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Start with tomato sauce

I don’t know if it’s good to admit this sort of thing, but until three days ago, I had never made tomato sauce. Oh, I’ve eaten plenty of it, of course – with garlic, with basil, with capers; on gnocchi, on pizza, on pappardelle; really, that part is easy – but until Friday, I had never made one. No marinara, no Amatriciana, no nothing.

This is not the kind of information, I know, that one should offer freely in some circles. It doesn’t exactly build credibility, especially when matters of the oven and stove are supposed to be my bread and butter. But friends, because I like you a lot, and because I don’t want to lie, here I am, doing it anyway. Because I don’t want you to make the same mistake. Because I want to give you the recipe. Because I want to tell you about the guy who got the ball finally, blessedly, rolling.

Some of you may have heard of this guy. His name is Adam. You may know him better, actually, as the Amateur Gourmet. Adam and I met a couple of years ago, on a blustery winter afternoon in New York, where he lives. He’s a very hard guy not to like, no matter how bad the weather. He’s all smiles and smart jokes, easygoing and inquisitive. So when he came to Seattle last winter with his boyfriend Craig - who, in case you were wondering, is utterly charming and funny and eminently worthy - Brandon and I cooked them a New Year’s lunch of pan-seared chicken and yogurt cake. I overbaked the cake a little, and it was kind of dry and sad, but they didn’t say a peep, and though I liked them plenty already, I liked them even more after that.

Well, a couple of months ago, Adam came back to Seattle to visit Craig, who was shooting a movie in town this summer, and he called to ask, quite out of the blue, if I might like to go for a horseback ride. (He always has a surprise up his sleeve; don’t say I didn’t warn you.) I said yes, and so it was that on a hot July day, on a trail on the side of Tiger Mountain, astride our steeds Chick and Friday Night Girl, Adam told me about his book The Amateur Gourmet: How to Shop, Chop, and Table-Hop like a Pro (Almost), thereby setting into motion a chain of events that would lead, only a little circuitously, to a tomato sauce that I believe, oh my, may be the most perfect one ever invented.

(Adam, I owe you one.)

If you haven’t yet seen Adam’s book, I sincerely suggest that you make it your business to do so immediately. And I don’t just say that because I like the guy. His book, part-memoir and part-how-to, is pure pleasure, a sweet, fresh, effortless story whose pages almost turn themselves. Food lovers can be a tough, know-it-all crowd, but Adam makes being a beginner - at cooking, at dining out, at learning about food - feel inspiring and appealing and, once and for all, okay. I’m not usually the type to laugh aloud while reading, or even, really, to break a smile - I’m focused, people, focused - but Adam got a good half-dozen grins out of me. (To wit, page 152: “Dining by myself . . . is a scary prospect. It’s not a coincidence, perhaps, that ‘dining alone’ sounds so much like ‘dying alone.’ For many, the fear of dining alone is the same fear that causes them to marry the wrong person, to maintain destructive friendships, and to participate in group suicide.”) He also got me to make tomato sauce, and for that I will be eternally grateful.

It only took a dozen pages. (I’m very susceptible to suggestion.) His first chapter, titled “Start with Spaghetti,” tells the funny, bittersweet story of a meal his mother once cooked for his father, a plate of spaghetti with homemade tomato sauce that went terribly awry. As chance would have it, some twenty-odd years and many TV dinners later, it would be a tomato sauce, made alone in his apartment kitchen, that would send Adam head over heels in love with cooking. I read this late one night, and it sounded so lovely and so right, and though half-asleep in my pink striped pajama pants, I thought, Tomato sauce! TOMATO SAUCE, Molly! How can you have toddled along all this time - writing this silly so-called food blog, marrying a man who lives and breathes for pizza, writing a cookbook, for crying out loud - if youve never made tomato sauce? It was an important night.

Needless to say, I got right on it. Though Adam offers a recipe in his book - a sure winner, in fact, Mario Batali’s from The Babbo Cookbook - I remembered hearing very persuasive things about a tomato sauce with onion and butter by Marcella Hazan, the venerable Italian cookbook author whose sturdy, no-nonsense, nonna-like tone always puts me right at ease. (And, as I soon discovered, Adam himself deemed her sauce “brilliant.” I trusted, then, he wouldn’t mind if saved Mario’s for later.) So Friday night, I pulled out a can of San Marzano tomatoes, an onion, and our stash of butter, and I made tomato sauce. Having now done so, I strongly advise you to do the same - only preferably even sooner than Friday.

Tomato sauce made with the usual suspects - olive oil and garlic, generally - is a very worthy classic. But with a little (or a lot of) butter, it’s another thing entirely. It tastes pure: rich, round, and deeply reassuring, like tomato sauce is supposed to taste. The first words that spring to mind, actually, are va-va-voom, which are hardly words at all, really, and are probably better suited to a young Sophia Loren, but still, I mean it: this is a show-stopping, voluptuous sauce. The butter bolsters the sweetness of the tomatoes and rounds off their acidic edges, while the onion - which is halved, simmered slowly in the sauce, and then discarded - lends just a subtle, savory backdrop. Brandon and I ate it on spaghetti, along with a good grating of Parmigiano, and we scraped our plates as though starved. (Which, come to think of it, I guess we were, given the dearth of homemade tomato sauce around here.) Brandon even let loose a few wows, which I heartily seconded.

