Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The best simple tomato sauce- three ingredients

That's right- 3 ingredients!!!!!

I initially read about this recipe on the Smitten Kitchen blog. It turns out the food blogging community has been abuzz about this sauce for at least 5 years. Its simplicity and richness have been likened to the sauces served in Rome. So I kinda had to give it a try.

We are talking about a sauce made with tomatoes, onion, and butter. That's right- butter. All of the best chefs admit that the secret to their best recipes is fat. On an episode of Top Chef Masters, the chefs were flummoxed when they had to cook without adding pats of butter to finish their sauces. Just recently, Anthony Bourdain said that a secret of many of the top steakhouses is that they brush their steaks and sliced meats with melted butter before sending them out.... So if ya can't beat 'em..... Make this sauce. Although I will say, the original recipe called for 5 Tbsp, and I've brought it down to 2, so it's practically health food.

Let's get started.

Simple tomato sauce

3 ingredients:
28 ounces canned whole peeled tomatoes
     - I try to get San Marzano, but if unavailable, at least splurge a little on higher quality rather than the store brand. This is one of those times that it is worth it.
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 medium or 1 large yellow onion, peeled and quartered

The original recipe called for just these three items (plus salt and pepper to taste). In the number of times that I have made this since, I have made a few alterations. Some optional add-ins are fresh parmesan cheese and fresh basil-I'll note these additions as we go through the steps.

Pop the tomatoes, onion, and butter in a heavy saucepan. I only had smallish onions, so I used two. Bring the mixture to a simmer over medium heat, and then reduce down to keep it at a slow simmer for about 45 minutes. While it cooks, gently squish the tomatoes against the side of the pan with your spoon. Fair warning- watch out for the tomato seeds and juices, they can attack you...

Now for the important part: KEEP THE ONION IN IT. The original recipe called for them to be removed. But why?? These are perfectly cooked, soft, flavorful onions. Use an immersion blender and attack. The cooked down onion makes the sauce rich and creamy- you would swear that cream has actually been added to the sauce. It's so good.

At this point, I like to add that parm. Specifically, a liberal dose of freshly grated parm, approx 1/4 cup. It mellows out some of the acidity and adds a little bit of a nutty-salty flavor. And it's just darn tasty. Once fully cooked, chop up some fresh basil, stir it in the sauce, and find the best way to get it into your mouth. Below, I have tossed it with my favorite pasta, gemelli. The unique figure-8 shape just grabs the sauce, making it the perfect vehicle to get the sauce into your face. I pounded some chicken breasts to about 1/2 ", did a quick egg dip and breaded with panko, pan-fried them with a little splash of EVOO, topped them with some sauce and fresh mozz and popped them under the broiler.

Finished product:

 I have made this sauce many, many times and it has never failed to impress.  It is fresh and tangy, clean and light, and totally full of flavor.

If you miraculously end up with any leftover sauce, you can even make baked eggs using the same method I did with leftover tomatoes and onions at the end of this recipe. Yum.


  1. Easy and delicious ....just the way I like it :)

    Nice post!

  2. Wow! That was delicious! I could not get enough of it. I'm thinking it might make a good vodka cream sauce too.