Two Perfect Tomato Sauces

by isabelcanosa


I am a simple soul (!?), or maybe I’m a bit boring/unimaginative; but when I go to an new Italian restaurant I usually order the Spaghetti Pomodoro or a Margherita Pizza. I shouldn’t admit that considering I am writing a food blog, but I do have my reasons. Firstly, my thinking is; if you can’t get those dishes right, then you are not a good Italian restaurant, so in that sense it’s a test. Another is that it is comforting to have something simple and filling that has been cooked really really well. But mainly it’s because to me, the combination of tomato, cheese and carbohydrate is irresistible in its simplicity. Anyway, enough justification.

Considering my obsession with a simple tomato sauce I started doing my research to find a restaurant quality recipe, and I quickly found it. It came from Smitten Kitchen (of course! Who else!), it was delicious; it contained butter (yes! Believe me, it adds a lot of flavour and a richness that the traditional olive oil can’t give), and it was packed full of flavour! It did however, involve me pealing and removing the seeds from fresh tomatoes, and although it was so so worth it in the end, there are times when the prospect of that doesn’t appeal. Then Adam Roberts from Amateur Gourmet (another obsession) wrote about Marcella Hazan’s recipe for tomato sauce (click here to read about her, she was amazing) which has a bit of a cult following and considering the recipe required minimal amount of effort, minimal amount of equipment and a large amount of butter, it thought it might just be perfect.

And it was, which is why I am now posting both of them; one for the nights where you feel like some cooking therapy by sticking your hands into a bowl of slippery tomatoes and one for when you don’t. They both contain butter so why not!


I doubled the quantity of Adam’s take on Marcella Hazan’s recipe to make 4 hefty restaurant size portions. I left the Smitten Kitchen recipe as is and again I was able to make 4 good size portions from it, although the sauce was a little thin for some so if you prefer a thick coating, maybe multiply the sauce. The pictures you see are from the Hazan recipe and I used Napolina Bronze Die Tortiglioni as my pasta of choice, as it has a nice rough surface for the sauce to cling to. To serve both sauces cook the pasta in salted water (“the water shood be as shalty as di Mediterranean Sea” said in an Italian accent, can’t remember where I head that; but it is true) and then follow the recipe from there.

Simple; No Need for Cooking Therapy, Tomato Sauce Recipe
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2 cans of whole plum tomatoes
140g butter
2 Large onions
Salt to taste
Parmesan cheese (optional)
500g pasta

Open both cans of tomatoes and chop while still in the can using a knife. Peel the onions and remove any fluffy ends, chop in half vertically.

Add the tomatoes to a medium saucepan with the butter and halved onions and let simmer on a low heat, uncovered, for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. Discard the onions and toss the sauce with your cooked pasta of choice, cooking in the sauce for a further minute or so. Salt to taste and serve with a sprinkling of the parmesan


More Complicated; In Need of Cooking Therapy, Tomato Sauce Recipe
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1.4kg good quality tomatoes
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
1 large clove garlic,
Small handful whole basil leaves plus extra for garnish
60ml olive oil
30g butter
400g pasta
Parmesan cheese (optional)

To make peeling your tomatoes easier, bring a large pot of water to the boil and prepare a large bowl of iced water.  Cut a small ‘x’ at the bottom of each tomato and add (in groups if needed) to the pot of boiling water and blanch for 10-30 seconds, remove from water and place in the ice bath. Peel the cooled tomatoes staring from the x and discard the skins.

Cut the tomatoes in half vertically and remove all the seeds with your fingertips into a sieve set over a bowl. Discard the seeds but keep the juices that have dripped into the bowl below.

Add the tomatoes and salt to a large saucepan on a medium to high heat. Use a potato masher to break down the tomatoes until they are of a desired consistency. Once the sauce is boiling, reduce the temperature to medium to low heat and let simmer for 35-45 minutes uncovered (do not make the mistake I made once of leaving the lid on; the sauce will be watery). If the sauce does start to look a little dry use the reserved tomato juice to thin it out a little.

While your tomatoes cook, thinly slice the garlic and combine with the olive oil and whole basil leaves in a small saucepan over the lowest possible heat until they come to a slow simmer. Immediately remove from the heat at this point and discard the basil leaves and garlic setting the now flavoured oil aside for later.

Once the tomatoes have been simmering for about 25 minutes, cook your pasta until al dente (still with a little bite) in salty water. Once at this stage, drain, reserving a half cup of the pasta water.

Once the tomatoes have cooked to the desired consistency add the reserved olive oil and salt to taste if needed. Add the pasta and half the reserved pasta water to the sauce and toss until coated, cooking for a further minute or so. If you feel it needs thinning add the remaining pasta water. Stir in the butter and serve immediately with some extra basil leaves for garnish. Top with Parmesan but only if you have to, it’s so good without.