Marcella Hazan’s Tomato Sauce

4.50 from 6 votes
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Marcella Hazan’s tomato sauce is a simple and delicious 3 ingredient sauce everyone must know. A friend turned me onto her sauce recently and I’ve turned to it over my trusty jarred alternatives time and time again. Plus, it only takes about 5 minutes of active prep/cooking!

Marcella Hazan's tomato sauce in a stainless steel saucepan.

The sheer idea of making tomato sauce from scratch sounds like a time-consuming and stressful endeavor. What if I told you you could prepare a delicious tomato sauce with 3 basic ingredients (plus salt) and less than 10 minutes of active effort?

Why This Recipe Works

Marcella Hazan’s famous, yet foolproof sauce is made with canned whole San Marzano tomatoes, butter, onion, and a pinch of salt. The process consists of gently simmering everything together for 45 minutes or until the tomatoes are broken down and the sauce has thickened into a rich and delicious sauce.

The onion is typically discarded and the sauce can be served ‘as is’ or blended for a smoother marinara texture. This tomato sauce is the perfect pairing for homemade pasta, especially gnocchi, and is a great way to elevate a simple weeknight pasta dish with homemade authentic Italian flavor.

If you’re looking for more delicious classic Italian dishes you can make at home, try my cacio e pepe recipe, Neopolitan-style Margherita pizza, classic bolognese, and my homemade basil pesto pasta.

Ingredients

Raw, three-Ingredient tomato sauce ingredients laid out on a cutting board.
  • Whole San Marzano or plum tomatoes: look for imported tomatoes from Italy for the best results. The other common option is “San Marzano-style tomatoes”, which are often grown in California. See also my simple homemade bolognese using the same tomatoes.
  • Unsalted butter: adds richness and delicious flavor. It’s arguably the most important ingredient that pulls everything together.
  • White or yellow onion: either works in the recipe. It adds a subtle complimentary flavor. I’ve also used red onion in a pinch.
  • Salt: makes all the flavors pop.
  • Optional garlic clove: garlic is a matter of preference. The original recipe does not call for garlic but it does add nice flavor.

Substitutions & Considerations

Spaghetti neatly twirled on a white plate topped with red sauce and freshly grated parmesan cheese.

Seasoning

Hazan’s original published recipe does not feature any herbs, garlic, or spices other than salt. I like to add a pinch of salt to taste and will occasionally add a single garlic clove. If you love garlic, it adds delicious garlic flavor that can be blended along with the tomatoes.

Depending on your sensitivity to acidity, you may be tempted to add a pinch of sugar. I will occasionally add a 1/4 teaspoon of sugar if the sauce tastes too tart. I would highly encourage you to try the sauce before adding any sugar and always do so very sparingly. A little goes a long way in terms of balance. It’s not about sweetness.

San Marzano Versus Plum Tomatoes

You can use San Marzano or generic plum tomatoes for this sauce. San Marzano tomatoes are a type of plum tomato with thick tomato flesh, fewer seeds, and low water content. I’ve found the canned contents of San Marzano tomatoes to be thicker and richer than generic canned plum tomatoes.

Look for certified Cento San Marzano Peeled Tomatoes or Tuttorosso Peeled Plum Italian Style Tomatoes (both are imported from Italy and are grown near Mount Vesuvius). In a side-by-side tasting, I noticed the plum tomatoes rendered a considerably thinner sauce that requires extended simmering to achieve a similar consistency.

San Marzano tomatoes presented a richer red color whereas plum tomatoes gave the sauce a more orange hue. While both tasted good, we preferred the San Marzano tomato sauce thanks to its richer taste.

As mentioned, this sauce can be served as a rustic crushed tomato texture or blended into a more cohesive mixture like marinara. An immersion blender is perfect for the task and won’t aerate or pulverize the sauce. Blending the sauce will also help to thicken it, especially if using Plum tomatoes.

