Is this Marcella Hazan's most overlooked pasta sauce?

Like most good sauces, this recipe is built on a foundation of shallot, butter and garlic

Published April 4, 2021 3:20PM (EDT)

Prop stylist: Veronica Olson. Food stylist: Anna Billingskog. (Linda Xiao / Food52)
Prop stylist: Veronica Olson. Food stylist: Anna Billingskog. (Linda Xiao / Food52)

This story first appeared on Food52, an online community that gives you everything you need for a happier kitchen and home – that means tested recipes, a shop full of beautiful products, a cooking hotline, and everything in between!

You can't go wrong with a Marcella Hazan recipe. Her Tomato Sauce With Onion & Butter is legendary. As is her bolognese. And while both deserve all the praise they get, there are countless gems in "Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking" that don't get the shine they should — especially chicken liver sauce.

I seek out chicken livers wherever they're available. Deep-fried, sautéed, blended into a pâté — to me, it's all good. I love the iron-rich flavor and velvety texture. But chicken livers are often overlooked in homemade pasta sauces (and often overlooked in general) throughout the U.S. Out of the 1,010,000,000 chicken recipes on Google, only 6.2 percent use livers. It's a thigh and breast world that we're living in.

But such popularity means those cuts come at a higher price tag. On FreshDirect, you can buy a pound of chicken breasts for $8.99, chicken thighs for $5.49 — and chicken livers for $2.99. More affordable, just as meaty, with a silky-buttery finish.

A simple pesto, eggy carbonara, and creamy Alfredo are all special, but there's something luscious and inviting about chicken liver sauce that I haven't been able to find elsewhere. It's also a breeze to make.

Like most good sauces, this recipe is built on a foundation of shallot, butter, and garlic. Then comes the ultimate trinity of pork, beef, and chicken. (Yes, it is a lot of meat. And yes, it's good that way.) As soon as it hits the heat, salty prosciutto flares and curls, leaving crisp edges. Tomato paste and wine add acidity, balancing the richness. Whole sage leaves lend an earthy quality. And the chicken livers give the dish a pâté vibe.

It may sound like a lot of effort, but the whole sauce cooks in 15 minutes flat. Simply add pasta and dinner is done.

Hazan recommends a thick pappardelle — I've used tagliatelle and fettuccine with great results. A wider pasta is best because it helps carry the sauce, but any pasta of your choice would be just as tasty. The sauce leaves every noodle licked in a glossy coating, and I can't help but be transported back to Italy.

I've made this dish for my closest friends, my husband, and even his boss — everyone has loved it. It might not be as famous as the tomato sauce, but it's just as iconic.


Recipe: Chicken Liver Sauce Inspired by Marcella Hazan

Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 15 minutes
Serves: 4 to 6


  • 1 teaspoon tomato paste
  • 1/4 cup dry vermouth (or dry white wine, or heavy cream)
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive or vegetable oil
  • 1/2 small shallot or 1/4 small yellow onion, chopped (about 2 tablespoons)
  • 1 large garlic clove, minced
  • 3 prosciutto slices (or 1/4 pancetta slice), diced (about 3 tablespoons)
  • 5 whole sage leaves
  • 1/4 pound ground beef, preferably 20% fat
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 pound cleaned chicken livers, cut into bite-size pieces, dried with paper towel
  • 1 1/4 pounds long pasta (such as pappardelle, tagliatelle, or fettuccine), cooked
  • Grated Parmigiano-reggiano, to taste


  1. Mix the tomato paste and vermouth until the paste has dissolved. Set aside.
  2. Heat butter and oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Once melted, add the shallot, stirring often, until it becomes translucent. Add the garlic and cook until just fragrant, about 1 minute. 
  3. Add the prosciutto (or pancetta) and sage. Stir, cook for about 1 minute, then add the beef, a large pinch of salt, and a few grindings of pepper. Crumble the meat with a fork and cook until it has lost its raw color, about 2 minutes.
  4. Increase heat to medium-high and add the chicken livers. Cook just until the livers have lost their raw color, about 3 minutes.
  5. Add the tomato paste-vermouth mixture. Keep cooking for 5 to 8 minutes, stirring occasionally, until sauce thickens and becomes glossy. Taste and increase the salt and pepper if needed.
  6. Toss the sauce with the pasta until coated. Serve immediately with grated Parm, plus even more black pepper to sprinkle on top.

By Kiera Wright-Ruiz

MORE FROM Kiera Wright-Ruiz

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Dinner Food Food52 Italian Food Pasta Recipe Sauces