Perfect with gnocchi, ravioli or your favorite pasta, this 45 minute tomato sauce with butter and onion is on the table in 45 minutes for an easy weeknight dinner recipe! Adapted from the queen of Italian cuisine, Marcella Hazan's The Essentials of Italian Cooking.
Homemade spaghetti sauce doesn't have to cook all day when 45 minutes is all that's needed. I found this sauce years ago when I was thumbing through my favorite Italian cookbook, The Essentials of Italian Cooking. This easy tomato sauce with butter and onion became an instant favorite in our house as it has for countless other chefs, bloggers, and cooks.
My kids literally have been known to drink this sauce from the bottom of the bowl— it's that amazing.
What makes this sauce so special?
You know how they say the simple things in life are the best? The older I get, the more I know this is true. And this simple tomato sauce proves it.
While I love all my pasta sauce recipes, this sauce has such a pure, sweet flavor that has been known to make the pickiest people sigh.
And it has three ingredients. And can be made in 45 minutes
The 3 Ingredient Tomato Sauce
Tired of the suspense? These 3 ingredients (that you likely have if you have my Pantry Guide) make this magical sauce:
So let's break them down. I don't know about you but I can't wait to grab a big ole piece of focaccia bread and slide it into this sauce.
Canned or fresh tomatoes?
Easy! You can do either. Hazan's original recipe calls for fresh and if you have an abundance of them in your garden or you have a favorite local farm stand or farmer's market, then by all means, use fresh. (My summer fresh tomato marinara sauce recipe is a keeper for summer tomatoes!)
Using fresh tomatoes
One caveat: you do have to remove the skins. If you aren't sure about how to remove skins from tomatoes, here's what you need to do:
How to Peel Fresh Tomatoes
1. Make an "X" at the bottom of the tomato with a sharp knife.
2. Gently place the tomato(es) in a pot of boiling water using a slotted spoon.
3. After one minute, with the same slotted spoon, remove the tomato from the water and immediately dip into a bowl of ice water.
Using canned tomatoes for sauce
When making tomato butter sauce, I use whole San Marzano tomatoes.
Yes, I am picky like that. Always go for the best quality ingredients you can afford. And that doesn't mean they're going to be the most expensive.
Puree the tomatoes in the blender. You can also leave them whole if you like a chunky sauce.
p.s. Here is the scoop on how to buy San Marzano tomatoes and everything you ever wanted to quickly learn about exactly what you need to look to find authentic San Marzano tomatoes.
What type of onion should I use?
You probably know there are mainly four kinds of onions in the grocery store: yellow, white, red, and sweet. Five if you count green. (and I'm sure there's lots more!) Each have their own place but some can also be swapped for one another.
Here's a quick guide:
- White. The strongest of all with a thinner papery skin. and the most likely to produce tears. Good for when you want a distinct bite like in a raw salsa.
- Yellow. A little milder and slightly sweeter than white and the most all purpose onion. Get milder and sweeter the longer you cook them.
- Red. Very mild and also good in salsas or this Homemade Guacamole.
- Sweet. Like the yellow, they are what they say. Sweeter with more of a Saturn-like shape.
In this easy tomato butter sauce, use the yellow but white or sweet works too!
And all you're going to do is cut it in half and add it to the tomatoes.
Butter in spaghetti sauce?
Butter adds a silken texture and very subtle flavor that helps the tomato and onion get even sweeter. It's the secret ingredient.
You barely need cheese with this sauce. It's that delicate, yet rich.
How to make tomato sauce with butter and onion
- If using canned tomatoes, puree them in a blender until they reach the consistency you want (I do 10 seconds or so) .
- Add the tomatoes to medium saucepan along with one halved onion (skin removed and root trimmed) and some butter .
- Cook for 45 minutes and remove the onions using a slotted spoon or strainer .
Don't pitch the onion!
Like I said, this sauce is famous. The New Yorker has an article on what to do with that sweet, mellowed, very soft onion after it's done its job in the tomato and butter sauce.
More use for that bread—if you still have some left.
After it's cooked, the sauce is the best combo of sweet and savory. It's great on stuffed pastas like tortellini, ravioli and also gnocchi. It does a great job of hanging on all those ridges.
Even better, this is an easy weeknight dinner that can the soul as well as the belly in under 50 minutes!
As my grandmas said, "Mangia!"
Storage & Make Ahead:
Make ahead: Make this sauce a day or two ahead of when you plan to serve it. It'll keep in the fridge for up to 4 days.
Freezing Tips: Allow the sauce to completely cool before storing in a freezer safe container or ziploc bag. Can freeze for up to 3 months. Defrost in the fridge or microwave before heating.
One can of tomatoes is perfect. You'll have enough for two meals.
For a crowd:
I have quadrupled this with no problem and you might have to if you're serving 10.
Easy Tomato Sauce with Butter and Onion
- 1 28 oz can whole, peeled Italian tomatoes, preferably San Marzano
- 1 yellow onion, cut in half from root to stem, ends trimmed
- 5 tablespoon unsalted butter
- salt and pepper , to taste
- In a blender or with a stick blender, blend tomatoes to desired consistency. I prefer my sauce smoother. You certainly can leave them whole and crush them right in the pan with the back of a wooden spoon.
- Peel onion, cut in half, trim shaggy roots and add to the pan.
- Add the butter a little salt and pepper (about 1 teaspoon of salt and maybe ½ teaspoon of pepper to start).
- Simmer for 45 minutes uncovered until the fat starts to separate from the tomatoes.
- Adjust seasonings with salt and pepper.
About Lori Murphy
Lori has over 30 years in the food industry as a marketing strategist, culinary instructor and chef for three kids with discerning palates. As the chief content creator at Josie + Nina, Lori is dedicated to helping home cooks create food memories through fresh ingredients and Italian flavors.
I have been using this recipe for decades! I love it!
Lori Murphy says
I always knew I liked you! 😊 It's the absolute BEST!