This Secret Ingredient Will Take Your Pasta Sauce To The Next Level

If there's one thing Marcella Hazan is known for, it's pasta sauce. The Washington Post reports that the Italian cookbook author first shared the iconic recipe back in 1987. To this day, people are still raving about it.

What makes Hazan's pasta sauce so delicious? Taste of Home concludes it's the generous amount of butter she includes. She uses 2 cups of tomato, a single onion, a bit of salt, and a generous 5 tablespoons of butter — more than ½ a stick. That butter gets plopped in with the tomatoes and onion. After simmering for about 45 minutes on the stove, it fully emulsifies into a smooth, rich marinara perfect for any pasta dish.

According to The Washington Post, Hazan's butter method is inspired by a style of cooking done in Romagna, Italy, Hazan's coastal hometown. In Romagnese-style pasta sauce, minced onions are sautéed in butter until soft, followed by the addition of fresh or canned tomatoes. Hazan's version calls for the onion to be halved instead of minced. It also calls for all the ingredients to be added at once. As for the butter — Hazan sticks to tradition.

How does butter improve pasta sauce?

Sure, butter tastes good, but that's not the only reason it can take your pasta sauce to the next level. Taste of Home explains that it's actually due to how it interacts with other ingredients. For example, because butter is essentially pure fat, it effectively counteracts the acidity in the tomatoes. And with so much additional fat in the sauce, the onions don't need to be cooked down fully. Instead, the butter balances out their sharpness.

Texturally, butter also acts as an emulsifying agent. Butter has the ability to melt into the mixture to form a cohesive sauce, unlike olive oil. And rather than adding an oily quality to the sauce, butter creates a rich, velvety consistency while lifting the natural brightness in the tomatoes.

You could easily follow Marcella Hazan's tried-and-true recipe, but butter is a great addition to any pasta sauce. If your pasta sauce tastes too acidic or looks a bit more watery than it should, celebrity chef J. Kenji López-Alt says that the best solution is to add a pat of butter and work up from there (via Serious Eats). As long as there's butter involved, the resulting pasta sauce will be delicious every time.