Italian cookbook author Marcella Hazan, who immigrated to New York in the 1950s, is credited with introducing a wide range of English-speaking audiences to traditional Italian cuisine. Her most famous recipe, the one that is probably most often mentioned in conjunction with her name, is also one of her simplest: her butter-packed tomato sauce.
The three-ingredient sauce is made with canned or fresh tomatoes, onion, and butter, which are then simmered for at least an hour as it becomes more velvety. In my house, it’s a summer staple, especially when the “good tomatoes” are popped.
Every once in a while I want something that feels a little fresher, especially when the temperatures inside and outside my kitchen are bordering on muggy. That’s where this no-cook pasta sauce recipe comes into play. Like other no-cook sauces, it relies on freshly cut, juicy tomatoes to do most of the work. However, this recipe gives a nod to Hazan by incorporating grated ice-cold butter into the mix.
When combined with warm pasta, and more importantly, starchy pasta water, the butter melts over the tomatoes and their juices, giving the sauce a richness that is sometimes difficult to achieve without sufficient time over the heat.
Related: Marcella Hazan’s Tomato Sauce Recipe — And 8 Other Favorites
If you’re concerned that this dish is “butter-topped noodles with freshly sliced tomatoes” (which, if we’re honest, doesn’t sound too bad), fear not. The addition of sun-dried tomato paste pushes it into fully sautéed pasta territory.
Recipe: Buttery No-Cook Pasta Sauce
- red pepper flakes
- torn basil
- Roughly chop the cherry tomatoes and put them in a large mixing bowl† Salt them generously and let them rest for about 30 minutes. This will encourage the tomatoes to release their juices, which will make for a better final sauce.
- Cook the pasta according to package directions; Meanwhile, grate the very cold, salted butter over the tomatoes. Give it a smooth mix and then add the sun-dried tomato paste† If you’re adding red pepper flakes or basil — both are optional — now would be the perfect time to do so.
- Drain the pasta and reserve at least a cup of hot pasta water. Add the paste to the mixing bowl with the tomatoes and mix vigorously. (I like to use pliers herebut a normal old fork situation will do the job too.)
- The butter should be slightly melted and the tomato juice and pasta should stick to the pasta. To complete the process, add the reserved pasta water spoon by spoon until the sauce has the desired consistency. Taste again (tomato sauce almost always needs more salt than you initially think) and season before serving†
You can also use regular tomato paste here, if you have it on hand. Personally, I am in favor of the wealth that the sun-dried tomato paste added to this simple sauce.
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