Onion

The onion in the recipe can be removed or left in the sauce. The onion should be cut into two halves so it can be easily removed if desired. Some prefer to leave the onion in for extra flavor and that’s fine as well. I would be hesitant to blend the entire onion in with the rest of the sauce because it could be overpowering. If you try this, peel and slice a few layers and taste before adding more.

If you only have half an onion on hand that’s fine as well. I’ve made this sauce numerous times with just what I had in the fridge/pantry. You can experiment with shallot or even red onion, too. The simplicity of this sauce is what makes it so delicious.

Step by Step Instructions

Step 1.

Add tomatoes (juices and all), butter, both onion halves, (optional garlic), and salt to a saucepan. Cook uncovered at a very slow, but steady simmer for about 45 minutes, or until the sauce is thickened to your liking.

Canned tomatoes, yellow onion, and melting butter in a saucepan before simmering.

Step 2.

Stir occasionally, crushing any large pieces of tomato with a wooden spoon. Taste and add more salt as needed.

A wooden spoon holding a spoonful of cooked chunky red tomato sauce above a sauce pan.

Step 3.

Discard the onion and serve as is or optionally use an immersion blender to blend the tomato chunks into a smoother more uniform texture. This will also slightly thicken the texture of the sauce. If it’s still too thin, you can continue to simmer the sauce after it has been blended.

QUICK TIP

If the sauce tastes too tart or acidic, you can add a very TINY pinch of sugar to balance it out. A little goes a long way.

Expert Tips

  • The sauce can be kept in the fridge for 3-5 days or can be frozen in an airtight container.
  • When serving pasta, always mix the sauce with the pasta in a separate bowl with a little reserved pasta water. This adds texture and helps the sauce completely adhere to the pasta.
  • You can blend some of the onion into the sauce for added flavor. I usually do a very small chunk.

More Italian Recipes

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4.50 from 6 votes

Marcella Hazan’s Tomato Sauce

Servings: 6
Prep: 10 minutes
Cook: 45 minutes
Total: 55 minutes
Marcella Hazan’s famous tomato sauce is a simple and delicious 3 ingredient sauce that comes together in 45 minutes.

Ingredients 

  • 28 ounce can of whole San Marzano or Plum tomatoes
  • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 small white or yellow onion, peeled, stems removed, and cut in half
  • Salt, to taste
  • Optional garlic clove
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Instructions 

  • Add tomatoes (juices and all), butter, both onion halves, (optional garlic), and salt to a saucepan. Cook uncovered at a very slow, but steady simmer for about 45 minutes, or until the sauce is thickened to your liking.
  • Stir occasionally, crushing any large pieces of tomato with a wooden spoon. Taste and add more salt as needed.
  • Discard the onion and serve as is or optionally use an immersion blender to blend the tomato chunks into a smoother more uniform texture. This will also slightly thicken the texture of the sauce. If it’s still too thin, you can continue to simmer the sauce after it has been blended.
  • Serve with your favorite pasta with freshly grated parmesan cheese.

Notes

In my tests, San Marzano tomatoes will render a thicker sauce.
You can optionally leave the onion in the sauce if you prefer. I would not blend the entire onion with the rest of the sauce as it could be overwhelming.
The sauce can keep in the fridge for 3-5 days or can be frozen in an airtight container.
If the sauce is too acidic to your taste, you can add a tiny pinch of sugar to balance it out. Start with a 1/4 teaspoon and taste test.

Nutrition

Serving: 1/4Calories: 141kcalCarbohydrates: 3.2gProtein: 0.7gFat: 14.5gSaturated Fat: 9.1gCholesterol: 38mgSodium: 107mgFiber: 0.7gSugar: 2g

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

Additional Info

Course: Dinner, Main Course
Cuisine: Italian
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About Shawn Williams

My name is Shawn, author behind Kitchen Swagger. I'm a food & drink enthusiast bringing you my own simple and delicious restaurant-inspired recipes.

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