Monday, September 20, 2010

everyday dinners: tomato sauce with onion and butter

A friend wrote me last week looking for weeknight-friendly vegetarian meal ideas. She wanted dishes that were simple, relatively healthy, and easy to make after a long day at work.

Don't we all? Although the recipes posted on this site might not reflect this, Dan and I tend to eat very simply when it's just the two of us. (And you've got to give your arteries a break from all that fried chicken and pimento cheese, right?) So for the next two weeks, I'll be sharing my favorite everyday dinners with you. These dishes might not be your typical idea of company-worthy fare, but I think they're good enough for a casual dinner with friends--the kind of meal where everyone grabs a plate and a fork and gathers around the table. Or those nights when you're feeling drained from work but want to eat something more soul-soothing than take out. 

And if you do want to turn these dishes into a proper three or four-course dinner party menu, there are menu suggestions beneath the recipes.

First up: tomato sauce with onion and butter. Or "miracle sauce," as I think of it. There are only three ingredients in this sauce; four, if you count salt. You just simmer an onion in a pot of good-quality canned tomatoes, add a few pats of butter, and voila. The onion infuses the sauce with its savory goodness, the butter adds richness. It's dead simple yet has such robust flavor you'd swear there was something sneaky and expensive in there. Spoon it over a tangle of spaghetti or a bowl of tortolini and shave some parmesan on top. Heaven. 

There is one extra teeny tiny step I highly recommend. The recipe, by Marcella Hazan, instructs you to throw away the onion once it is done simmering in the sauce. But I like to puree the onion in a food processor, then add it back in. It gives the sauce a little extra flavor and body. And why waste a perfectly good onion?
Tomato sauce with onion and butter
Adapted from Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan (via Orangette) I find that Italian plum tomatoes, such as San Marzano, are best for this recipe. If you are worried about BPA in metal cans, Pomi makes boxed tomatoes that are decent. I've also made this sauce with a little basil, which is especially nice in the summertime.
(Makes about 4 servings, or enough for one pound of pasta)

1 28 oz. can whole, peeled, canned plum tomatoes, chopped, with their juices
5 Tbsp. unsalted butter
1 medium yellow onion, peeled and cut in half
Salt, to taste
A few leaves of basil (optional)

Combine the tomatoes, their juices, the butter, and the onion halves in a medium saucepan. Add a pinch or two of salt. Place over medium heat and bring to a simmer. Cook, uncovered, at a very slow but steady simmer, adjusting the heat as necessary, for about 45 minutes, or until droplets of fat float free from the tomato. Stir occasionally, mashing any large pieces of tomato with the back of a wooden spoon. Taste and salt as needed. Discard the onion before tossing the sauce with hot, cooked pasta, or puree the onion in a food processor (with a few spoonfuls of sauce), then add it back into the sauce, along with the basil leaves, if using. Stir until combined.

Menu suggestion:
Hors d'oeuvres: stuffed mushrooms or lamb meatballs

First course: butter lettuce with oranges, fennel, and olives or arugula with endive, pears, fennel, and hazelnuts
Main course: pasta with tomato sauce with onion and butter
Dessert: Chocolate pear cake or cappuccino-chocolate bites


latenac said...

I love this sauce. It's also really wonderful with gnocchi. Or if you want to use fresh tomatoes that are peeled and seeded this sauce also freezes really well.

Color Me Green said...

this time of year you can use fresh tomatoes instead of canned - even better! i have been making a sauce similar to this by pureeing onion and tomato sauce and then simmering with butter.

brooklynite said...

i love this recipe - talk about budget food that's so much more than the sum of its parts.

Lisa said...

Latenac & Julia: Yes, totally agree on the fresh tomatoes. But they won't be in season for much longer, and sometimes a girl only has time to grab a can (or BPA-free box) of tomatoes.

Brooklynite: Totally. That's it in a nutshell.

Unknown said...

Seems totally easy...and I thought tomato sauce had to be hard.

Daniel said...

Easiest tomato sauce ever. A good dinner for those nights when the real cook is working late.


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