Less is more, or so the saying goes, and this tomato sauce is a perfect example of that.  Three ingredients: tomatoes, onion, and butter.  Put in a pot, brought to a simmer, and occasionally stirred.  I honestly can’t think of a more low maintenance recipe than this, and certainly not one with such wonderful results.  I have read about this recipe on several of my favorite blogs but I was skeptical.  I finally got around to trying it myself and now I can say that I agree with all the hype.  Aside from the sheer ease and convenience of the recipe itself, the sauce smells incredible while it is simmering.  (I half-joked with Ben that I wanted to skip yoga that night so I could just stand with my face over the pot, inhaling all the yummy smells.  Om, indeed.)  And of course once you get past the quick prep and the drool-worthy cooking smells, there is the actual taste of the sauce when it is finished.  Somehow rich and light at the same time, the butter adds just the right something – a sort of smoothness that just makes it work.

I’ve tried many homemade sauce recipes.  Most have been good, some were forgettable, but this my friends – this is the one.  As much as I would love to make sauce from fresh tomatoes, they aren’t in season year-round, and now having found this recipe I am totally okay with that.  I know, you’re wary.  Can it really be that good?  Made from canned tomatoes?  No garlic, no basil?  Well, just give it a try.  I’m pretty sure you’ll love it.  And hey, if you don’t?  You’ve only wasted a couple minutes of your time and three ingredients.  Don’t be tempted to dress it up with additional spices or fancy ingredients.  The simplicity is what makes this work so well.


1 (28 oz.) can whole peeled tomatoes, with juices
1 onion, peeled and halved
5 tbsp. unsalted butter
Salt, to taste


  • 01

    Combine the tomatoes, onion, and butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat.  Bring the mixture to a simmer, then reduce the heat to keep the sauce at a low, steady simmer for 45 minutes.  Stir occasionally, crushing the tomatoes against the side of the pot with a wooden spoon.  Remove from the heat, discard the onion, and add salt to taste.  (I didn’t add any salt.)  Serve warm with pasta.


  • hmm, you addressed all of my questions (no basil and the like) I never would have guessed butter and onion could do it all…I don’t know why I would doubt it though, one of those two little work horses are the base of just about everything I make.

  • Ooh, I’d be so sorely tempted to add spices, because it IS kind of hard to believe it would be super tasty without them! I’ll give it a try, though.

  • Paula B.

    I’m game. Was thinking of making meatballs for supper tonight so I’ll try this for our sauce. It will be nice to have a year round recipe, hadn’t seen this one around. Thanks!

  • Wow this is too simple not to try. It looks delicious!

  • I am so FOR this sauce. I made one like it some months ago, although I did use some garlic and onion powders for a little more complexity of flavor. However, just opening a can of tomatoes is pretty much all it takes!

  • I’ve been making this sauce for about a year now. I completely agree with you when you say not to dress it up. I have tried adding spices and herbs on various occasions and I always come back to the basic recipe. It is best as it is!

  • interesting….i may have to try this. we eat ALOT of pasta around here. does it wind up with ANY chunks in it? i’m a veggie chunk fan, not a tomato chunk fan….

  • I used to make my own pasta sauce, until I met my fiancee who would rather have sauce out of a jar (ICK!!). I think I am going to spring this one on him to see what he thinks. Thanks for sharing.

  • I have tried this before. It a rich and delicious sauce. Perfect the way it is!!

  • I have heard about this sauce and it intrigues me greatly!! I have the WORST luck with a decent red sauce, think I try to overcomplicate it (no surprise there LOL). Seeing as how I have 4 cans of San Marzano tomatoes laying around (lucky me!) I will give this a try!!! Easy and delicious, sold!!!

  • Annie

    You control how chunky or not it is when you smash the tomatoes. Enjoy :)

  • Sounds just too simple to be true but I trust you! Will have to try this, thanks!

  • I love this recipe. I’ve been making it for over a year now. Its a winter staple in our house. I do sometimes throw in some garlic occasionally, but that’s about as far as I go.

  • Your right, this looks almost too simple. Can’t wait to try this soon, it will be hard not to put fresh basil in it though!

