A few years ago the Internet went a little crazy for Marcella Hazan’s three-ingredient tomato sauce. The praise was not undeserved – it’s a pretty impressive recipe given that there are fewer than five ingredients and all of them come from your typical grocery store. I, too, fell hard for the combination of tomatoes, butter, and onion simmered for about an hour on low heat. But at some point I found myself with a quarter of a batch leftover, some chicken stock, and a craving for some soup. The easy-yet-delicious sauce because easy-yet-delicious soup and I haven’t made another kind of tomato soup since.
Alright, that’s a little misleading. Before this tomato soup I’d only made tomato soup once for a roommate who loved tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches. It was the Campbell’s kind in a can that you thin with milk or water. After that I didn’t really think much of tomato soup either way until I got the idea to make those leftovers into soup. But now I can see why it’s so special.
Once you have the sauce recipe down, there’s not a whole lot more than goes into the soup. Just some stock or water to thin it out to sipping-texture. Maybe some cream or a little bit of milk to make it creamy although the butter does an excellent job of that on its own. The end result is rich, mostly smooth, and just the right thickness for dipping a grilled cheese into. Drop a few meatballs or some chickpeas into it to make it more of a meal. Just drink it from a mug while looking out a frosty window. Or, you know, a foggy one.
Adapted from Marcella Hazan’s Tomato Sauce in Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking
1 24-oz can whole tomatoes (the better the quality, the better the soup but even the discount stuff works just fine)
4 tbs (1/2 stick) butter
½ onion, peeled
2 tsp kosher salt
1-2 cups stock or water
¼ cup milk or cream (optional)
In a medium-size pot (big enough to hold the ingredients), combine the tomatoes, butter, and onion. Place over medium heat and simmer for about an hour. Adjust the heat as necessary to keep the pot simmering but not boiling. No need to stir but do keep it uncovered so water can evaporate which intensifies the flavor. If it’s making a mess cover the pot with a strainer (or a real splatter guard if you have one).
Once the sauce has simmered for about an hour, remove it from the heat and take out the onion.** Taste it and add up to 1 teaspoon of salt but only as much as it needs. Puree the sauce using an immersion blender, a real blender, or a food mill.
Return the puree to the stove and add the water or stock, as much as you need to achieve your desired thickness. Simmer the soup for a few minutes to properly mix the flavors and taste it again to see if the seasoning needs to be re-adjusted. This would be the time to add the remaining salt if it needs it. If you plan to add the milk/cream, turn the heat to low so the pot doesn’t boil and curdle the dairy.
Serve it hot, preferably with a grilled cheese sandwich. Might I suggest a pimento grilled cheese while you’re at it. The leftovers will keep in the fridge for about two weeks. The butter will separate and solidify when it cools but if you heat it up it will slip right back into the soup.
* Typically I advocate salting food during the cooking process, not after it’s done. But in this case since the sauce it going to reduce a little and some liquid will evaporate, salting it early could lead to the final dish being over salted. To err on the side of caution, I salt near the end.
** Don’t throw that away!! It is excellent as an ingredient in stock.