Tomato Sauce with Butter and Onion from Marcella Hazan

A testimony to Italian cooking, this simple Tomato Sauce with Butter and Onion from Marcella Hazan is out of this world!

Tomato Sauce with Butter and Onion Served in a White Bowl and Parmesan Cheese and Italian Bread

I originally published this recipe for Tomato Sauce with Butter and Onion several years ago but was recently asked to review a cookbook from the Hazans and I chose this recipe since it was past time for a redo…my photos from 2012 did nothing to make it look appetizing.

While well known to a lot of food bloggers and media types I still have friends who go nuts over it when I serve it for dinner so I thought it was time to introduce some more people to my favorite spaghetti sauce. Don’t let the simplicity fool you…it’s the butter that makes it BETTER!

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From 2012….

The cookbook world seems to be exploding today which is both good and bad. Seeing that the publishing world still believes in delivering cookbooks in print is important to me; as much as we all seem to be immersed in more and more deliverables through digital processes I remain attached to my books and magazines.

There is nothing that inspires me to snuggle up with a Kindle and I hope that never changes. I’ve also been asked to review books that were quite simply not ready for prime time so with the plethora of choices; how do you decide?

Glancing at the stack of cookbooks on my kitchen counter that I’ve either purchased or have been asked to review, I recognize that I have my own subconscious criteria. I prefer books from authors with some history or very evident experience.

I’ve bought ‘Baking From My Home to Yours‘ by Dorie Greenspan and Favorite Recipes from Melissa Clark’s Kitchen by Melissa Clark; am now thumbing through (and wondering if I will ever find something I can actually make) from the gorgeous ‘Eleven Madison Park‘ cookbook. My friend Abby Dodge will always be a favorite; first discovering her in Bon Appetit magazine and having that love affair only grow with each of her new ventures.

When I was approached by Lael Hazan inquiring if I would be interested in reviewing her husband Giuliano’s latest cookbook, Hazan Family Favorites, it was very simply a ‘no brainer.’ Giuliano comes to this effort of love with a legacy behind him.

His mother was the renowned Marcella Hazan; a legend in the world of Italian cooking and Giuliano himself is an accomplished author, he and Lael own a cooking school in Verona, Italy and he often appears as a guest on a variety of cooking related venues including a recent appearance on the Today Show.

His mom is renowned for her work but I think maybe best known for the simple dish I’m sharing today, her Tomato Sauce with Butter and Onion. I knew that like mother, like son, that Guiliano would include amazing dishes in his new tome.

After winning some of their olive oil in connection with the release of the book, I wanted to make sure that the post I planned would showcase their amazing product so I asked Lael if she would query Guiliano for a recommendation; something I could make and post with the olive oil as an integral part of the dish.

The recipe for Tagliata (Cut) Ribeye with Olive Oil, Garlic and Parsley that they gave me was simply the best steak I have ever made. I can still remember that moment of standing at my kitchen counter saying, ‘Oh I’ll just take one more little bite.’ and soon had to literally walk away before devouring steak I had made to serve four.

I was concerned that my family would not understand just 2 slices left on the plate. I am so not kidding. Simply prepared and using the best ingredients; that seems to be the thread that runs through this collection of family recipes.

Tomato, Butter and Onion Spaghetti Sauce

But today I need to go back to basics. I’ll be honest; at first glance one might think this dish for Tomato Sauce with Butter and Onion just a bit too easy to prepare and you might wonder what the big deal is but that is the very essence of why this is such a fabulous recipe in an equally fabulous cookbook.

The recipes in this book are not meant to be preparations that have days of hard labor involved, they are quite simply recipes meant to serve to your family at the dinner table.

Recipes with the freshest of ingredients and time honored traditions are evident throughout and include the story of a family complete with photos and stories from Giuliano about his own childhood where his love of food and cooking started those many years ago at the skirt of his grandmother, Nonna Mary.

Knowing I wanted to make something this past weekend I was determined. I needed to get to the market and get started early, in the cool of the day, allowing me to prepare and photograph before the heat of the afternoon when I try to avoid turning on the stove or oven in my kitchen.