  • Wow, simple is right! I have a natural tendency to over-complicate things–and that especially applies to my cooking. This is a good lesson for me.

  • Oh, this looks fantastic! I can’t wait to try it soon! Thanks for sharing!


  • This is so interesting! I have to admit, I am skeptical. But anything simmered in butter has to be delicious right?

  • Brittany

    This makes sense to me, given how amazingly delicious Chicken Makhani (Butter Chicken) tastes. The main ingredients in the sauce for that are tomato, butter, and whipping cream. YUM! I may need to make pasta and Indian this week now…

  • Jenn

    This seems so easy…but I have a huge tomato garden and when they finally get ripe, I’m going to be up to my eye balls with tomatoes. Any idea how to exhange the canned tomatoes for fresh ones?

  • AC

    I’ve been making this for about a year too and I get to eat the onion while I’m plating my family’s noodles. It’s delicious!

  • Erin

    I’ve made this before and it’s absolutely fabulous! I don’t like tomato chunks so I just use my immersion blender after it’s done. I’ve even started just blending the onion as well and it still tastes wonderful!

  • Sounds yummy but I always have a hard time getting rid of that metal canned tomato flavor. I am hoping the butter is the secret ingredient!

  • Okay…this sounds WAY to good to be true. But, if it is…then I’ll be in love. So I’m going to give it a shot :)

  • How fantastic!!!

  • Ohhh, a simple homemade sauce like this is perfect for dinner in a pinch! You are right sometime simple is best!

  • Being a 100% Italian foodie, I can vouch that simpler is indeed better. Having said that, this sauce is even simpler than mine (http://www.fransfavs.com/2011/05/tomato-sauce/). I, too, am skeptical that a sauce without a hint of garlic or basil could be so delicious, but the onion-butter combo sounds wonderful. Since everything I’ve tried that you have posted has been delicious, I must try it!

  • This looks wonderful, thanks for sharing!

  • My favorite restaurant pasta dish has butter in it, and I ‘ve thought about trying to replicate, but never really known whether just dropping the butter in is the way to go. So this is great! Maybe I’ll use it with my homemade ravioli!

  • Annie

    This sauce isn’t really meant for that, so I would probably just look for a recipe using fresh tomatoes. (I’ll probably post one in the future.)

  • Mary Lynn M.

    When my Dad would plate our spaghetti he would always put a tablespoon or so of butter on top of our hot spaghetti noodles then top it off with his sauce. I still do his. Guess he was on to something.

  • Love how easy this is! Yum!

  • Crystal Adams

    Love this sauce, I saw it on Smitten Kitchen and have been making it for the last 2 years. When I first discovered it I made it 3 times in a two week period, my husband came home the 3rd time and was happy I was making it again!

    Once I had a red pepper sitting around that needed to be used, so I chopped it up and threw it in, and I’ve been making it that way ever since. I also don’t remove all of the onion when I blend it up.

  • Ana

    I love this sauce. FYI- the original recipe in my Hazan book says 2 lbs fresh tomatoes (or 2 cups canned plum). For fresh she says to blanch them in boiling water for 1-2 min, then remove the skins and chop coarsely -or- cook the tomatoes ~10 min then put them through a food mill. You should definitely try it with fresh Annie! And I confess to adding a smashed clove of garlic with the onion and straining it out. ;)

  • I loved this sauce! I first had & learned about it when I hosted a Marcella Hazan dinner (author of Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking). She is the quintessential resource for Italian cuisine. Looks so fresh & delicious!

  • I actually read almost this exact recipe in a Nicholas Spark’s book, “True Believer.” I thought there was no way a sauce that simple was flavorful. But, if Annie does it I have to try it! It’s simmering on the stove now and I can’t wait. :-)

  • So ecstatic that I have all ingredients on hand and will be making this tonight. Thanks, Annie!

  • I’m so glad you posted this and gave it a rave, because I saw it on Smitten Kitchen awhile ago and was also skeptical. I trust your judgment so it’s going in the queue now. Thanks! :-)

  • anna maria

    one of my all time favorites.

  • Melissa

    I’ll be honest, This sounds too good to be true, and I am slightly skeptical. That being said, you have never led me astray! And I love tomato sauce, this is far too easy to not try, I will make it this week sometime, with only 3 ingredients, you can’t go wrong.

