by Eric Wharton
My Recipe Book, constantly being added to
I love pizza, meaning: even when I’m in the middle of eating pizza, I wish I were eating pizza.
― Jandy Nelson, I'll Give You the Sun
Pizza is basically flatbread with toppings, which were known to be eaten by ancient Egyptians, Romans, and Greeks. The Greeks ate a version with herbs and oil, similar to today’s focaccia. In the 1700s and early 1800s, this flatbread became a staple of the working poor in the waterfront city of Naples, Italy. While considered disgusting by the wealthy, these early pizzas featured the tasty garnishes that are so beloved today, such as tomatoes, cheese, oil, anchovies, and garlic. Yet pizza became little known beyond the borders of Naples until it made a circuitous trip to America and back.
Immigrants coming to the United States from Naples for factory jobs were replicating their pizzas in New York and other American cities. The first documented United States pizzeria was G. Lombardi’s on Spring Street in Manhattan, licensed to sell pizza in 1905. As Italian-Americans and their food migrated from city to suburb, especially after World War II, pizza’s popularity in the United States boomed. No longer seen as an “ethnic” treat, it was increasingly identified as a fast, fun food. Postwar pizza finally reached Italy and beyond just because it was American, even though it had actually started in Italy.
Canned tomatoes work great for making homemade pizza sauce. You can use whole, diced, pureed, or crushed tomatoes, but make sure no spices or herbs have been added. For the classic Neapolitan pizza experience, pick up a can of San Marzano tomatoes. They’re a little sweeter and meatier than other varieties.
Tomato paste is a must because, while it will make the sauce a little thicker, it causes the sauce to spread easier and more evenly.
Most recipes call for sugar, but I prefer brown sugar because it makes the slightly bitter taste of the tomato paste less harsh.
Go easy on the spices. Either oregano or basil, not both, should be your only concession to the aromatic Italian spices depending on which you like the taste of better. I lean toward oregano. With pizza sauce, you want a strong taste of tomatoes to come through, not overwhelmed by Italian seasoning. Let your toppings carry the flavor. If you really must jack up your pizza, sprinkle crushed red pepper over the top after its baked.
1 28-oz can tomatoes (whole, diced, pureed, or crushed)
1 6-oz can tomato paste
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp brown sugar
1/2 tsp oregano
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp salt
Blend all the ingredients together in a blender of food processor. You want a smooth, non-chunky sauce. It's ready to be used as soon as it’s blended—no cooking is needed. Let me rephrase that. Do not cook the sauce! This isn’t just for convenience. A no-cook sauce will actually taste better on your pizza, giving you that fresh, zippy tomato flavor even after it has been baked in a hot oven.
Spoon the sauce onto the pizza dough or other bread base such as English muffins, flatbread, etc. Cover with additional toppings, beginning with cheese, and bake. You can use any cheese as long as its mozzarella. If you’d like a thicker sauce, strain the tomatoes from their juices before blending. But remember, pizza sauce is supposed to be runnier.
Refrigerate unused sauce for up to 1 week. To freeze the sauce, spoon any unused sauce into muffin tins. Freeze until solid, then pop the frozen cubes out of the mold and transfer to a freezer container. Freeze for up to 3 months. Thaw overnight before using on pizza, or microwave the cubes in 30-second bursts until they melt into a sauce.
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