Monday, January 25, 2010

Comfort in a Spoon - Marcella Hazan's Tomato, Onion & Butter Sauce

The first time I left the country, I was gone for a couple of months and towards the end of the trip I was incredibly homesick. It wasn't that I was having a bad time, on the contrary, swimming through the Mediterranean, hiking through mountain ruins and eating the best food I had ever had, I was truly having the time of my life. But I was so very far from home. I remember calling my best friend from the boat headed to Corsica. The minute I heard her voice I burst into tears, my phone card ran out two minutes into the conversation. These were the days before there was an internet cafe on every corner. I felt so removed. The next time I traveled so far away was different. I was studying in Oxford for the summer, and I was well equipped with internet and phone cards. The only times homesickness struck was when I was alone on a train, or at the end of a long day trying to fall asleep. That's when I would put on the same four Elliott Smith songs. They became a blanket of comfort around me, either lulling me to sleep or just feeling familiar while I was so far away from everyone I knew and loved. To this day, whenever I hear one of those songs, I start to drift into a sleepy haze, and the memories of my time away come flooding back.

I'm not really sure why this sauce reminded me of that. Maybe it's because this sauce is comfort in itself. The taste of it, so familiar and reassuring. Nothing bad could happen to you with a bowl of this in front of you, the smooth velvety texture and the soft rich taste. Comfort in a spoon.

Every food blogger and their mother has been talking about this sauce for a few years now, but actually, it's been around for ages. It's a Marcella Hazan recipe. Hazan is basically the Godmother of Italian cooking. Her book, "The Essentials of Italian Cooking," is a staple for all culinary bookshelves. At first glance, this sauce doesn't look like much. But looks can be deceiving, and the payoff of this recipe is in the taste. How is it possible that three simple ingredients can produce such a delicious result? I can't explain it. It's some kind of Italian culinary alchemy. But did you see the part where I said three ingredients? Yeah. That's right. Three.

And I'm guessing you already have them in your kitchen.

You have no excuses. Go.

Marcella Hazan's Tomato, Onion & Butter Sauce

1 28 ounce can San Marzano Tomatoes (you can also use boxed, diced tomatoes)
5 tbsp butter
1 yellow onion, peeled and cut in half (discard the peel but keep the root on the onion)

Combine all ingredients in a heavy-bottomed saucepan and bring to a simmer. Once the mixture is bubbling, lower the heat and simmer on low for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally and crushing the tomatoes against the side of the pan to release the juices. You'll see little bubbles of fat start to move to the top. Remove the onion, salt to taste and serve warm.


  1. As you know, I made this last night. I want to make it again, and this time I want to do it right. I used 1 can of Trader Joe's tomatoes, a white onion (thought I had yellow, but I did not), and 8 oz butter (whoops)...for which I then tried to compensate by adding a small can of diced tomatoes and one chopped fresh(ish) tomato. The results were good, but not magical. Next time, I want to try it the way it's supposed to be made, just to see.

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