  • Annie

    Good to know re: the fresh tomatoes. I’ll definitely try that when our garden starts producing. Thanks!

  • The simplest but the best tomato sauce! I ate it yesterday, a delight!!

  • Sounds so easy and so tasty. Just the perfect recipe!

  • Stephanie

    OMG made this last night for a quick dinner before a ball game…SO GOOD!!!!! Thanks Annie!

  • Rachel

    I love this sauce, I’ve been using it for a couple of years now and it is great as is, or with meatballs simmered in it, sprinkled with a bit of parmesan. So good!

  • Have you seen the Americas test kitchen episode about butter in tomato sauce? They scientifically explained how it develops a better flavor in quick tomato sauces more than olive oil. It was very interesting. There have also been a few shows I have seen, as well as research, showing that people prefer the taste of a tomato sauce with canned tomatoes vs. fresh. In my opinion they are very different, fresh tomatoes are great but result in a much lighter flavor. Thanks for the recipe!

  • Karen Megling

    I learned a little trick about pasta for all my years of cooking and never knew. Cook your pasta 2 minutes less than less than the directions suggest. Always, always use salt in the water, NEVER oil.

    You’ve made your sauce in a sauce pan, here is the fun part. Add your pasta to the sauce in the sauce pan and mix in the sauce, thoroughly coating the noodles. This will finish cooking the pasta and coat it nice and evenly. Restaurants use this method and I am here to tell you. It works and the flavor of your pasta dish is wonderful!!!!

    PS. If you can find tomatoes in a jar vs. a can get the jar. Canned tomatoes contain a fairly high amount of BPA.

  • Elizabeth

    I made this tonight and it is delicious! The butter does add a smooth, rich quality to the sauce. I was tempted to stray and add spices but I listened to the directions for once. :) Thanks for posting such great recipes.

  • Morgan Lee

    This was delicious! I made last night for dinner. My husband loved it, too! He is one for lots of added spices and garlic, but he agreed that it was perfect just as the recipe called for.

  • Emily

    Would this be ok to freeze? Thinking of doing a large batch and freezing some for the future. Thanks

  • paige

    I LOVE your blog Annie!! You are one talented cookie!
    I was so skeptical about this recipe that I had to try it.
    And you are correct, it truly is wonderful. The only thing I did was add a pinch of sugar to mellow out the acidity of the tomatoes, and I used a sweet onion. I was planning on taking out the onion like the recipe says but it was so yummy I broke it up in the sauce and ate it. Thanks again for a spreading yet another wonderful recipe.
    Paige K

  • Elizabeth

    This is simmering on the stove right now and the apartment smells like heaven. I’m tempted to add something extra, but after reading the comments I’ll hold out for its inaugural run! Thanks in advance for what will surely be a household staple :)

  • Annie

    The only way to know is try it and see. Good luck!

  • Elizabeth

    Update after dinner… the sauce was AMAZING. I left some of the onion in, it had become quite sweet. I thought about it as I ate, whether or not oregano or basil would add anything to it, and ultimately came to the conclusion that the sauce is perfectly simple just as it is.

  • Brandi

    Sounds wonderful!! Could you tell me how much this serves??? Thanks once again Annie for sharing your passion for cooking :)

  • Annie

    There isn’t really a number of servings, since that totally depends on how much sauce you like on your pasta, how much pasta you eat, etc. Enjoy!

  • Karen

    I have a can of every kind of tomatoes EXCEPT whole tomatoes…will using regular diced tomatoes work? My kids aren’t a fan of huge chunks anyway, so maybe that would be a better option for us…

  • Annie

    I don’t see why not. The only way to know is try it and see!

  • Joan

    Any particular brand of tomato?

  • Annie


  • Nicole G

    Just made this today for spaghetti and dipping sauce for toasted raviolis. It is delicious and doesn’t need anything added to it. I did have to put it in my food processor when the cooking was finished to get the consistency I desired. I think next time I make it, I will use a can of crushed tomatoes from Sam’s Club instead of the whole tomatoes and save a bit of work. Thanks again for the recipe recommendation! It’s a winner!!

