• Suzanne Yearley

A Single Pot Dinner For Everyone's Wheelhouse: Marcella Hazan Tomato Sauce

February 8, 2019

Suzanne Yearley

I came across this dish on the Internet and thought immediately of sending it to my son to make in his apartment. Once I tasted it, I expanded that outreach to include anyone who loves tomato sauce and/or a quick and easy dinner. This is one of those recipes that is almost too good to be true.  An incredibly delicious tomato sauce with no chopping (you can crush the tomatoes in a food processor or with your hands), very little active time, and only one pot to wash. Are you interested yet? 

In addition, it works for both a weeknight or Sunday dinner, qualifies as family or company fare, and can be considered rustic or elegant, depending on the surroundings. The key is using only San Marzano tomatoes, excellent-quality spaghetti (see Secrets to Success below,) and PLEASE include the butter. (The original dish required 5 tablespoons, but 2-3 is more than enough to balance the acidity of the tomatoes and round out the dish.) Finally, with a dish this simple, seasoning generously with salt and freshly-ground black pepper is the difference between bada boom and bland. 

With a little forethought, San Marzano tomatoes and good-quality spaghetti can be ready in your pantry, and parmigiano-reggiano in your fridge.  One warning: you will never be happy with jarred tomato sauce again!

Secrets for Success: 

  • Use only San Marzano tomatoes for this recipe.

  • Red or yellow onions work well. Do not use white onion.

  • Best quality pasta: I love the brand pictured here Rustichella Pasta Abruzzese. It is available at Whole Foods and Amazon.

  • In general when selecting dry pasta, look for few ingredients (wheat and water) and durum and semolina flour which will add to the chewiness.

  •  Make sure to use enough water and salt, and to stir your pasta a few times during cooking. This will prevent sticking. Oil isn’t necessary and will prevent the sauce from sticking to the pasta.

  • Add the salt after the water boils.

  • Keep the water at a rapid boil.

  • When cooking pasta, always reserve a cup of the cooking water in case you would like to thin the sauce.

  • Make sure to cook the pasta al dente. It still offers a little resistance to your tooth when it is ready.

  • Don’t rely on the cooking time written on the package. Pasta must be tasted to know when it is done.

  • A pound of pasta serves 3 to 4 people as a main course, and 4 to 6 people as a side. 

Marcella Hazan's Tomato Sauce with Onion & Butter


1 (28-ounce can)San Marzano tomatoes with their juice, crushed with your hands or pulsed in the food processor

2-3 tablespoons unsalted butter 

1 medium onion, peeled and cut in half

kosher salt to taste

freshly-ground black pepper to taste

1 pound good spaghetti

¼ cup chiffonade of basil, optional

Parmigiano-reggiano for serving


Put the tomatoes in a saucepan, add the butter and onion, and cook uncovered at a very slow, but steady simmer for about 45 minutes, or until it is thickened to your liking and the fat floats free from the tomato. 

Stir from time to time, mashing up any large pieces of tomato with the back of a wooden spoon. 

Taste and adjust the seasoning. Before tossing with pasta, remove the onion.

Sauce can be held at this point for up to 3 days in the refrigerator. Reheat before serving.

When ready to serve, cook the pasta in plenty of in boiling salted water until al dente, about 6-7 minutes. Don’t forget to remove a little of the pasta water with a ladle before draining. Toss with the sauce and some of the reserved pasta water as needed for a creamy consistency. Taste again and adjust seasoning. Stir in the basil, if using. Serve with freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano cheese for the table.

Serves 3-4 as a main course or 4-6 as a side dish.



make ahead


kitchen basic

good for leftovers












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