How to Cook: Simple Pasta Sauce

Easy Butter and Tomato Sauce

If I had to guess, I’d say that I probably haven’t bought pasta sauce in a jar since before we moved away from the east coast in 1999. I’ve found the answer to a perfect, simple sauce that can be made in the time it takes to boil water and cook the pasta.


  • Butter, 2-8 Tbsp*
  • 1 large can tomatoes (28 oz), crushed or whole
  • 1 onion, skinned and sliced in half
  • Salt and pepper to taste

* Note: The original recipe called for 8 Tbsp, or one whole stick of butter. It was creamy, glossy and delicious. But it was also creamy, glossy and delicious using 4 Tbsp, or half a stick. I quickly scaled back to the 4 Tbsp version, but I’ve discovered that you can still use as little as 2 Tbsp if you’re using the sauce to simmer meatballs.


Melt the butter in a deep skillet or sauté pan. Add the two onion halves, cut side down, and sear them for 30-60 seconds. Leave the onions in the pan.

Add tomatoes. If using canned tomatoes, add directly. If you prefer whole tomatoes, first pour the contents of the can into a bowl and use your hands to crush them into bite-sized pieces.

Stir to combine the ingredients. Allow to simmer for 20-30 minutes. Salt and pepper to taste. Remove and discard the onion halves. Serve with your favorite pasta.

Options and Add-Ins

Depending on your personal preferences, you can add any number of flavors and seasonings, including dried herbs, meats, red pepper flakes, the rind from a nice parmigiano reggiano (please tell me that you’re not tossing those rinds!), or olives.


Don’t walk away from sauce as it cooks. It does bubble and can splatter everywhere if you’re not keeping an eye on it. Five minutes of Dr. Seuss-related distraction with your 3-year-old can leave you with a kitchen covered in spattered sauce. Not that I’d know from personal experience or anything.

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