Marcella Hazan was to Italian cuisine, what Julia Child was to American gastronomy. They were both geniuses. Both were practical, too. They reveled in peasant food, and the clear flavors of simple ingredients. This is based Marcella’s simple, tomato sauce…with a couple of small changes, of course! And it’s a doozy of simplicity, as well as flavor. This is a wonderful reason to keep a few 28-ounce cans of whole tomatoes in your cupboard. She used canned, whole San Marzano’s tomatoes, butter and an onion, halved, with a pinch of salt. Yup! That’s it. She cooked the onion halves in the tomato and butter, then removed them. Now, this woman was truly brilliant, but I just can’t see removing that onion and discarding it. As you know, I love, love, love onions, so I just couldn’t bring myself to do that. The first time I made this, I removed the onion, but of course, I ate it. Standing there, by the stove, and it was delicious. Give me a minute to savor the moment…I’d like to think that maybe she too, indulged. It’s nice to think that. Next time, I decided to mince up the onion and cook it in the sauce, obviously leaving it behind. And I gotta’ tell you…we liked. We liked it a lot. So now that’s what I do. Believe it or not, there’s no garlic in the sauce. I know. I’m shocked, too. But, it’s just delicious as is. So I don’t add any. But, if you want to, do so.
I put everything into the pot, bring it to the boil, lower the heat and simmer for 20 minutes…it’s really that simple. She cooked hers longer. I like the consistency after 20 minutes. The butter is a tad unusual. Most of us, when we think about Italian sauces, we usually think of olive oil. Butter adds a creaminess that you just can’t get with olive oil. The tiny pinch of cloves, isn’t Marcella’s at all…that’s The Goddess’s touch. Use it. Don’t use it. But, I think it’s just better, but keep it to a tiny, tiny pinch.
I use my hands to squish the whole tomatoes up. It’s messy, but I find it works the best. I reserved 2 tablespoons of the butter to add at the very end. I think it makes a difference in flavor and texture, but it could be just my imagination. Cook the pasta until it’s just al dente. Sprinkle a good bit of salt over the pasta; toss it. Then dump the sauce on top of the pasta. Stir it together; serve it immediately, with or without freshly grated cheese. I like it better without, which surprised me. I like the way I can taste the flavors, without the cheese muddying them. But, that’s my preference, it doesn’t have to be yours.
Simple Tomato Sauce with Butter and Onion
- 1 28-ounce can whole tomatoes in purée (San Marzano tomatoes are wonderful)
- 1/2 large onion, finely minced
- 5 tablespoons butter, divided
- Tiny pinch ground cloves
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
Using your hands, squeeze each whole tomato into a heavy-bottomed saucepan. Add the minced onion, 3 tablespoons butter, the cloves and salt. Bring the mixture a boil, lower the heat to medium-low and continue to simmer. Simmer, stirring occasionally, for 20 minutes. The mixture will thicken considerably. Remove from the heat; stir in the butter. Taste and add a pinch of sugar or a small drizzle of lemon juice, depending on your preference. Toss with hot penne pasta, cooked until just al dente. Serve immediately. Top with freshly grated parmesan and lots of black pepper.
Simple Tomato Sauce with Butter and Onion Recipe©Marcia Lahens 2018. All rights reserved.