I sat down with my cup of coffee and a purpose; it was time and the choices that appealed to me seemed endless. Sausage with peppers, penne with mushrooms, an Italian mac and cheese; sorbets and cakes that I wanted right then and there.

When I came to the page for an already favored recipe, ‘My Mother’s Butter, Tomato and Onion Sauce’ this is the first sentence, verbatim, ‘If I had to pick one dish that exemplifies ‘Hazan family favorites’ it would be this sauce.’ Bingo…done and done.

Tomato, Butter and Onion Spaghetti Sauce

You know how sometimes you just know, how you knew all along but the choice seemed too easy; maybe too expected so you avoided it completely…searching for the ‘real’ right choice? That was me and this Tomato Sauce with Butter and Onion was that dish.

I’ve been making this spaghetti sauce for several years; the first time I made it for my daughter Lauren she said I should never bother with meat sauce again…yes, it’s that good and just as cool? It’s that easy too.

The butter both balances the acidity of the tomatoes while imparting it’s own richness to the sauce and the onions add the perfect touch of sweetness to the mix.

While I was searching for something more unique or more complicated the truth of that sentence hit home; this recipe I already loved is the true essence of what this cookbook is all about and it was the one I simply had to share.

Tomato Sauce with Butter and Onion Served in a White Bowl and Parmesan Cheese

It is ridiculously easy. It’s a full 5 minutes of labor; it has four simple ingredients and yet it tastes amazingly good. Isn’t that the perfect dish for a family favorite? If you’ve made it before you know exactly what I’m talking about and now I know you want to run into the kitchen and make it again.

If you have not made it, well then you are in luck because I’m including the recipe. But the bottom line for each one of you? You need this book. Family time is precious, preparing a meal and having the opportunity to sit with our families seems to be more and more difficult as our lives seem to expand beyond the time available.

I love the stories in this book too; the weaving of family and food in a way we can all enjoy, appreciate and hopefully, find the time to do ourselves.

More Favorite Tomato Dishes!

More of Our Favorite Pasta Dishes!

PIN IT! ‘Tomato Sauce with Butter and Onion’

Tomato Sauce with Butter and Onion Served in a White Bowl and Parmesan Cheese and Italian Bread

Tomato Sauce with Butter and Onion Served in a White Bowl and Parmesan Cheese

Tomato Sauce with Butter and Onion Served in a White Bowl and Parmesan Cheese and Italian Bread

Tomato Sauce with Butter and Onion –

An easy and out of this world delicious tomato sauce from Marcella Hazan, a legend in Italian cooking.
5 average from less than 50 votes
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 45 minutes
Total Time 55 minutes
Course Pasta, Potatoes, Rice & Grains
Cuisine Italian
Servings 6 Servings
Calories 248 kcal


  • 2 pounds ripe tomatoes or 3 cups canned whole, peeled tomatoes with their juice (true confession; I just use 2 cans of organic, diced tomatoes.
  • 1 medium sweet yellow onion
  • 5 Tablespoons butter
  • 1 ΒΌ teaspoon salt


  • If using fresh tomatoes, peel them. Coarsely chop the canned or peeled tomatoes.
  • Trim both ends of the onion, peel it and cut it in half lengthwise.
  • Put the tomatoes, onion, butter and salt into a 4-5 qt saucepan over medium heat.
  • When the tomatoes begin to bubble, lower the heat to a slow but steady simmer.
  • Cook, stirring every 10-15 minutes until the tomatoes are no longer watery and the sauce has reduced, about 45 minutes.
  • The sauce is done when the butter has separated from the tomatoes and there is no remaining liquid.
  • Remove the onion and serve the sauce over freshly cooked pasta.


While Marcela’s original recipe indicates the onions are discarded I say nope…I pull them from the sauce and serve them on the side. They are soft and mellow and sweet…they’re eaten here!


Nutrition Facts
Tomato Sauce with Butter and Onion –
Serving Size
1 Serving
Amount per Serving
% Daily Value*
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.
Keyword butter, marcella hazan, one pot, pesto, chicken, pasta, onion, spaghetti
Tried this recipe?Let us know how it was!

