One of my favorite foods is pizza, but you’re probably not surprised; it’s probably on almost everyone’s list of favorite meals. Like buffalo wings and nachos, it’s the perfect party food.
As easy as it is to get a pizza (it is, after all, the one thing that you can probably get delivered no matter where you are), it’s surprisingly easy to make a bad pizza, which is sad for a food that can be made of a few simple ingredients.
Most pizza joints (especially the chains) probably use frozen crust, canned sauce, and pre-shredded mozzarella, which can leave you with something edible, but not really delicious.
While I’m not going to get into the crust, I am going to talk about the other most important part of a decent homemade pizza, and that is, of course, the sauce. While you’ll find pizzas topped with everything from pesto to barbecue sauce these days, sometimes you just want a traditional sauce.
Pizza sauce is just a base of tomatoes that have been cooked down, but jarred and canned varieties often get it wrong because they use poor quality ingredients and too much sugar.
If you’re going to take the time to make a homemade pizza, you might as well make the sauce. It’s pretty simple, and the difference in a flavor of a fresh tomato sauce versus one that is has been sitting on a shelf for who knows how long is truly remarkable.
Use High Quality Ingredients.
If you’re going to take the time to make something, make sure to seek out the best possible ingredients. This sauce doesn’t have many ingredients, so you want to make the ones you do use stand out.
The base of the sauce is tomatoes, and the quality of your tomatoes is important. If you’re lucky enough to be making this sauce during tomato season wherever you live, that’s the best case scenario, so head to your local farmer’s market for your tomatoes.
If it’s not tomato season, you’ll have no choice but to buy your tomatoes at your grocery store. If you were putting them in a salad, I’d say stop right there, but cooking them is okay. Your sauce will still be better than anything pre-made, I promise.
Make sure you use fresh garlic (not powdered!), and that your dried herbs are fresh and pungent smelling before you start, and you’re good to go.
This recipe is fairly straightforward, and doesn’t require much in the way of technique.
Don’t skip the step of peeling the tomatoes before dicing, and make sure to remove the seeds. This ensures a less bitter sauce, and a smoother one if you decide to puree it.
The key to getting a good, flavorful sauce is letting it cook for a long time to ensure the tomatoes break down. As it cooks, the garlic and herbs meld nicely with the fresh tomatoes.
Once you’ve got it on the stove, you can walk away and wait for your house to smell like your favorite pizza shop.
While this is a basic tomato sauce with garlic and herbs, you can customize it however you like. Common additions include onions, bell peppers, or even carrots, but feel free to add whatever you like.
While basil and oregano will give you that classic pizza sauce taste, other herbs, such as rosemary or parsley will work as well. You can try unique herbs if you want to stray a bit from traditional pizza flavor. Some grated Parmesan can be added for depth of flavor, as well.
If you don’t want heat in your sauce, simply leave the crushed red pepper flakes out. Of course, if you want extra, you can add more red pepper.
While a touch of sugar is added to help balance the acidity of the finished sauce, you can leave it out if you are watching your sugar. A tiny amount of sugar will not make your sauce sweet necessarily, but a bit more balanced in terms of heat, sweetness, and acidity. You can use honey in place of the sugar if you’d like.
You can use this sauce in one of two ways. If you like a chunkier sauce with pieces of tomato, then cook until the tomatoes are broken down and the sauce is slightly thickened. For a smoother sauce, simply puree in a blender or food processor.
Once you’ve got your sauce how you like it, from there, you can use it in your favorite homemade pizza recipe. Simply spread it on your dough, top with cheese and toppings and bake.
When pureed, this sauce also makes a delicious dipping sauce for garlic bread, breadsticks, mozzarella sticks, or fried zucchini. It also makes a good sauce for classic Italian dishes like chicken parmesan.
Leftovers can be stored in an airtight container for about 3 days or so.
Fresh Tomato Pizza Sauce
Makes about 2 cups sauce
Prep time: 2 hours
2 pounds fresh tomatoes
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional, more or less to taste)
10 basil leaves, sliced
Sea salt and fresh ground pepper, to taste
Bring a large pot of water to a boil and fill a large bowl with ice water.
Using a pairing knife, cut a shallow X into the bottom of your tomatoes.
Add the tomatoes to the boiling water and boil for about 25 seconds. Immediately remove the tomatoes with tongs or a slotted spoon and transfer to the ice water. You may have to do this in batches, but do not allow the tomatoes to boil much longer than 25-30 seconds.
Once all the tomatoes are in the ice bath, remove and peel; the skins should easily slip off. Cut the tomatoes in half through the equator and remove the seeds with a small spoon. Dice the tomatoes.
Heat a large saucepan to medium heat and add the olive oil. Add the garlic and cook for about a minute, being careful not to let it brown. Add the remaining ingredients, stir, and turn the heat up. When it begins to boil, reduce heat to a low simmer.
Simmer the sauce for 60-90 minutes. If you like a chunkier sauce, simmer for less time.
If you like your sauce to be smooth, when done simmering, puree with either an immersion blender or in batches using a regular blender.
Do you make homemade pizza often? If so, what are your favorite toppings?