Adam, the next time you’re in town, please stop by. I’ll have a pot of tomato sauce on the stove.

Tomato Sauce with Onion and Butter
Adapted from Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, by Marcella Hazan*

Hazan calls for imported Italian plum tomatoes, such as San Marzano, but mine were domestically grown, and the sauce still tasted like Italy to me. The key is that the tomatoes taste good, dense and full of flavor, whatever type you use.

2 cups whole, peeled, canned plum tomatoes, chopped, with their juices (about one 28-oz. can)
5 Tbsp. unsalted butter
1 medium yellow onion, peeled and cut in half
Salt, to taste

Combine the tomatoes, their juices, the butter, and the onion halves in a medium saucepan. Add a pinch or two of salt. Place over medium heat and bring to a simmer. Cook, uncovered, at a very slow but steady simmer, adjusting the heat as necessary, for about 45 minutes, or until droplets of fat float free from the tomato. Stir occasionally, mashing any large pieces of tomato with the back of a wooden spoon. Taste and salt as needed.

Discard the onion before tossing the sauce with pasta.

Yield: Enough sauce for about 1 pound of pasta, or 4 servings

* With cheers and kisses to Ms. Luisa Weiss, the esteemed Wednesday Chef, who bought us this book as a wedding present and wisely suggested that we make this sauce.


Blogger Aileen said...

Oh, I love this sauce. Love it. But I can never just discard the onion. Sometimes it gets tossed into a sloppy sandwich. Sometimes they get set aside, chopped up and somehow mixed in with eggs.

What a fun course of events leading to your discovery of it!

2:41 PM, September 24, 2007  
Anonymous Alex said...

Classic Sauce!

I also have trouble discarding the onion. My college roommate and I would sometimes take the whole sauce and throw it into the blender for a few spins. It changes things entirely, but in a good way...

ps. Hazan's tomato sauce with Tuna is my personal favorite, with extra capers.

3:16 PM, September 24, 2007  
Blogger Jennywenny said...

To be honest I very rarely make tomato sauce, trader joes do such a smashing job of it that I never seem to do as well and for so little money.

3:17 PM, September 24, 2007  
Blogger Zoomie said...

Oh, Molly, we've done it again - on the same wavelength with our posts! Or is it simply the time of year that demands writing about tomatoes? My friend just brought me a bunch of the right kind so I'm gonna try your sauce this week!

3:19 PM, September 24, 2007  
Blogger aubrey said...

oh! the only thing i didn't like about reading this was that i read it AFTER going to the grocery store today. this sounds delicious and exactly what i've been craving. i think i might consider loading the kids up one more time and heading the grocery store for a can of tomatoes. you're awesome. and i'm going to check out that book, it sounds perfect. thanks for sharing, i hope i can pull it off!

4:42 PM, September 24, 2007  
Blogger Jillian said...

yes-- definitely a delicious sauce! i thought of you this weekend when visiting friends in SF-- we went to Tartine and had this fantastic plum-huckleberry-brioche bread pudding and I thought "hey, molly could probably figure out an amazing interpretation of this" (hint hint)

4:59 PM, September 24, 2007  
Blogger Michelle said...

What a a coincidence, I just made tomato sauce tonight. A similar recipe, but with garlic, basil and red wine. Can't wait to try this one. Homemade is better.

5:06 PM, September 24, 2007  
Blogger Lynn said...

Ok I pour my sauce out of a jar, but I am going to be making this before Friday!!!

5:32 PM, September 24, 2007  
Blogger Lucy said...

Simple, but utterly beautiful.

I often put a whole carrot in mine, retrieving it at a later stage. A woman I lived next door to, Sicilian, as a student years ago insisted I do so (her nonna had taught her to do just that and she felt she needed to pass it on to me) and it sweetens the deal just a little.

6:27 PM, September 24, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Molly, butter! What a great idea to add to tomato sauce. You should try a puttanesca sauce, you won't beleive how well anchovies go with tomatoes..
By the way, after reading about Brandons chickpea salad I used the lemon/parmesan/chickpea idea and bulked it out with panfried chicken thigh pieces, baby spinach and caramelized onions.. (& pinenuts) and it was a great salad.
Love your blog. Sarah (nz)

7:17 PM, September 24, 2007  
Blogger Mercedes said...

Oh so heartily agreed with, on so many points. I love the detail about striped pjs, and there something so cozy about half falling asleep while reading a delicious cookbook.
I've always believed that when you get those shiny little fat globules on the top of a sauce/stew it's done just right. I'm sure Harold McGee could explain it, but good to know it's a trick recognized by others.

7:25 PM, September 24, 2007  
Blogger Gretchen Noelle said...

This sounds like such a simple tomato sauce...can't wait to make it!

7:44 PM, September 24, 2007  
Blogger Evelin said...