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  1. I definitely agree with you when it comes to print media. I am hoping that books would stay in print, and not only in digital. I just love the smell of the pages as you turn them one by one. And when it comes to choosing cookbooks, I find it hard myself to pick things to buy. I tend to get drawn to the more mainstream authors such as Martha Stewart or Ina Garten, however, I want to explore other cookbooks that are worthy of attention. Any suggestions?

    I am at awe with the variety of recipes you offer in your site. I will be trying them for sure one of these days and will link them back to you from my blog if that’s okay.

    1. What a sweet comment; thanks Gino. I don’t have any one focus; simply like to share the food that I make for family and friends…some are dinners, some are celebratory but hoping all are good!

      One book I really love is ‘Around My French Table’ buy Dorie Greenspan. She is a wonderful person and her book is filled with great fare. I know I have others but most of mine are in storage while I’m between homes…you make me think I need a page on this site with a list…great idea!

  2. I, for one, promise to make this tonight and I have every intention of thin-slicing the (red torpedo) onion lengthwise to get every bit of the tomato-butter-onion goodness. Great choice! Thanks.

    1. I wanted to stay true to the author Jack but the notion of getting rid of those onions? Never! They are so soft and so sweet; I’ll slice them and add them on top for garnish (or, shh, don’t tell…just sit down with the onion and eat it all by it’s wonderful self!).

  3. It’s a wonderful cookbook and one I’ll be using with my own family. The recipes are exactly how I like to eat- using fresh, local ingredients without all the fuss. My favorite so far is the chicken with black olives and capers. I used the leftover sauce over pasta- perfect!
    great review

    1. Thanks Sarah, I’ll have to try that next; I just had a tapenade the other night made with black olives and capers that I just loved so I’m able to imagine that so well. Yum!

  4. I’ve been making Marcella’s Basic Tomato Sauce II for over 25 yrs now. My 31 yr old son is making this sauce for his family. And I suspect that my 2 grandsons will carry on that tradition with their families. Love the Hazan family recipes. Would love to add this cookbook to my 300+ cookbook collection.

    1. I love that! I also love that I’m introducing this timeless recipe to people who have never heard of it; they have a treat in store!

  5. I truly love Italian food. Having many food allergies, Italian food seems to be the one type of food I usually can eat! I have a great Italian lasagne recipe from one of my cookbooks I purchased in the 1970s! I’m always looking forward to trying new recipes as well as add another cookbook to my collection!

    1. I don’t have allergies but I agree…it’s so filled with fresh and natural ingredients; really I must be Italian!

  6. Marcella Hazan’s cauliflower sauce is my all time favourite. I love eating it without the pasta even! The tomato sauce looks great, I will definitely try it. The book would be a wonderful addition to our Hazan collection. Thanks for the chance to win!

    1. I haven’t tried that Michelle but now know that I have to! I’ve had a crazy day; I’ll pick a winner tomorrow.

    1. I have a new favorite lasagna; it’s made with mushrooms and tomatoes and a bechamel sauce. I fear I could eat every bite it’s so good.

  7. I’m hoping to win a copy of the cookbook because your recipe looks so tasty_simple and familiar! My step-mum was Italian, so my “favorite recipe” woul dprobably be making ravioli from scratch like we did a few times when I was little.

    1. I have never made pasta; guess that’s a surefire way of showing I’m not ‘really’ Italian, huh? But I love ravioli too!

  8. I just recently discovered an old recipe for pasta sauce from an OLD cookbook and was surprised to find butter in the ingredients. WOW, does this make a difference! I am hooked. This recipe sounds so simple and delicious I can’t wait to try it. My husband just looked over my shoulder while I was looking at this and said “Yum!” Thanks!

    1. You are most welcome Barb; it is deceptively good in relation to how easy it is…isn’t that the perfect dish?

  9. I loved my cousin’s ravioli when I visited her in northern Italy. Another cousin has a beautiful photo of it, and I have my nonna’s rolling pin, which is so long, that I cannot imagine someone that petite using it. She must have had great upper-body strength!

    1. I’ve seen rolling pins like that and it’s like a rolling pin for two! I have my Grandma’s…I love thinking of her every single time I make a pie.

  10. I am not a pasta fan but my husband and his family are huge pasta lovers. My current favorite Italian recipe is a Mario Batali – garlicky breadcrumb grilled chicken. So good.