  • Very Delicious recipe! i think this will be my go to pasta sauce! i’ve never been a fan of the store bought kind but this was yummy and easy!! i was wondering though if you had any suggestions as to what to do with the onions after taking them out, i was thinking there must be some use for them..any ideas?

  • nicole

    I whipped this up last night and it was such a hit we had it again tonight for dinner! :-)

    I didn’t have whole tomatoes so I use a large can of diced. I also had a HUGE zucchini so chopped some up and tossed it in too. After simmering and the immersion blender, it was ready to go. Even my little one devoured it and I caught my husband dipping some bread in it…yum!

    Thank you for this simplicity. Makes being a working mom a little easier.

  • Very very good, in a comforting, wonderful and simple (duh!) way. I can see wanting a jazzed-up sauce for certain things, but I think for just pasta and sauce, this is a really great recipe.

  • Kate

    This has been on our radar for about a week. I finally made it tonight and it was better than I ever could have hoped. I added sliced chicken breast (pounded very thin, and seasoned only with salt and pepper, to not take away from the sauce) since my husband prefers something a bit hardier after 10 hours in the OR. It was fantastic! Thank you Annie for all of your inspiration, both in the kitchen and in life (as the wife of a resident). We enjoy all that you do!

  • This looks really good, I’m adding it to my “cook really soon” list :)

  • mary

    I made this sauce last night- absolutely delicious! It seemed to easy, but having enjoyed all the other recipes that I have tried from your blog- I decided to give it a try. YUM!!

  • d n

    Tried this out and though it tasted great, it was a bit watery. Does anyone have an idea as to why? Maybe I didn’t keep the heat high enough while simmering? I’m always having this problem when I try tomato sauce, I can get a good tasting thick base, but in the bottom of the bowl there is always some water. Thanks!

  • Annie

    This sauce is fairly liquidy with chunks of tomatoes. You could drain some of the liquid before making it, reduce it longer, or just find a different recipe more to your tastes.

  • Karen

    I made this with elbow noodles tonight for dinner. This is the second time I’ve made it.
    The first time i made it, i ended up not cooking at long as the recipe says, and it was okay. So I tried it again tonight and it was amazing!
    i did forget about discarding the onions at the end of cooking and added green onions by mistake, but it ended up being really yummy! I let it cook for 45 minutes and smashed the tomatoes and it was a perfect consistency!

  • Kimberly Anderson

    This recipe blew me away. It is just delicious. That is all I can say!

  • Jen

    Oh my goodness! I have had this on my “must try” list since you posted it… Tonight was the night and I must say it completely rocked my world! It is the perfect addition to my go- to recipes.

  • Hey Annie,

    How long do you think this sauce would keep for? Also, if I were to make it with fresh tomatoes instead of canned, would the quantity of tomatoes differ?

  • Annie

    Please see the FAQ page regarding food storage. I haven’t used fresh tomatoes so I can’t comment on that.

  • This recipe is so simple. I couldn’t believe how creamy and rich it was with so few ingredients. I have tried many, many tomato sauces that have dozens of preparation steps and take hours to cook. I will definitely make this again.

  • Lauren Ochoa

    I’m serving pasta with this sauce and garlic knots for dinner. Carb (and butter) heaven! :-).

  • Coby

    I just finished making this sauce – it is delicious, and I love how simple it was to make. This is definitely going to be my “go-to” tomato sauce recipe. I can’t wait to try it with fresh tomatoes from our garden this summer!

  • I made this tonight and it was AMAZING! Thanks for sharing!

  • Mindy

    I know you posted this a long time ago but I just made it last night and it is sooooooo good!! And I LOVE garlic but I didn’t miss it at all!! Since there was so few ingredients I though I was going to have to doctor it up a bit but I didn’t feel the need to add anything to this sauce!! Perfect the way it is!! I will totally make this again!!…the only thing was that I didn’t have the heart to discard the onions so i will use them for some chicken I plan to make tonight (they also have an awesome flavor!!!)!

  • Melissa Brooker

    I know this is an old post, but I’m simmering it right now, it has become my go to when I just want a simple tomato sauce for my pasta, and this is just so delicious! I’ve used diced tomatoes in a pinch, but I do prefer it with who San Marzanos.