Marcella Hazan’s CRAZY Tomato Sauce

[For a better post about this sauce with actual pictures, click here!]

My Secret Cookbook Santa (and paternal grandfather on my mother’s side) Brain W. purchased for me a humongous, beautiful Marcella Hazan cookbook that I’ve been flipping through since I received it. Finally, tonight, I put it to use by making her basic tomato sauce.

Well first I was at a coffee shop and it turned freezing and I wanted to go home and never leave my apartment again. On the way I walked past a grocer with onions and garlic sitting outside. So I grabbed one of each and the total came to $1.02. The cheapest dinner ever.

(I already had tomatoes and pasta at home.)

So anyway, that’s a tangent. The point is that I didn’t know I was going to make Marcella Hazan sauce until I got home with the onion and garlic. I flipped open the book and the recipe SHOCKED me. Here is what shocked me about it:

(1) You don’t chop the onion. You cut it in half and throw it into the pot.

(2) You don’t use olive oil, you use butter.

(3) You don’t use garlic.

I decided to disregard (3) since she doesn’t explicitly say “don’t use garlic”—it’s just not in the recipe. And besides, I had bought garlic so I wanted to use it. I decided to halve the recipe since I was only cooking for one. Here is what went into the pot pre-tomatoes:


(Half an onion, 2.5 Tbs butter, and two garlic cloves cut in half–my own touch.)

Then I added 1 lb of canned tomatoes:


I cut them up in the pot with two knives. Then I turned the heat on, got it to a simmer, and simmered for 45 minutes. It was honestly that easy. I ended up with this:


What a brilliant sauce! Seriously–who knew using butter instead of olive oil would make such a difference. It had a creamy richness that may make this my signature tomato sauce for tomato sauces future. The lack of chopped onion had no impact on the flavor–meaning, cutting the onion in half and throwing it in is an excellent alternative. I’m not sure how the garlic affected it–all I can say is that the end result was top notch.

And that, my friends, is Marcella Hazan’s CRAZY Tomato Sauce. (Oh, and don’t forget to add salt when you add the tomatoes. I didn’t forget–but just in case you follow this recipe, I don’t want your sauce to be not salty enough. I care about you, people.)

21 thoughts on “Marcella Hazan’s CRAZY Tomato Sauce”

  1. i have always loved that sauce! marcella is great. her recipes are so detailed it’s hard to screw up. i can also wholeheartedly recommend her bolognese sauce, her carbonara sauce, and her pork loin braised in milk (if you’re in a porky kind of mood, this recipe is absolutely CRAZY and it comes out delicious)…oh and also, her crumble cake. it has lemon zest in it. thumbs up.

  2. Emily (a different one)

    I have made that sauce too! — and was equally shocked at its simplicity, lack of garlic, and wonderous deliciousness. Love your blog.

  3. I realize you’re not a parent, but for those who are this should be excellent because there are no onion pieces. Lots of kids hate onions because obviously they don’t know what’s good.

    Little tip: Get yourself a pair of kitchen scissors (cheapos will do) and the next time you need to cut canned tomatoes just open the can, leave the liquid in, put the scissors in and cut to your heart’s content. It’s easier this way because the tomatoes can’t scoot away from you.

  4. I made this sauce immediately after reading your post, only I used organic Italian crushed tomatoes with basil (really cheap and the work is already done for you) and it was the BEST SAUCE EVER! Thanks, TAG. You move me.

  5. Oh, I will definitly try this recipe. Such lovely simplicity. My secret tomato sauce ingredients: a little sugar, and a dash of cinamon.

  6. What a cool recipe! Did you discard the onion? And which brand of canned tomatoesdid you use? I’m partial Sclafani…

  7. I just made this sauce tonight for a quick dinner and agree – it is absolutely delicious! And what did you do with the onion? I ended up putting mine down the garbage disposal, but it seemed like such a waste.

  8. Has anyone tried making this recipe without the garlic? Is it still very delicious w/o or do you miss the garlic?

  9. Bea, you’re SUPPOSED to make the recipe without the garlic. I only added the garlic because I bought garlic and didn’t want to waste it. Otherwise, Marcella would say: “No garlic! Mamma mia!” And ABBA would say: “Here I go again / my my / how can I resist her?”

  10. I made this, it was good, but it didn’t look as thick as yours did in the photo.

    Did you put the liquid from the canned tomatoes in? Did you place a cover on the sauce while it simmered? Thanks.

  11. Teddy,

    Yes, put the liquid in. And DEFINITELY leave the cover off–Marcella makes a huge point of that in the book. She says the concept behind sauce is evaporation–which allows the flavors to condense. I should have made that clearer in the text above.

  12. Adam, this sauce looks really delicious. But…

    I guess it is hard for me to believe this sauce can still be equally delicious w/o garlic. It’s intriquing certainly, and I’m planning on making this sauce tonight and I wonder if I will be brave and risk it all and try this recipe without garlic. I guess I do relate with Marcella ;)

  13. I did make this sauce, with the garlic, but I don’t think the garlic was essential, because the onion adds so much flavor. I LOVE THIS SAUCE. It is now officially on my list of forever recipes. Thank you amateur gourmet!!!

  14. Butter!!! It does make a HUGE difference, doesn’t it? I read this a few years ago. I made spaghetti this weekend and only remembered to add butter the day after (on left-over day)… and what an improvement it made to the already tasty sauce. Butter made it creamier and, somehow, tastier.

    Great site.

  15. This sauce is a staple in our house – my grandmother taught me hoe to make it. I’ve never made it with garlic and it’s fine. This is especally good with gnocchi.

  16. Adam,

    So which sauce do you prefer the Babbo sauce or the Marcella Hazan sauce?

    Inquiring minds want to know!

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