August 27, 2011
Ever since I started reading food blogs a couple years ago, every once and awhile the blogosphere becomes all a flutter about Marcella Hazan's Tomato Sauce with Onion and Butter. (Seriously, just google "Marcella Hazan tomato sauce onion butter" and see the thousands of hits.) Hazan is widely considered to be responsible for introducing Americans to real Italian cooking and while I am obsessed with Italian food, I had never tried one of her recipes. With just over two pounds of tomatoes from my CSA wasting away on the counter, I decided it was high time I tried this tomato sauce recipe, which practically everyone proclaims to be the absolute best.
Hazan's recipe is special because it contains only 4 ingredients: tomatoes, onion, butter and salt. You don't even chop the onion, just cut it in half and throw it in the pot. I followed Food 52's instructions for this recipe because they tell you how to skin the tomatoes. I was always a little hesitant to use a recipe that calls for skinned fresh tomatoes because I thought it would be complicated. It certainly is not complicated. Messy, yes, complicated, no. (Food 52 does not tell you to cut an "x" in the bottom of the tomatoes before blanching them, but I had remembered reading that somewhere, so I did "x" all of them. It made peeling off the skin super easy and I would recommend doing that.)
The recipe instructs you to simmer the sauce for at least 45 minutes, and then continue simmering until the sauce has reached your desired consistency. Mine was no where near thick at 45 minutes, so I added another 20 minutes to the timer.
At 65 minutes, it was also not thick, but I stopped timing it and just let it continue simmering. I was also getting super hungry at this point, and kept thinking, I wonder what that onion tastes like. So I fished out a small piece and tried it. Yum! It was rich and tomatoey. Hazan's recipe tells you to throw away the onion when your sauce is done, but I couldn't justify throwing away something that has been simmering along for at least an hour and a half, infusing itself with deliciousness. So I fished out all of the onion and cut it into large chunks and threw it back into the pot. And because I can't leave anything alone, I decided that I should add some fresh thyme leaves and a Parmigiano-Reggiano rind that has been in the freezer for awhile. The sauce was still pretty thin, so I thought, why not just cook my pasta in the same pot? So in went the remainder of a box of ditalini (probably less than half a pound).
A couple minutes later I ended up with a thick, rich, fresh and cheesy pasta dinner. It was comforting, satisfying and stick to the ribs good. And although I deviated from Hazan's original recipe, hopefully she would be a little proud that I was able to adapt it and make it my own.