Thursday, February 11, 2010

Simplicity is Best

The most delicious fuss-free pasta sauce.

You'll agree when I say sometimes the tastiest bites are those made with the least amount of fuss - or ingredients. Say fresh hunks of Parmesan with honey and walnuts or a perfectly ripe crescent of melon wrapped in a sliver of gossamer prosciutto. 

Today I found simplicity and perfection in a recipe that has many food bloggers (like my favourites Orangette, Smitten Kitchen and The Amateur Gourmet) have been waxing lyrical about - Marcella Hazan's tomato sauce. Just four, you read right, just four ingredients - canned plum tomatoes, unsalted butter, salt and a yellow onion. That's all you need to turn out a sauce that's so rich and satisfying, you'll wonder why you never thought about this combination before.

As it gently bubbles away on the stove the house is filled with the tantalising aroma of butter, which will have you waiting to dig your spoon into the sauce as it braises with the onion and tomato. Refrain from doing so - the trick is allowing the sauce to complete its cooking time and reduce so all the flavours are concentrated and quite literally burst on the tongue. When tiny rivulets of golden butter are snaking through the sauce, you know it's done.

Since I was in Dubai last week I managed to pick up the ingredients needed. Both canned tomatoes and unsalted butter are exorbitantly priced in Bombay. I served the sauce with whole wheat pasta, which Sean is allowed, but was not able to get butter made from pasture-raised cows so I had to make do with Elle&Vire. 

Canned food is not the best choice as they add a lot of preservatives and sometimes excessive salt and sugar. However, the only additive in the Del Monte brand I bought was citric acid so I am hoping it wasn't as bad for this one off. If I had remembered I would have bought the tomatoes from the Organic Foods and Café but it slipped my mind. Also there aren't any yellow onions available in India so I used one and a half white onion.

After reducing, Sean and I also found the sauce was still quite tart (probably because the tomatoes were not the San Marzano variety as recommended) so we added a generous squirt of agave syrup, which immediately balanced out the flavours. To up the nutritional value - and absolve ourselves of the guilt of all that butter - we added a couple of finely chopped garlic cloves and some fresh basil.

Wow. That's all I can say. My parents aren't big on pasta and they were slurping through the spaghetti with delight as well. Now this is definitely something you can throw together when you have unexpected guests visiting and be praised for the amazing flavour, that tastes like it has been cooking the whole day. I'm definitely adding the sauce to my comfort food list as well. After all you have to admit, with some butter everything tastes a whole lot better!

Marcella Hazan's Simplest Tomato Sauce Ever
2 cups canned plum tomatoes (whole, peeled, chopped, with their juices about one 28-oz. can)

5 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 medium yellow onion, peeled and cut in half
salt, to taste

Combine the tomatoes, their juices, the butter, and the onion halves in a medium saucepan. Add a pinch or two of salt.
Place over medium heat and bring to a simmer. Cook, uncovered, at a very slow but steady simmer, adjusting the heat as necessary, for about 45 minutes, or until droplets of fat float free from the tomato.
Stir occasionally, mashing any large pieces of tomato with the back of a wooden spoon.
Taste and salt as needed. 
Discard the onion.

Recipe from

Yes, that's all it takes for the most delicious pasta sauce.


Post-simmering - thick, silken and luscious.

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