And now YOU are making me make my first tomato sauce:)

9:23 PM, September 24, 2007  
Blogger Michèle said...

I'm glad to hear you had such a success with your first tomato sauce experiments! Perhaps it was worth the wait because I struggle with it constantly, sometimes I get it right and can eat it straight out of the pot and other times it's just so disappointing. So I will definitely try this recipe, butter and all!

1:01 AM, September 25, 2007  
Anonymous radish said...

That sounds fantastic, butter and onions - makes perfect sense too! I would try to puree the onion into the sauce though - I just love the dimension cooked onion adds!

5:23 AM, September 25, 2007  
Anonymous Kathy said...

Sometimes I do the carrot thing too, but more often than not I throw in a tough leftover Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese rind (I save them just for this purpose). I let it simmer with the sauce, then fish the rind out. It gives the sauce wonderful richness and depth.

Now I need to check out this book. You're enabling me Molly!

6:33 AM, September 25, 2007  
Blogger hannah said...

bless you my friend. this solves all my problems.

6:56 AM, September 25, 2007  
Anonymous ann said...

My favorite way to eat tomato sauce is to make it with olive oil and garlic and basil, and then, once it's topping my pasta, to add a wee little pat of butter and mix it all in. So delicious!

8:04 AM, September 25, 2007  
Anonymous Dave said...

THanks Molly. I am going to try this sauce this very weekend. ANd I've been meaning to buy Adam's book and now I can't put it off any longer.

8:11 AM, September 25, 2007  
Blogger Aino said...

Me, I've tried a tomato sauce after a tomato sauce, but nothing has lived up to the standards set by a tomato sauce served with my spaghetti on a rainy day in Venice.

I will have to give this recipe a go - it seems like it could be the one, or at least close!

8:50 AM, September 25, 2007  
Anonymous Meryl said...

Oh I'm so excited! I'm making spaghetti tomorrow night. I've had the biggest craving for some reason... and now I plan on leaving my store-bought jar of sauce in the pantry a little while longer and trying this recipe instead. San Marzano tomatoes are the best! Thanks Molly :-)

8:54 AM, September 25, 2007  
Blogger Kevin Kossowan said...

Once you make your own, you won't go back. And I've tried it with my own garden tomatoes, but honestly, I believe what you read and hear is right: solid quality tinned Italian plum tomatoes do the job best, and are available all year round.

9:01 AM, September 25, 2007  
Anonymous Dale Smith said...

Would this work as a sauce for pizza? My son-in-law and I are having a homemade pizza contest and am looking for a good basic pizza sauce!

9:30 AM, September 25, 2007  
Anonymous Hillary said...

As soon as I saw the title of your post, I KNEW you were writing about Adam's book! The two of you are my favorite food bloggers...what more could I ask for?

And, Adam has definitely inspired me to want to start with tomato sauce. I haven't gotten the chance yet, but I will hopefully soon!

10:13 AM, September 25, 2007  
Blogger Figs Olives Wine said...

Ah, I love this sauce! The first time I stayed in Florence, friends of mine were going through a Marcella Hazan obsession. They had brought her "Essentials" all the way from New York, and they made this sauce constantly. Ever since, it just smells and tastes of Florence to me!

10:56 AM, September 25, 2007  
Anonymous David said...

hey, if I come back to Seattle, will you make me tomato sauce too?

11:12 AM, September 25, 2007  
Anonymous courtney said...

You know, I only made sauce from scatch about a month ago (I guess I am a bad Italian). Anyway, I did the America's Test Kitchen quick sauce (it is done in under an hour but doesn't taste like it). I decided I would be as dissapointed if it didn't turn out if I only spent 45 minutes on it.

Well it converted me, and I have been contemplating my next step (I will probably contue making the sauce for pizza's and such where it is more of a background note).

This may be it!

11:12 AM, September 25, 2007  
Blogger Flo Bretzel said...

I don't know Adam but this Tomato sauce looks great!

12:44 PM, September 25, 2007  
Anonymous xsquared said...

This is one of my all-time favorite recipes - so simple, and so, so delicious. We love it on gnocchi.

12:56 PM, September 25, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You'll never be able to buy it out of a bottle again! Thank goodness. ;)

I adore your blog Molly. Thanks for the excellent posts every week.

1:27 PM, September 25, 2007  
Blogger christianne said...

I saw Sophia Loren out shopping a little more than a year ago, and I have to tell you - I was floored. Young or old, she's va-va-voom! :)

Sauce sounds great!

1:32 PM, September 25, 2007  
Anonymous Margo said...

oh jeez, I'm pregnant and was STARTING to crave pasta with tomato sauce and even meatballs and I'm now I'm really truly salivating. Very curious to see how the butter does - I've only used olive oil before - butter makes everything better, no?

6:05 PM, September 25, 2007  
Blogger StickyGooeyCreamyChewy said...

Molly, Your tomato sauce looks lovely. Coming from a Southern Italian background, I would have never thought to use butter. When I try this recipe, and I will, I can never, ever tell my mother!

Actually, I have met Marcella Hazan a few times. We live in the same town. She is a character.

