing the tomatoes against the side of the pot with your spoon.


Fish out the onion halves (or leave it in and puree the lot) and if you like, blend until smooth with a hand-held immersion blender. Serve hot, ladled over spaghetti.

Marcella Hazan’s Tomato Sauce

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38 comments on “Red Sauce

  1. Merry120
    October 29, 2012 at 8:55 pm

    Yum! I can tell what I’ll be making and freezing next.

  2. Elaine
    October 29, 2012 at 9:08 pm

    All this talk of wiry chin hairs and simmering sauce–it’s like you’re in my brain!

  3. CathyH
    October 29, 2012 at 9:28 pm

    You are hilarious! And a super duper cook. Love your recipes!

  4. Sarah
    October 29, 2012 at 10:43 pm

    Best basic tomato sauce ever! I learned this recipe from Smitten Kitchen and have made it more times than any other. And you’re right about the butter– it makes this sauce amazing!

  5. Erica B.
    October 30, 2012 at 1:26 am

    Ooh I’ve read about this sauce but never got around to making it (much like the Pumpkin stuffed with everything good). Once I kick this cold I’ll be stocking the freezer with this and a few other goodies. : )

  6. Anonymous
    October 30, 2012 at 7:36 am

    How is it that I have never made this before? Such a simple thing to make and my family would love it. (although John would be looking for the MEAT). Mmmmm..a nice meal for a cold, rainy evening like we have today.
    Oh- and Happy Birthday, Sweetness!

  7. Lana
    October 30, 2012 at 7:36 am

    Yep- me again above. Sheesh.

  8. Denese
    October 30, 2012 at 8:05 am

    Happy Birthday, Julie!

  9. Bonnie
    October 30, 2012 at 10:28 am

    Mmmmmm, I love this recipe, and how easy it is. Total comfort food.
    Today, though, I’ve been having a real hankering for a good old beef ragu. Once everything is in the pot and ready to simmer, I pour it into my biggest roasting pan and roast the sauce at 350 for a few hours instead of simmering. Keeps me from having to stand around stirring, and the flavours are condensed and ridiculously awesome.
    Ah, what would life be without pasta??

  10. Jacqueline
    October 30, 2012 at 6:40 pm

    Looks good – as always! Have you been able to find San Marzano tomatoes in Calgary? What brand of tomatoes would you recommend?

  11. Allison E.
    October 30, 2012 at 6:55 pm

    The secret to the beehive pasta swirl: use tongs to plate your pasta and twist your wrist to swirl it as you place it on the plate. It’s that easy!!

  12. Charlotte
    November 2, 2012 at 9:16 am

    My husband made this for dinner last night. I love a non-fancy red sauce and this one was delicous.

  13. Sherry
    November 4, 2012 at 6:08 pm

    The sauce is so simple and delicious. Kids are chowing it down.

  14. Diane
    November 5, 2012 at 10:03 pm

    Made this and the whole family loved it. Used garden tomatoes that I roasted for an hour…then simmered it with the butter and onion. Butter! Awesome. My son (who hates tomatoes) asked for seconds and ate it for lunch today as well. Thanks for sharing.

  15. Diane
    November 5, 2012 at 10:06 pm

    Just thought I should clarify that the garden tomatoes have been ripening in my basement for 6 weeks now and it was time to use them up whether or not they were perfectly red (although my neighbour still has tomatoes under his makeshift greenhouse!) In Calgary! In November!

  16. Leeann
    November 6, 2012 at 10:00 am

    This looks DELICIOUS! I didn’t know butter was something to add to pasta recipes, I think the secret of restaurants has been revealed!

  17. Erin B
    November 7, 2012 at 2:01 pm

    I was reading through the comments and was surprised that no-one else has commented on the wonderful colour pallet you have in these photos with W’s plate full of paint. Love it!

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