I hate to sound hyperbolic, but this 5 Ingredient Butter Tomato Sauce is probably the last red sauce recipe I’ll ever need. It’s ridiculously easy and still “lick the spoon” good. No, more like “scoop spoonfuls into your mouth sans pasta” good. Or, “I might have to make this into a soup” good.
How is it so good? If you’re a fan of plain buttered pasta with salt and pepper, you already know that it’s all about the butter. Butter gives this sauce a delicate creaminess, compliments the sweetness of the tomatoes, and provides a little bit of body to keep the sauce from feeling too thin or light. It’s just perfect, really.
Also, I’m a huge advocate of salting food properly. Salt doesn’t just make food salty, it pronounces individual flavors and helps your tongue differentiate subtleties in flavors that would otherwise be lost. Too much salt is bad, obviously, for both flavor and health. But, if you salt your food at the very end you’ll get that much needed punch of flavor and still a lot less salt than you’d be getting from pre-packaged or restaurant foods. This sauce is the perfect example of this concept. When I added the final salt to this sauce after it had simmered for a half hour, the flavor went from “Yeah, that’s tomato sauce.” to “WHOA. Super rich, slightly sweet, and utterly divine.” So don’t judge the sauce until you add your final salt. It changes everything.
What about those deliciously toasty bread crumbs? They’re an easy, inexpensive, and vegetarian alternative to Parmesan. It’s best to make them out of old stale bread because A) you get better texture and B) you’re saving that bread from being thrown out, but I didn’t have any old bread today so I used the store bought bread crumbs that I had in my pantry. They’re still pleasantly flavorful and give the pasta a wonderful texture. The next time you’re about to chuck a piece of stale bread, toss it into the freezer instead (properly wrapped and sealed, of course) and save it for the next time you want to make some super awesome toasted bread crumbs! :)
Recipe adapted from Marcella Hazan’s Tomato Sauce.
Pasta with 5 Ingredient Butter Tomato Sauce
- 2 Tbsp olive oil
- ½ cup bread crumbs $0.24
- ¼ tsp salt $0.02
- ½ tsp dried oregano $0.05
- Freshly cracked Pepper $0.05
- 8oz. pasta $0.50
- 4 Tbsp salted butter $0.31
- 3 cloves garlic $0.24
- 28oz. can whole peeled tomatoes* $2.43
- ½ tsp salt (or to taste) $0.02
- Freshly cracked pepper $0.05
- To make the toasted bread crumbs, heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Once the oil is shimmering, add the bread crumbs, salt, oregano, and some freshly cracked pepper. Cook and stir the bread crumbs continuously until they achieve a deep golden color. Remove them from the skillet and let cool until ready to use.
- To make the sauce, mince the garlic and add it to a large deep skillet with the butter. Sauté the garlic in the butter over medium heat for about a minute, or just until it becomes fragrant. Add the can of tomatoes, along with all the juices, and some freshly cracked pepper. Break the tomatoes up into a few chunks with your spoon (they should be soft and easily crushed).
- Stir the ingredients in the skillet, then let it come up to a simmer. Once it reaches a simmer, reduce the heat to medium-low and let it continue to simmer, without a lid, for about 30 minutes. Stir the sauce occasionally as it simmers, breaking the tomatoes into smaller pieces as you stir.
- While the sauce simmers, cook the pasta according to the package directions. Save about ½ cup of the starchy cooking water before draining the pasta in a colander.
- After simmering for 30 minutes, the sauce should have thickened and become slightly less acidic and slightly more sweet. Season the sauce with a final ½ tsp of salt (or to your liking). Add the cooked and drained pasta to the sauce and toss to coat. Use some of the reserved starchy cooking water to loosen the pasta if it becomes too dry. Top the pasta and sauce with a generous sprinkle of toasted bread crumbs, then serve.
Step by Step Photos
To make the toasted bread crumbs, heat 2 Tbsp olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Once the oil is hot and shimmering, add 1/2 cup bread crumbs, 1/4 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp oregano, and some freshly cracked pepper. Stir and cook the bread crumbs until they become a deep golden color (this happens quickly), then remove from the heat. They should look like damp sand or brown sugar. Let the bread crumbs cool until you’re ready to use them.
For reference, here is a spoonful of the untoasted bread crumbs next to the toasted bread crumbs. (sorry about the blur).
On to the amazing sauce… Start with 4 Tbsp butter and 3 cloves of minced garlic in a large, deep skillet. Sauté the garlic in the butter over medium heat for about a minute, or just until the garlic becomes really fragrant (you don’t want it to brown).
Then add one 28oz. can of whole peeled tomatoes to the skillet. I didn’t realize I bought tomatoes “in heavy juice with basil”, but I didn’t find the basil made much difference in the end flavor. The heavy juice was nice, though. It created an instant sauce that didn’t need much thickening.
Break the tomatoes up into smaller pieces as you stir the tomatoes into the butter and garlic. The tomatoes will be soft and easily crushed with a spoon. Finally, add some freshly cracked pepper. Let the sauce come up to a simmer without a lid. Once it reaches a simmer, turn the heat down to medium-low and let it gently simmer for 30 minutes.
Stir occasionally as it simmers and continue to break the tomatoes up into smaller pieces. The sauce will slowly sweeten as it simmers and become less acidic, but the real flavor comes when you add a final 1/2 tsp of salt (more or less depending on your taste buds). Taste and season accordingly.
While the sauce is simmering away, cook 8oz. pasta according to the directions. Before draining it in a colander, save some of the starchy pasta cooking water because it’s great for loosening up the sauce if it gets too dry when you add the pasta. Stir the drained pasta into the sauce.
Finally, top it with some of those delicious toasted bread crumbs! (I added some chopped parsley just to give the photos some color.)
Then DIG IN.