Fresh, Easy Pizza Sauce
In all of my experimentation with pizza-making, I’ve focused almost exclusively on the dough and the toppings. I worked endlessly to find the best dough recipe, and topped that dough with every kind of topping I could imagine. But when I wanted a traditional tomato-sauced pizza, I usually contented myself with buying a jar of pizza sauce from the market and calling it a day. Well, now that I’ve got my dough recipe pretty much down (I usually go for either Smitten Kitchen’s Really Simple Dough, or, if I want to bank some away in the freezer for the future, Peter Reinhart’s neo-Neapolitan dough from American Pie), I figured it was time to nail a recipe for homemade sauce. The good news? The sauce is WAYYYYY easier than the dough.
The key thing I learned from Mr. Reinhart’s awesome pizza cookbook is that the tomato sauce for pizza shouldn’t be cooked. Unlike a slow cooked pasta sauce, you want the tomatoes uncooked because they’ll cook up in the oven, once they’re on the pizza. This makes the making of pizza sauce incredibly easy.
Seriously, you just stir a bunch of ingredients together. It couldn’t be simpler. If you really wanted to make it complicated, you could probably mill fresh tomatoes, rather than starting with a can of crushed tomatoes, but I see no real reason to do that. I decided to start with Reinhart’s recipe for Crushed Tomato Sauce, modified just a bit to suit my taste and what I had on hand.
The second thing I recommend is to used dried herbs for the sauce. You probably never hear this type of recommendation from anyone, and in fact, I know of some people who say dried herbs have no real place in anyone’s kitchen, ever. I disagree, and I find that dried herbs, especially when I dry them myself from fresh, have plenty of flavor once they’re cooked. So how does that work if you don’t cook the sauce? Well, the herbs kind of rehydrate from sitting in the wet tomato sauce. Fresh herbs would likely just turn brown and slimy over time, because this recipe makes enough sauce to keep. I had enough for a pizza, a pan of lasagna, and several bags in the freezer. If you use fresh herbs, the sauce won’t freeze as well.
I also used powdered dried garlic. A lot of people might shudder when they think of the stuff, and in truth, a part of me feels kind of bad whenever I pull it out. However, I decided to use it instead of fresh for this sauce, because I’ve had too many pizzas with nearly raw garlic in the sauce, and I’m not a fan. Using dry means you can up the garlic flavor as much as you want without biting into raw garlic chunks on your pizza. Another option might be to roast some fresh garlic to throw in, but again, that just makes things overly complicated in my opinion.
Finally, Reinhart also recommends being cautious with the salt, if you’re using canned tomatoes. Different brands really vary in how much they use to preserve the tomatoes, so start with perhaps half a teaspoon and add more to taste.
Fresh, Easy Pizza Sauce
Adapted from Peter Reinhart’s American Pie
- 1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes (or use whole canned tomatoes, and run them through a food mill)
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1/2 Tablespoon dried garlic powder
- 2 Tablespoons red wine vinegar
- black pepper and salt to taste
Stir all the ingredients together in a large bowl. Start with just a half a teaspoon of salt, and add more to taste. I ended up using a teaspoon. You can also add dried basil if you like, and perhaps try a different type of vinegar, if you want to get crazy.
Now, if you’ve read any of my pizza posts in the past here, you know I am not a huge fan of plain cheese pizza. But this time I really wanted to taste the sauce, so I decided to keep it simple. I initially wanted to make a basic Margherita-style pizza, but my basil was looking a little sad. So I decided to substitute rosemary for the basil. This pizza is nothing but sauce, fresh mozzarella, and chopped rosemary.
It was terrific, and the sauce…wow. Perfectly balanced, tart, and full of flavor. While I want to experiment with the other sauce recipes in Mr. Reinhart’s book, I am already ready to declare this one the winner: my new, easy go-to pizza sauce. And really, homemade sauce is by far the easiest part of making homemade pizza. There’s no need to buy pre-made sauce, as this is almost as simple, and infinitely less expensive. And it’s so good, it might convince me to go simple with my pizza toppings more often.