I had seen this recipe many times from various sources and was never moved to try it. That is until I had a newborn, along with an almost-three-year-old, and needed to find incredibly simple things to serve for dinner. Things I did not really need to think about since my brain was basically mashed potatoes.
Marcella sauce, named for the recently departed doyenne of Italian cooking Marcella Hazan, combines whole tomatoes with onion and butter adding only salt to enhance the flavors, requiring barely more than a can opener. There is no slicing other than splitting an onion in half, then peeling the exterior before tossing your onion into the pot with the butter and salt. As the pot bubbles, you take your potato masher, or the back of a large spoon, and crush the tomatoes so they sink into a bumpy sauce, the butter softening the tomatoes’ acidity. The onion, having stewed along with the tomatoes, lends a subtle flavor that you would miss if nothing from the allium family were present. This lack of ingredients and procedure were quite welcome when sleeping for 120 consecutive minutes was considered a success. The tomatoes can be crushed and the pot stirred with one hand while holding a baby in the other.
Now, that baby Lars is six months old, I continue to go to this sauce. The ingredients are usually on hand even if there hasn’t been a recent trip to the market. Plus the sauce cooks in an hour so if I have not planned anything I can still have a respectable dinner, with minimal effort, after returning from work.
Tomato Sauce with Onion and Butter
Adapted from Essentials of Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan
There is truly no simpler tomato sauce I know. Not that I’ve ever had a problem softening some onion with a little garlic before adding coarsely pureed tomatoes, but when you’re short on time, and hands, this is superb. Usually, there is a Parmiggiano Reggiano rind stashed in a zip top bag in my freezer so I add that to the mixture as well. Depending on the tomatoes, a couple pinches of sugar may be needed, but I generally find the butter and onion are enough to round out the acidity. This makes enough sauce for two pounds of pasta so take half and store it in the freezer for a second dinner with even less work.
2 28-ounce cans whole tomatoes (San Marzano)
2 medium onions, sliced in half and peeled
1 stick of unsalted butter
Rind from Parmiggiano Reggiano (optional)
Kosher salt, to taste
Sugar, as needed
In a 3-4 quart Dutch oven or other heavy pot, add the tomatoes, onions, butter and rind, if using
Place the pot over medium heat and bring to a simmer, breaking up the tomatoes
Reduce the to low to keep a slow, steady simmer and continue to break the tomatoes up while the sauce cooks, for about 50-60 minutes or until the sauce reaches the desired consistency
Discard the onions and the rind
Taste for salt and sugar, if using