Marcella Hazan’s tomato sauce, with a twist

I’m back to my bad sleeping habits, which only means good things for all of you. The good news is my running streak is still going strong. I feel so alive, and so healthy. I’m drinking more water, and actually eating less. The latter being very unintentional; I’m simply not as hungry as I was before. In truth, the hunger was more grazing from boredom. I know, the idea of me being bored sounds ludicrous, considering I’d need to clone myself in order to accomplish everything on my To Do list. Boredom can come in many forms, though, and for me I hit a wall emotionally, physically and mentally.

Paris was a game changer, for so many reasons. I started to feel more clear about the uncertainty of the long term. Unlocking this door has allowed me to focus on the here and now better. Not worrying about the far ahead future is helping me to appreciate the often overlooked moments that nourish my emotional appetite for happiness and peace.

This morning’s run was an especially important one. I was hesitant about it, but as I looked straight ahead, it all clicked. It was time to move on, literally. My feet glided down Columbia Street, as I passed the invisible barrier of my previous running life. I crossed the threshold beyond where I used to run when M was alive, running a half mile more than I used to. It felt like an incredible accomplishment considering I just picked up running again, consistently, two weeks ago. A lump rose into my throat, reminding me that every step I take forward is one more step away from my old life. The more I think about it, perhaps this is why I kept finding excuses to not get back into a running routine.

None of this has anything to do with tomato sauce, but I’ve been wanting to share this recipe with you all for a few months now. It was inspired by Marcella Hazan’s tomato sauce with onion and butter. The first time I made her original recipe was just last summer, and I can’t believe it took me that long. Oh, if only M had been able to taste it. Her original recipe is but four humble ingredients—fresh tomatoes, an onion, butter and salt. What happens after a 45-minute simmer over a very low flame is just short of divine intervention.

This summer I made my own variation, using her low and slow method, but with one key twist. I used olive oil instead of butter, making it dairy-free and safe for canning for the winter season. I’m not going to pretend this sauce is better without the butter. It is in a class all by itself, and funny enough Isabella likes it better this way. Virginia and I will gladly lick the pot clean of both versions, and since I’m bigger, I can definitely wrestle the pot away from her for the last swipe with a piece of bread.

But I digress; back to the sauce. Since I was already taking liberties with the oil, I decided to throw in some basil, too. In the height of the summer, I used fresh basil and fresh tomatoes. Now that we are full-swing into fall, I’ve swapped in canned tomatoes and my homemade dried basil. Hope you all enjoy this recipe as much as we have the last few months. It’s sure to be a keeper around here for years to come.

Slow Simmered Tomato Sauce

Makes about 3 1/2 cups

One 28-ounce can San Marzano Tomatoes, whole & peeled

1 medium onion, skim removed & cut in half (leave the root intact)

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

Generous pinch of dried basil

Salt, to taste

Pinch of natural cane sugar, optional

Add the tomatoes to a blender, and puree until smooth. You can alternately just crush them with your hands into the skillet if you don’t mind a chunkier-style sauce.

Add the tomatoes, onion, olive oil, basil, salt and sugar to a deep skillet set over low heat. Cook, uncovered, for 45 minutes at this low heat setting. Around 20 minutes into the cooking time, you’ll start to smell the magic happening. Don’t worry about the sauce bubbling gently, that’s supposed to happen.

After 45 minutes, the sauce is ready to serve, or you can transfer it to canning jars and process in a hot water bath for long term storage.


  • Hélène (Cannes)

    I heard a couple of days ago that Marcella had passed away … That tomato sauce is a nice tribute to her work … I’ve never left any comments here yet but I wanted you to know that I really enjoy reading your posts …. Life hasn’t been kind to you and I am, each time I read you, more impressed by the way you go on catching the “sunny side of life” …

  • Sally

    I do a slightly different variation. I’ll either make the sauce with butter and onions or olive oil and garlic. I use whole cloves of garlic and fish them out before serving. Sometimes I add a pinch of crushed red pepper flakes and use flat-leaf parsley instead of basil.

  • Angie

    I’ve been making Marcella’s sauce so long now, I don’t even remember the old sauce I used to make and it’s the only one I make now, and I also put basil in mine. I also make mine w/butter, but will definitely give the olive oil a try. I was shocked to see that she had passed away just (now) 2 days ago and sad. She left us with so many wonderful recipes and changed in a lot of ways, the way American’s cook Italian food. As I read your post, I thought to myself how happy I am for you today. Doors open and close all the time, walking through them and closing them both equally hard to do depending on your situation. Your a brave woman, and whether you know it or not, an inspiration for so many. Everything in it’s own time… Keep running!

  • Jennifer

    This is my mother’s sauce, my grandmother’s sauce, oh, and my sauce too. Only difference- garlic. One clove is all you need. So simple, so delicious. I’m so happy things are moving in the right direction for you. Keep running.

  • Tracey A

    Good Morning Jennie,
    Running is a good feeling, yes? I sometimes think that it has helped get me through the most depressing moments of my life.
    The run and the journey are often just too real. Keep up ALL the good work. I will definitely try the recipes, one with the butter and the olive oil.
    Wishing you steps with the wind in your face, a steady cadence, hugs and some fresh olive oil to boot,
    Tracey A.

  • Monica

    I’ve made this sauce many, many times and it is as delicious as Jennie says. Yes, the onion is left whole (I slice mine in half but it is not to be diced) and when the sauce is done, I freeze the onion and use it later in other dishes. It’s wonderful after being marinated in the sauce. Great for eggs!

    P.S. Jennie: Love your bangs.

  • Mary Kay

    Mmmmm, this is my go to sauce, I make the butter version at least once a week…maybe my cholesterol levels would like me to try it out with olive oil!