When I saw your post, I had to laugh. I just posted about making tomato sauce on my own blog. Mine had olive oil, garlic and meatballs in it, though...no butter.

Anyway, I love your blog and have really enjoyed following your life this past year.

6:06 PM, September 25, 2007  
Blogger Homesick Texan said...

I've made many a tomato sauce, but never, ever with butter--always olive oil. They've been good and some (after many hours of simmering) have been great, but never, ever spectacular. It must have been the lack of butter. Can't wait to try this!

6:24 PM, September 25, 2007  
Anonymous elizabeth said...

yum yum YUM. thanks for the inspiration... i thought i was too exhausted to cook, but this and a fabulous wine made the work (what little there was) worth it. a simple and elegant delight.

6:33 PM, September 25, 2007  
Anonymous Luisa said...

Wheeee! Little did I know this would be your very first tomato sauce. Lady, you chose a good one to start with. (I think I already told you on Flickr, but the photos in the post are positively slaying me with their beauty.) xoxoxoxo

7:54 PM, September 25, 2007  
Blogger Katelyn said...

I made tomato sauce a la Adam Roberts (by way of Mario) yesterday, and my roommate and I agree: homemade is BEST, bar none, and our favorite way to eat sauce is scooped up with garlic bread. Forget the spaghetti. Don't you love the Amateur Gourmet book? I finished it before bed last night. Final cry count: three. (The first teary moment in that book was the olive test.) It's entirely possible I'm just weepy in general but still, I loved the book and loved the sauce, and next I'll try this one -- so simple! No herbs even! God knows I love butter.

8:24 PM, September 25, 2007  
Blogger Pink said...

how funny is it that when you and i write about tomato sauce, we both link to pictures of sophia loren?

9:14 PM, September 25, 2007  
Anonymous mckenzie said...

i love your beautiful white china. where is it from? i've been thinking about going to all white in my kitchen. by the way, sauce looks delish!

11:09 PM, September 25, 2007  
Blogger sister AE said...

Congratulations on your sauce! I have made sauces from canned tomatoes in various forms, but oh! the time I tried to use the end-of-the-year tomatoes straight from the garden to make a sauce... The longer we cooked it the juicier it got - it too FOREVER for the steam to carry away enough moisture to start to thicken... I'm sure they were exactly the wrong kind of tomatoes.

11:11 PM, September 25, 2007  
Blogger Carrie said...

I first heard of a sauce like this (with butter and onion - that's later disgarded) from reading a Nicolas Sparks book! ;-) I think it's the tastiest tomato sauce there is! I'm so glad you tried it and enjoyed it! I'm jealous you're cozy with Adam! Not sure I'll run into him down here in eastern NC, but if I ever do... I'll make your wonderful sauce for him!

7:53 AM, September 26, 2007  
Blogger Sophik said...

Oh, my. Was this the ultimate cure.. we indulged and savored every morsel of this sausey goodness. This is a recipe engrained in my memory. thanks, Molly!!

11:06 AM, September 26, 2007  
Blogger Molly said...

Goodness, you guys are certainly generous with your comments this week! Thank you, thank you for all your tomato sauce stories and suggestions and enthusiasm. I just love it. So fun.

I'm up to my ears in the writing the book at the moment (eek!), so I'm only going to reply to answer a few questions:

Jillian, you might take a peek at the Tartine cookbook - have you seen it? I'll bet it's got that bread pudding you're after...

Dale Smith, I think this sauce might indeed work for pizza, although I'm not a pizza expert, so I can't say for sure. Brandon firmly believes that the best pizzas are made with uncooked sauces, so he wouldn't likely agree with me. He usually makes his sauce without measuring, so I don't know exactly what he does, but I know that he at least starts with canned San Marzano tomatoes and adds fresh oregano and fresh basil. I hope that helps!

Of course I'll make it for you, David! Bien sur! Hurry back.

McKenzie, you're going to love this: our dishes are from Goodwill, the Salvation Army, and Value Village. Most of them cost about $1.99. They're a variety of different patterns by Johnson Brothers, an English company. We used to use an old set from Pottery Barn, but we much prefer the antique-y look of these, and the fact that our collection is sort of mix-and-match. Much more fun, I think.

12:19 PM, September 26, 2007  
Blogger neil said...

This is my wife's all time favourite pasta sauce, we must have had it 20,000,000 times. Hell no, that's far too much butter, but we have enjoyed it often. Praise to Marcella, praise to Adam, praise to you.

5:27 PM, September 26, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You really have to try fresh tomatoes next time, peeled and seeded -- then simmered for a while. I usually blend mine to get a smooth consistency, though sometimes I leave them chunky for texture (depends on what I'm exactly going for.) It makes such a big difference in flavour. Since you're a tomato lover, I think you'd really appreciate the difference.

Enjoying your blog, thanks for writing,

7:11 PM, September 26, 2007  
Anonymous islandgirl said...

This looked so good I just had to make it for dinner tonight! I didn't have canned tomatoes but I did have a garden full of fresh ones..oh so wonderful!! Thanks for inspiring me! I couldn't stop nibbling! YUM YUM!

