‘Best pasta sauce in world’ contains just 3 ingredients – one might surprise you

When it comes to quick weeknight dinners there’s nothing easier than a bowl of pasta and some tasty tomato sauce.

Whether you add extra ingredients to it to make it a bit fancier or have it as it is, it’s a go-to for people up and down the country.

But the jars of ready made sauce many of us have at the back of the cupboard for emergencies can be packed full of sugar, and Dolmio maker Mars Food once insisted its sauces are only eaten once a week. Uncle Ben’s too.

But according to Italian American food writer Marcella Hazan, a good pasta sauce is remarkably simple and economical, too. Much cheaper than buying jars.

Marcella, who died in 2013, was born in Cesenatico, Italy, in 1924 and went on to open a New York cookery school and write hugely respected cookbooks.

In one of them, Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, Marcella advises using only three ingredients in tomato sauce: onion, butter, and tinned tomatoes. That’s it.

How much butter, you ask? A generous knob.

The 1992 recipe is still revered by food writers and cooks alike. No chopping is required. And pasta and tomato sauce is always a hit round the family dining table.

Marcella’s precise instructions are to put half a peeled onion into a pot with butter and tinned tomatoes and to leave it all to simmer for 45 minutes.

Food publication Delish dubbed the sauce "the best in the world".

Her husband Victor talked to Epicurious about her efficient methods: "Marcella was a genius when it came to taste. She had an immediate understanding about how flavour affects a dish.

Marcella Hazan favoured ease and efficiency

"She asked herself, ‘Why chop an onion? Why saute? I’m going to put the onion, tomato, and butter together and forget about it’."

Is it really the best in the world? It’s a bold claim and a subjective one. But Italians are famous for their simplicity in cooking. It’s all about the produce – tomatoes being one of the most important.

"No other preparation is more successful in delivering the prodigious satisfactions of Italian cooking than a competently executed sauce with tomatoes," Marcella says in her book.

Her sauce is very rich. Others favour different techniques. Jamie Oliver adds four cloves of garlic and garnishes with fresh basil.

BBC Good Food recommends starting with a classic mirepoix base (diced onions, celery, carrot), and scores of top chefs use various herbs and oils and other trickery to elevate their dishes. Anchovies are good.

The sauce is perfect for home cooks with little time

Food writer Felicity Cloake suggests the more classic use of olive oil in tomato sauce. She also puts in a pinch of sugar and some red wine vinegar.

The thing to do is experiment. Garlic or no garlic, parsley or thyme or basil or rosemary, as long as the tinned tomatoes are good and there’s parmesan on the table, we imagine people will be well fed.

One thing’s for certain, though – Marcella’s advice is an ideal time-saver and perfect for amateur cooks with busy families.

And if you do decide to put tomatoes on to cook, remember:

– don’t boil your sauce, simmer it

– add a ladle-full of pasta water to the sauce

– lots of salt in the pasta water

– no need for oil! If pasta sticks, it’s overcooked

– and always add the pasta to the sauce, not the other way around

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