When I was a kid, my parents had this ravioli maker that they got as a wedding present. Its instructions had been loosely translated from Italian, and they ended with the sentence, "And now, you will witness the miracle of ravioli." That's how I feel about this recipe: Now you will witness the miracle of tomato sauce.
If you hang around on enough food blogs, you've seen the Marcella Hazan tomato sauce recipe before. It's been pretty extensively covered. And if you haven't made it yet, you're probably skeptical. Why would so many people be obsessed with a tomato sauce that only has three ingredients? No garlic, no basil, no olive oil. Just a simple onion, peeled and halved, a can of bright red San Marzano tomatoes, and butter. It sounds too good to be true.
But then you make it, and through magic or alchemy or just plain old science, something amazing happens. The butter melts and smooths the acidic edges of the tomatoes just enough to make it rich but still light. The onion slowly sweats in the simmering tomatoes, imparting just enough gentle flavor to make the sauce truly remarkable. And somehow, less than an hour later, you have a sauce that you just can't. stop. eating. You'll sneak spoonfuls out of the pot in the name of "taste testing." If the pasta isn't cooked yet, you'll spread a piece of bread with a thick smear of butter and dollop the sauce on top, and then have to stop yourself from just eating the whole pot that way. (Or so I've heard.)
This tomato sauce really is a miracle. It's sweet and bright and smooth; the tomatoes break down so well on their own that you don't need to run it through a food processor. And even without getting any caramelization on the tomatoes, which would ruin the clean taste of the San Marzanos, it has a deep, rich flavor that is so very much more than the sum of its parts.
Here I served it with bucatini, fresh basil, and parmesan: simple ingredients to let the flavors really sing through. Honestly, though, it doesn't need anything other than the pasta. It's that good. It does, however, make an amazing pizza sauce. (Don't worry—I'll follow up on that.)
*That* Tomato Sauce
From Marcella Hazan's Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking
- 1 28 oz can whole, peeled San Marzano tomatoes
- 1 yellow onion, peeled and halved
- 5 tbsp butter
In a heavy saucepan, combine the tomatoes, onion, and butter over medium-high heat. Use a fork and paring knife and roughly chop up the tomatoes to help them break down. Bring the sauce to a simmer and then lower the heat, letting it simmer very gently for about 45 minutes, or until you can see fat droplets glistening on the surface. Stir occasionally, crushing any large pieces of tomato with your spoon. Add salt to taste as you go. (I've found that this recipe can stand up to a LOT of salt without damaging the other flavors, but use a light hand if you want a sweeter sauce.) Discard the onion, and pour this sauce over everything in sight.