7:34 PM, September 26, 2007  
Blogger tehstotehara said...

Molly, this is the weirdo asking you about the navbar, ha. And this is me officially being happy that I did indeed find out how to get rid of it! Yay!

I just wanted to say I tried to this sauce tonight with my roommate, who is quite possibly the pickiest eater alive, and by picky I mean she misses out on all the good stuff. But even she loved it! High five!

9:50 PM, September 26, 2007  
Blogger Jillian said...

thanks molly! I saw the book displayed at the register... I just checked the "amazon view" of the index and indeed it is in there! might have to push it to the top of my wishlist... good luck with the writing!

10:02 PM, September 26, 2007  
Anonymous Hillary said...

Molly, You're writing a book too?! How did I miss this? Wow! I'm so excited for it! So excited that I'll probably make an obsessive post like I did for AG's book.

Any idea when it comes out?

12:21 PM, September 27, 2007  
Blogger Molly said...

Aw, thanks, Hillary! Yep, I'm writing a book too. Here's the post where I announced it: click.

2:05 PM, September 27, 2007  
Blogger Fruitarian Girl Art said...

Molly you are very beautiful and talented


9:53 PM, September 27, 2007  
Blogger Jenny said...

mmmm...this i am trying today. i try to cook based on items in the pantry scream "i've been here almost too long...

this week, it's the butter, which is such a weird "remainder" ingredient. nonetheless, into this sauce it will go--thanks!

9:29 AM, September 28, 2007  
Anonymous Hillary said...

I'm embarassed to not have known about your book. But thanks for linking me to the post Molly! I'm so very excited!

10:48 AM, September 28, 2007  
Anonymous Joy of Cooking said...

I made this last night. Everything is better with butter, I totally agree. I used fresh tomatoes and peeled the skins (after a quickie boil). For some odd reason there were good tomatoes at my Paris market yesterday. I normally like it local, but thank-you Marocco. It takes more time but so good. Other than that I kept to your recipe.

10:58 AM, September 28, 2007  
Anonymous Paula from Only Cookware said...

Well can't see myself discarding the onions on this one. I love onions. You can't beat Italian tinned tomatoes. They just have a beautiful richness to them.

9:26 PM, September 28, 2007  
Anonymous Angie said...

I have made many a tomato saucei my day, but none like this. I was afraid I'd miss the garlic, the basil, the oregano. I was wrong! Love this stuff -- ate WAY too much spagetti last night. Can't wait for more tonight. Thanks for sharing. And I can't wait unil you are finally published -- I can't wait to get your book!

7:53 AM, October 01, 2007  
Blogger CocoaPuffs said...

This sauce is so delicious - I whipped up a batch last night and the husband and I both gorged ourselves on it. So lovely to have something home-cooked that's so simple to make.

8:14 AM, October 01, 2007  
Blogger Stephanie said...

I made this sauce yesterday thanks to your post - it was fabulous! I really dislike the texture of cooked onions, so this is a great sauce for me! Thanks so much!

8:57 AM, October 01, 2007  
Blogger Tracey said...

I made this sauce yesterday for my mom, husband and a friend...we all agreed it was the best...this coming from a bunch of Italians who have made tomato sauce forever. This will now be our go to easy recipe. Thanks for broadening my horizons!

3:57 PM, October 01, 2007  
Anonymous Kathy said...

My copy of Hazan's "Essentials of Italian Cooking" arrived yesterday and I made the sauce last night.


I couldn't stop sneaking tastes of that sauce! The rest of the book is classic; a must for any serious or even beginning cook.

I also loved the onion! I chopped it up and ate it straight from a bowl. YUM!

6:05 AM, October 03, 2007  
Blogger The Observer said...

You can't beet home made tom sauce....belissima!

8:58 PM, October 04, 2007  
Anonymous Monique said...

I just made this sauce at Kathryn's behest, my favorite friend and cook. In fact, it is still piping hot in the pot on the stove. The blatant subtlety (if you permit me license to juxtapose these two opposing words) of this sauce has no match in my long tenure as a home (and erstwhile professional) cook. However, since I can never leave well enough alone, I was compelled to add alot of salt and just a couple pinches of sugar to those dervish tomatoes and that buttery bulb, since I prefer my sauce on the sweet and savory side. I simply cannot stop licking the wooden spoon. I'm getting splinters on my tongue. What a deliriously delicious web and blog site this Orangette is!!

12:18 PM, October 06, 2007  
Anonymous Randolph said...

Finally had the chance to make this last night and it was wonderful. So simple, so good.

11:16 AM, October 09, 2007  
Blogger Yooli said...

Molly, I didn't end up going to Paris this October like I planned (but thanks for the e-mail about studio rentals, I'm still determined to go back soon). However, if its any consolation, I made this sauce the other night and swooned. I also promptly packed a baby Ball jar full and took it to a friend with stern instructions to toss it with hot pasta and maybe a wee bit of cheese and THAT'S IT! No other embellishments allowed!

