Why You Should Consider Adding A Little Butter To Your Pasta Sauce

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If you love pasta — be it plain old dried spaghetti, fresh ribbons of fettuccine, or pillowy handmade gnocchi — chances are you enjoy pairing it with some kind of tomato sauce. Most likely the first type of sauce we think of when choosing a mate for delicious pasta, tomato sauce comes in a seemingly endless number of varieties, from spicy arrabbiata to briny, olive-and-caper-studded puttanesca or creamy vodka.

Whether you like fresh or canned tomatoes, whether you prefer tons of chopped garlic or just a smidge, or even if you leave your tomato sauce uncooked, there's a tomato sauce recipe out there to suit just your individual palate. But if you almost always cook your sauces only with olive oil — a lovely, and very Mediterranean, fat in its own right — you might want to consider reaching for butter the next time tomato sauce is on the docket, according to Serious Eats.

Butter emulsifies tomato sauce, leaving it creamy

Remember when you were a kid and used to request plain, buttered noodles? Well, perhaps your palate has evolved somewhat since then, but there's something to that juvenile preference. Turns out butter goes very well with pasta, in the form of a little added emulsification of your favorite tomato sauce. When you've made a nice tomato sauce and go to sauce your cooked pasta, it's a good idea to add in a little bit of starchy pasta cooking water to help the sauce adhere to the noodles and a knob of butter, which will melt right in.

Tomato sauce is typically a lower-fat type of sauce — as opposed, say, to a rich meat sauce or a dairy-heavy alfredo. Because of the low-fat content, sauce that's thickening over pasta can actually get a little too starchy, leaving it almost cakey or pasty. But some butter (you can use additional olive oil if you prefer the flavor) stirred in will help emulsify the sauce, leaving it creamy, but still loose, and helping spread those tasty tomato sauce flavors across your tongue as you eat.

You can use just a little butter — or a lot

So how much butter, exactly, should you use when adding a touch of it to a pasta you're finishing in tomato sauce? A little goes a long way, with a pat being a good place to start. 

But if you prefer to use a lot of butter in your tomato sauce, you'll be in good company. Italian cooking doyenne Marcella Hazan, who was known for her direct, no-nonsense writing style and impeccably traditional recipes, is famous for — among other things — her signature tomato sauce, which includes not just a spoonful of butter but five tablespoons. 

"I have known people to skip the pasta and eat the sauce directly out of the pot with a spoon," Hazan wrote of the sweet, creamy sauce in her revered tome "Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking" (via Food & Wine). Try it out, and you just might end up doing the same.