Recipes from The World on a Plate

The Ultimate Three-Ingredient Pasta Sauce

By Mina Holland | June 29, 2015
There are few things I would rather eat than this glorious, rounded red gloop thrown over pasta. Here is my version of Marcella Hazan’s revelatory three ingredient tomato sauce. Some people discard the onions once they have delivered their sweetness to the tomatoes, but I like to eat them, too—the layers of soft white flesh are a nice accompaniment to the pasta.


  • 2 yellow or white onions, halved
  • 2 x 14-oz cans plum tomatoes
  • 5 tbsp unsalted butter
  • salt to taste
  • 14 oz dried pasta (I prefer spaghetti or linguine, but any kind will do)
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • grated Parmesan to serve

About this recipe

I can’t take credit for this recipe, but I can shout about it from the rooftops. It’s one of the great Italian cook Marcella Hazan’s, and its magic comes from simmering, extremely slowly, three sources of different and delicate sweetness: tinned tomatoes, a white onion and (rather a lot of) butter. It doesn’t sound like much, but watch it come together. After 45-60 minutes, season and throw it over pasta such as linguine with lots of cracked black pepper and a blizzard of Parmesan. I attributed it to Lazio in The World on a Plate, although it could be from many places in Italy. In fact, I probably should have put it in the chapter for Emilia-Romagna, the region where Hazan was born.



Serves 4 

1. It is this easy. Lay the onions cut-side down in a big saucepan. Pour the tomatoes over the top, throw in the butter, cover, and cook over low heat for 45 minutes. Stir occasionally, blending in the melted butter and gently crushing the whole tomatoes to a pulp.
2. Cook your pasta according to the instructions on the package, making sure you don’t overcook. Drain and return to the pan.
3. Add salt to the sauce to taste, pour over the pasta and mix well. Spoon into four wide bowls, dividing the onions equally, sprinkle with black pepper and Parmesan and serve.

About this recipe

  • 3 ingredient pasta sauce from Mina Holland's The World on a Plate