11:29 PM, October 09, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I made this last night for my six year old. I was already cooking something else for my spouse and I and didn't want to dirty extra dishes, so I threw the angel hair pasta in with it. He (the pickiest eater EVER) loved it. I put the left overs in the fridge for today's lunch, but it called out to me around 10:00 last night and I was inclined to answer those calls.

9:27 AM, October 10, 2007  
Blogger Megan said...

I made this sauce tonight, and I love it! It was so simple and fabulous. Thank you for sharing. Like so many others, I couldn't bring myself to throw away the onions, so I'm still deciding what to do with those.

7:59 PM, October 16, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Molly, my friend,

I cannot believe you have never made tomato sauce! Being a major pasta-lover trapped in a city without a good Italian restaurant, I've made hundreds upon hundreds of batches -- but that only makes me even happier to discover this recipe. You see, I always feel the need to fancy mine up, be it with broccoli, olives or red wine. And if I'm totally honest, they're never that great. In Sicily I ate pasta pomodoro almost every day and I vowed to myself I would learn how to make a plain and simple tomato sauce as good as the ones I ate. But I felt hopeless until now. I'm going to try this very soon with some of the parmigiano I brought back! Thank you!


12:34 PM, October 18, 2007  
Anonymous Nico said...


my only hope is that none of my friends read this post. This sauce has been the 'secret' sauce up my sleeve which never ceases to 'wow' people for the first time, and they come back asking 'if I made the tomato sauce again'. Sometimes, I serve it with home-made ravioli, or with silken rotolo... but usually, I just put out a big bowl with pieces of bread to dip as an appetizer... I swear, if I put a spoon in the bowl, people would slurp the sauce! Please don't tell my friends how easy this recipe is... they'd think I've been a complete fake cook for all these years!

10:49 PM, October 23, 2007  
Blogger nikki said...

It was so strange to run across this recipe because years my grandmother in Kentucky of all places made spaghetti sauce using butter (we had never heard of olive oil when I was growing!) and it was beyond delicious. I've always thought it was some weird southern variation on real sauce, but it looks like my Kentucky grandmother was channeling an Italian grandmother.

12:32 PM, October 28, 2007  
Blogger Thea said...

Oh my. I've got some of this sauce on the stove top right now, and I am thoroughly impressed: I've burnt my tongue several times, sneaking spoonfuls of the sauce as it's cooking, and I can't wait to mix it in with a heap of noodles. Definately a new favorite, thank you.

6:51 PM, October 30, 2007  
Anonymous Emily said...

I just wanted to leave a comment to say thank you for this and your many other recipes. Some times I get home and I'm looking for inspiration from anywhere for our dinner. This is such a simple and easy going sauce - a good one to add to our ever growing repertoire of tomato based pasta sauces! It went down really well after a long day's walking, when we wanted nothing but easy, tasty food to eat from a bowl watching the sun go down.
We also really enjoyed your lentil salad from a while back...
Looking forward to reading your book in the future also.

7:45 PM, October 30, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The beauty of this recipe is in its simplicity (and delicious taste, of course). The tang of the tomatoes and the sweetness of the onions combined with the richness of the butter created something very extraordinary indeed! Worked well with whole wheat spaghetti too.

6:37 PM, November 13, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks to Alex for the suggestion to incorporate the onion using a blender, and to Lucy for the recommendation on adding (and then discarding) a whole carrot. But am so enamored with a 4-ingredient recipe that I think I'll try it as-written first.

9:19 AM, February 26, 2008  
Blogger mandas said...

Thank you for the great recipe! I tried it last night and the sauce was delicious. It was so simple, too! I cheated a little and used canned ground peeled tomatoes, and I think it was fine that way.

Thanks so much! I'll surely make this again.

12:38 PM, March 04, 2008  
Blogger Pille said...

Made this tonight - tastes wonderful! I was really tempted to add some sugar to start with, as tomatoes were acidic, but stuck to your instructions and the butter had done its magic at the end..

10:08 AM, March 26, 2008  
Blogger The Fabulous One said...

A long long time ago I gave up making my own tomato sauces--they never came out to my liking. And finally, I lucked onto your blog and this recipe, and I decided to try again. I made this tonight (with a little twist) and it was extraordinary! This is my new favorite tomato sauce and I cannot wait to make it again!

10:21 PM, June 13, 2008  
Anonymous robin said...

i was skeptical but the sauce is fantastic! i'm so excited to find this simple and delicious treat - i think it's going to be a new staple around here. perfect for quick weekday meal. mmm... is it time for seconds?

9:28 PM, June 20, 2008  
Blogger My Eco Self said...

well, my, I have never heard of this. In all my years of making tomato sauce, I have only ever used red wine, sugar and garlic. I have it cooking right now, and it tastes delicious, like in my favourite Italian restaurant. I'd never think of serving pasta with tomato sauce for a dinner guest, but now I'm converted, because it will have to be saved for those extra special occasions - I could never justify using that much butter normally!

1:20 PM, August 14, 2008  
Blogger Elusive D. said...

I have been making this sauce for years, and I usually use 1/2 butter and 1/2 olive oil, just to make it a little healthier. But man, it is still delicious!

