2 Lbs. Fresh summer tomatoes, (ripe and juicy) peeled and cut into small pieces
1 28 Oz. Can San Marzano tomatoes
5 Tbsp. Unsalted butter
1 Medium onion, peeled and cut in half
Kosher salt to taste
1/2 Cup Fresh Basil Leaves, torn
1) If using fresh tomatoes, cut a small X in the bottom of the tomato then put in a pot of boiling water for one minute. Drain. When cool enough to handle, peel the tomatoes. Chop them and be sure to keep all the juice. Pour everything into a sauce pan.
IF using the canned tomatoes, put them into a sauce pan. You’ll break these down with a large spoon or potato masher while cooking.
6) Remove the cooked onion. Discard, save for another use or chop and add to the sauce. NOTE: when using the canned San Marzano tomatoes, there is a hard, tough end on these tomatoes. I let the tomatoes cook down and break up. Then, when I remove the onions, I scoop out those tough ends with a big slotted spoon. You’ll easily see them. If they don’t bother you, leave them in.
7) At the very end, add torn basil leaves to taste. Serve over pasta or use in any dish that requires a delicious tomato sauce. Enjoy.
NOTES: Full disclosure: I had never heard of making a basic tomato sauce with butter. Sometimes I wonder how I miss these things? I mean, I cook all the time, read cook books like they are novels and watch cooking shows around the clock. But here is another example of how there is always something to learn.
I first caught Michael Symon on Food Network make a version of this sauce for a chicken cutlet and spaghetti recipe he was making. However, what caught my ear was his referral to Marcella Hazan. He said, “Marcella had done for Italian food what Julia Child did for French food.” That is quite the statement and it sent me on a search for Marcella and this original recipe. Marcella has written many Italian cookbooks and while I was aware of her, I had never come across this recipe.
The recipe is so deceiving because it is so simple. I might have completely overlooked it except for the butter. I’ve always made my sauce with olive oil. I’ve never even thought about using butter. For some reason, that doesn’t even “sound Italian” to me. That’s when you know you still have a lot to learn.
The first time I made this, I went to the farmer’s market to find the freshest tomatoes possible. This makes perfectly good sense because there are only three ingredients in the sauce. (I went wild and added the basil from my garden because I couldn’t help myself…LOL. I haven’t mastered my Coco Channel approach to cooking yet!) With only three ingredients, they all better be the best. This sauce was fabulous!
I also knew, I wasn’t going to always get summer tomatoes, so I made it again with the San Marzano tomatoes (just remember to cut off those tough ends) and it was just fabulous.
Bottom line, use the best tomatoes you have and it comes out every time. What a score this recipe is. Just perfection. I’ve since ordered Marcella’s book The Essentials of Italian Cooking (30th Anniversary Edition comes out in September, 2022) and plan to experiment more but this is a sauce you need to get into your rotation.
I’m sure this would be good with a little heat from Calabrian chili flakes or some fresh oregano and garnished with fresh Parmesan is a no-brainer. But honestly, you don’t need anything but the big three: fabulous tomatoes, butter and an onion. Try this.
If you love this, be sure to try some of my Italian inspired recipes like my Baked Stuffed Shells, Crispy Eggplant Parmesan Slices or my Zucchini Lasagne Roll Ups.