  11. I am so excited to have a chance to win this book! Beautiful post btw. I know you use diced but I wonder what you think about the notion that whole canned tomatoes are better quality than the diced. Read that before somewhere….I don’t know if there is anything to it or not. What do you think? I usually use whole canned ones just because and if you’re pureeing it anyway…

    1. I haven’t heard that but who knows; I buy these because they are available at Costco and are organic and they sure taste good to me in this sauce!

    1. I find myself craving every dish that is mentioned in the comments. I would LOVE a great eggplant Parmesan…in Italy!!

    1. Me too! If ever I thought I wanted to be Italian, this book might seal the deal; I could make a dish a day!

  12. Hands down this is the best tomato sauce! I made it with my sons last summer to add to their repertoire. It couldn’t be easier or more delicious. In fact, I think we need to make some more! πŸ™‚

    1. As much as I loved it, it was my daughter loving it so much that really stuck with me. She has often been the impetus to put a dish on the blog; handy reference for her and an online journal of the foods she has always loved.

      1. I have similar thoughts – when my boys leave and begin cooking for themselves I want them to have easy access to recipes they know and enjoy. A modern version of the stack of 3×5 cards filled with my mom’s recipes that I took with me!

    1. I have another pasta dish made with broccoli, mushrooms and tomatoes that I just love too; so colorful and so pretty. Shrimp and broccoli sounds lovely and so pretty.

  13. Stick 5 tablespoons of butter in any dish and it’s going to taste remarkable… I’m pretty certain of this. πŸ˜‰ In all seriousness, I’m all about making sauce. Eric and I never purchase it… I’d much rather make it from scratch because it’s not hard and it tastes so much better.

    1. So true; but it’s as much about the butter mellowing the acidity of the tomato that really makes this unique combination so genius. For the record? When I make it just for me, I do cut back on that butter a bit; yes I can tell but, well, I still do it for obvious reasons!

    1. Mine too Jill; I have one that’s made with a white sauce and mushrooms that I’ve been craving lately;as soon as we have a day that’s not in the 90’s outside I’m making it.

    1. I love all of those you mentioned and struggled with what to make but it was the ease of this dish combined with the results that won over; I think lasagna is next. Wonder if you can make that on the grill? πŸ™‚

    1. I love the sound of that Claire; my basil is finally big enough to consider picking some leaves from and well, who doesn’t love Parmesan?

    1. So good and so easy to make; hope you did try it and enjoyed it as much as we always do.

    1. I could not have said it better; it’s so doggone good on it’s own but that easy factor sure doesn’t hurt!

    1. So…to make leftovers just a bit different, I topped this spaghetti with some ricotta cheese; I share your love!

  14. This looks wonderful…tomatoes in any shape or form and pasta are two staples in my kitchen. I think one of my favorite dishes of all time is penne in vodka cream sauce.

    1. Oooh…I love that sauce too Page. Now I want to make some of it! Do you have a special recipe that you use?

    1. You would love this then…great recipes and such a connection to the family you feel really immersed in ‘Italian’ food!

  15. This sounds like a wonderful cookbook and one that I need to add to my collection … simple, delicious recipes are what I need for weeknights…

  16. How interesting…cooking the onion in the sauce and then removing it before serving? I make a very similar sauce but with olive oil rather than butter and chopped onion which is, of course, left in the sauce. This is most definitely a must-try recipe.

    1. The sweetness of the onions plus how that butter tempers the acidity of the tomato makes for something so different…and SO good.I didn’t leave the tomatoes in for this post…nope, I served them to me on the side to eat in big ole slices. πŸ™‚

  17. I love all pastas and this looks amazing and the beauty of it is it’s simplicity! I will be making this one soon!

    1. it really really is a favorite; my reviewing this book was meant to be cause I already know how great their recipes are. Some of my very favorites.

  18. Wow, this sounds perfect. I would like to get a copy, that’s for sure. You’ve done a great job here, I like both, the recipe and a review. πŸ™‚

  19. This book is definitely going on my “must have” list Barb! I think you chose a perfect recipe to represent the book! So much of what I ate on my recent trip reminds me of this – quality ingredients, simply prepared. As cooks, we do have a tendency to “overcomplicate” some things and this recipe is a great reminder that sometimes “less” is definitely more!!