7:14 PM, August 18, 2008  
Anonymous shanna said...

molly, i made this for my grandpa last night. after the first bite he asked me to marry him! kinda sick, but definitely a compliment.

thanks for making our first meal together an easy+yummy one!

4:29 PM, August 29, 2008  
Anonymous Lexis said...

it's an excellent sauce to be sure. I didn't have any onion, and ended up just - ahem, well, pouring in and melting a bunch of parmesan cheese in it while it cooked. completeeely different flavour I imagine, but it was delicious. of course, it was topped with more cheese.


6:59 PM, March 02, 2009  
Blogger Lindsay said...

Another idea for what to do with the onion:

I scraped the sauce from the pan, but didn't wash it out. After (thoroughly) enjoying my supper, I roughly chopped up the onion, and put it back into the pan with 2 potatoes, some garlic, salt, pepper, cajun seasoning and chili powder. This morning I wrapped it up in a tortilla with some fresh cilantro, and fell in love with that too...

A+++++ Highly recommended use of leftovers! Would eat again!

6:56 AM, May 20, 2009  
Blogger mary said...

I to make homemade tomatoe sauce. I like making it with fresh tomatoes that my husband grows.I also have added butter,shredded zuchinni,shredded carrots and fresh herbs that I grow. I agree,nothing beats sauce from scratch.
Thank you
Mary Corbett (Michigan home chef)

9:22 AM, May 26, 2009  
Blogger Kristen said...

A friend and I went down from Minnesota to Texas to visit another friend whose husband is serving our country. Instead of enjoying the beautiful sun we were inside looking at your recipes. My friend insisted she make us your sauce. With our first bites we melted in our seats with the savory flavor. I am not ashamed to say that I licked my plate when I was done!
Thank you!

6:07 PM, July 21, 2009  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Marcella Hazan taught me how to cook when I got married 20 years ago. You haven't lived until you've made and served at a dinner party her Baked Green Lasagne with Meat Sauce, Bolognese Style. It takes time to make since you should make everything from scratch -- the green lasagne noodles, bechamel sauce, and the bolognese meat sauce which needs to cook 3-4 hours (the meat sauce is a masterpiece in itself). But her lasagne is the most glorious dish and still my favorite after all these years. I still remember the looks on my guests faces when they tasted it -- pure love. I've never served a dish since, that evoked that kind of response. Of course, her pesto recipe and alfredo recipe are unsurpassed too. Like I said -- she taught me how to cook. I guess her cookbook, Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking is my favorite of all the cookbooks I own.

7:17 AM, September 15, 2009  
Blogger Alison said...

This was awesome. The butter adds an indescribable flavor that makes it hard to stop eating. Thanks!

9:28 PM, November 17, 2009  
Blogger cybercita said...

i just made this on recommendation from smitten kitchen. to DIE for. SO good. but why discard that onion? i kind of hacked it up with my wooden spoon and ate it in the sauce.

7:29 PM, January 17, 2010  
Blogger Rosiecat said...

This sauce was really good! And so is this post! I'm so glad that other commenters recommended eating the onion, because it was delicious--all rich and sweet and buttery. Yum.

7:01 PM, January 19, 2010  
Blogger sarahssnyder said...

So simple, so homey, so satisfying:)

6:55 PM, February 02, 2010  
Blogger Erika said...

This was my Valentine's day dinner--with some St. Marcelin cheese appetizer and roasted broccoli with garlic alongside. Crusty bread and a nice chianti. Dessert was vanilla ice cream drizzled with good balsamic vinegar. Perfectly low stress, yet lucious, meal. Thanks for everything!

4:22 PM, February 14, 2010  
Blogger Katie said...

This was so good. I tasted it plain (yum!) and then I stirred in leftover drip / italian beef (slow-cooked chuck roast with pepperoncini and-horrors--italian dressing mix). Let that simmer together for 10 minutes. It was awesome.

11:46 AM, February 25, 2010  
Anonymous Christine said...

I made this last night and we loved it. I felt really guilty just discarding the onion though!

6:07 PM, March 03, 2010  
Anonymous Mary from Cookware Help said...

I was in Italy the year before last and we found this amazing place with pasta and sauce. Oh boy it was just wonderful (maybe it was the wind also). Anyway I'm a big onion fan and I really can't see myself discarding them.

2:51 PM, March 18, 2010  
Blogger ff said...


Thanks very much for this -- it's as good as you & all the comments say.

I used salted butter because that's what I had, & extra salt was unnecessary.

So easy -- can't wait to make it with fresh tomatoes when the garden goes crazy this summer.

2:18 PM, April 06, 2010  
Blogger Jen said...

I'm crazy about this sauce. When I don't have San Marzano tomatos I just throw in some fresh basil or rosemary. Perfection.

11:32 AM, June 16, 2010  
Blogger Francesca said...

Thank you so much for suggesting Adam's book. With all the time I spend browsing Amazon and Borders, I have yet to hear of it. I have been quite taken with all manner of food-related books lately (I am actually on page 249 of yours - and I love it!), and have just begun a food blog myself. I am always looking for new foodie books to read so I will add this one to my list. Bravo to you for the tomato sauce by the way! I love Marcella Hazan myself, and love making tomato sauce more than anything else... Ciao!

11:59 AM, August 04, 2010  
Anonymous Laura said...

Spaghetti sauce was one of the first things I ever learned to cook since it has kind of been a family staple. My Grandma's makes her sause and braises it with the ground beef, and it is heavenly. I definitely need to try some other sauces, though, and this one seems perfect.

5:22 PM, August 07, 2010  
Anonymous catherine said...

sounds perfect for my pasta.

8:24 AM, August 26, 2010  
Blogger Jamie said...

I just read your article, In Search of the perfect Meatball, in Bon Appetit. I can't wait to try (this weekend) your sauce and meatballs. Having an Italian mother-in-law, this will be a good comparison test. Thanks for sharing the recipe in the magazine and your blog. I loved reading both stories.

8:51 AM, September 28, 2010  
Anonymous molly said...

Molly. I know this sauce is ancient history, but I must tell you, it made for a revolutionary evening in our home.

My ten year old son ate sauce on his pasta, tonight. He has never eaten sauce on his pasta. As in, never ever. Plain pasta on the same platter as sauced? No thanks, he'll wait until breakfast. A single parsley flake, spied and removed? Nix, just water, thanks anyway. But tonight, he ate pasta with sauce. This sauce.

I owe you. Big time.

6:53 PM, October 05, 2010  
Anonymous Gordon said...

I tried it for thanks giving and the sauce was delicious.

Thanks so much! I got to make this again.

9:11 PM, October 11, 2010  
Anonymous Amy in Charleston, SC said...

Finally, a homemade tomato sauce my kids LOVE, is easy to make and doesn't have a single green flake in it (my kids hate green flakes or anything where the spices can be seen!). I only wish I had discovered this recipe sooner -- I'm now making a weekly batch to keep up with the demand. And, the meatballs were delicious as well (In Search of the Perfect Meatball, Bon Appetit). Your column is awesome and very much appreciated!

8:39 PM, October 23, 2010  
Anonymous Irene said...

I wonder how this would taste like on pizza. I'm making zucchini pizza this weekend and i think i'll try this sauce and see how it comes out.

4:55 AM, November 16, 2010  
Anonymous Paula Bauer said...

Wow! Now this looks absolutely delicious! And it's simple. I'll have to give it a shot this weekend :-)

10:36 AM, November 22, 2010  
Anonymous Evangeline said...

it's summer in nz and was craving tomatoes so made this sauce after seeing it here and then at smitten kitchen. i only used one can, thinking that i'd add a fresh tomato to make up the weight. i added two cloves of crushed garlic and only used half an onion. i added two small heaps of finely chopped ham. delicious. amazing. will need at least a tin and a half of tomatoes next time. and might use angel hair pasta instead so there is more sauce, less pasta. if you add a teaspoon of sugar, it softens the acidity.

4:59 PM, December 27, 2010  
Anonymous Natalia said...

I haven't tried it yet, but already love it! I love tomato ketchup, sause and everything which includes tomatoes. But honestly, I never thought about making tomato sause myself, only buy in the shop. So now I'll make it myself, thanks so much for the recipe!

2:01 PM, January 07, 2011  
Blogger Janet said...

This has been my go to, easy sauce for my children & their friends for years. San Marzano tomatoes are the best and, in the unlikely event of leftovers, the sauce freezes & reheats well.

3:23 PM, February 16, 2011  
Blogger James Kiester said...

That sauce sounds fantastic! What a way to come across it too.

3:47 PM, April 08, 2011  
Blogger Rahul C said...

Molly, you have just turned the tomato sauce into a gourmet art.This i so simple and yet so sinfully addictive. Bless you.

11:04 PM, May 16, 2011  
Blogger Lizzie said...

I've made this again, for the umpteenth time, and thought I ought to say thank you - this tomato sauce is a joy.

4:32 PM, June 08, 2011  
Anonymous Ben said...

This looks delicious!

As someone who could eat tinned tomato and onion stewed by itself I am definitely try this one out.

4:40 AM, October 25, 2011  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A little late to the party, but I can't say enough about this sauce, thanks to this blog. Initially, I used the DOP Italian imported tomatoes Whole Foods offers, then tried Costco's brand of diced tomatoes, and finally, tried Muir Glen's. I have to say the 4+ dollars I spent on the 28 oz. can of DOP Italian tomatoes was well worth it. The others yielded really good sauce, but the Italian tomatoes were sublime. Somehow, they're smoother. No matter what--the sauce is killer good.

8:19 PM, April 03, 2013  
Anonymous Marco said...

Great tips! Has anyone tried to add the butter after tossing the onion so it does not get much heat?
And a few leaves of Basil??

8:38 AM, April 04, 2013  
Blogger Angela said...

Attempting this sauce today-- I'm making meatsauce for the family but I read this the other day-- bought my tomatoes and haven't stopped thinking about it ever since.
On a day when I don't feel like cooking you somehow made me feel like cooking ; )

1:11 PM, July 07, 2014  

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