    1. Isn’t that the truth regarding over-complicating. I seriously love this MUST try it!

    1. So do I Suzy; this is just one of the best results from a quick pantry search and a bit of time. Craving some more now even!

  20. Such an easy recipe that anyone can make with great results. I love the cook books that Marcella has written and have some favorites including one for an octopus ragout that cooks for many hours.
    But, right now my favorite Italian recipe is gnocchi. I’ve made several batches recently and just improvised sauces.

  21. I found the same recipe on Smitten Kitchen a couple years ago! This sauce is so simple and rich. I HATE when people add sugar to tomato sauce; using butter to tone down the acidity is brilliant and the onion flavor is cooked in and gives the sauce a touch of sweetness. Great!

    1. Absolutely the truth Rachelle; you know firsthand this is a sneaky little devil; good beyond imagining and simple is almost too complicated a word to describe how easy it is to make. My only problem is that I never make enough!

  22. Sometimes the simplest recipes, particularly with really good ingredients, are the best ones. This sounds like the perfect way to use my garden tomatoes this summer. I’ve always been a fan of an Hazan cookbook and it’s great to hear that this one lives up to the legacy.

    1. I’ll use fresh tomatoes too when in season but I can’t deny that some good canned tomatoes do the trick. Tomato season here is late and gone in the blink of an eye it seems and I need this sauce more often than that. πŸ™‚

        1. Perfect dish for a busy mom Kate! Let me know if you do make it and what you thought.

  23. OH. MY. GOD!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    I am SO behind on my blog reading, and I opened up the email to this and saw the picture thought to myself “OH MY GOD THAT IS THE SAUCE I SEE IN MY DREAMS AND DON’T KNOW HOW TO MAKE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” I am being serious, I have imagined that sauce for a long time!!!!!!!!!! I need to make it right now!!!

    there are so many amazing Italian dishes that I love to make, but I ALWAYS love learning new ones. When I got to the end of this post and realized you are actually giving away a copy of the book I nearly died if excitement!!! I want to win it!! ! πŸ™‚

    My favorite dish that I make is something a lovely Italian guy taught me to make. Chop tomatoes, garlic, olive oil, salt and pepper, throw it all in a pot with some Broccoli Rabe, and let it simmer for 45 minutes or so over low heat. It is delicious!

    1. It’s so deceiving, not just in it’s simplicity but in how those ingredients work together. Sweet, buttery, less acidic sauce? Oh yeah. πŸ™‚

      Your recipe sounds in the same vein. Simple but so good. I must try it!

      1. less acidic, oh yes I need that!!!!!!

        And you should definitely give the broccoli rabe one a try too!!! thanks for this Barb!!

        1. I believe you…should I admit I’ve never had broccoli rabe? No particular reason why but now I’m intrigued and I think my time has come!

    1. Most welcome Holly and so great to meet you! I tried leaving a comment on your site but had an issue and have another suggestion as well? Do you still have that map and phone number; want to give me a quick call when you get a moment?

  24. I made this this weekend too. Love it! I’ll be blogging about this too in the near future to pass it on to my daughter and her beginner cook friends. What a perfect dish when your cupboard is bare.

    1. Seriously? Great minds eh? It is absolutely one of my go too dishes if it’s late and I’ve nothing planned but am craving something good. I might cut back on the butter if it’s just for me but it’s still fantastic.

  25. I’ve heard so many wonderful things about this sauce! When I saw your post in my email, I had to run over to see what you thought of it. There’s no getting away from it, I have to make it. It couldn’t be any easier!

    I’d have a tough time choosing a favorite Italian dish, but I’ll go with a Cannelloni. Our favorite Italian restaurant makes a ricotta and chicken stuffed Cannelloni that’s topped with marinara. It’s wonderful.

  26. This is what I truly love about Giuliano’s cookbooks – every single recipe is doable! Family Favorites is the best by far for those wanting to homemake delicious Italian food in the least amount of time! I have so many recipes bookmarked – this fabulous sauce included! His cookbooks – and I have three – are among my most loved and most often used.

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