Wednesday, 28 February 2024

Foodie Freak: Pizza sauce




This column sounds best if you read it with an Italian/American accent.

They may say “Leave the gun, take the cannolis” but I think you may want to leave the crust and take the pizza sauce.

I blame the TV chefs. They all seem to do and say the same thing; there is very little originality amongst them. I can count several who have done a show on pizza and said, “The key to a great pizza is the crust.” Whaddaya talkin’ about? After all, if you wake up in the morning after any kind of party where pizza has been served the one thing you will find is buckets full of leftover pizza crust.

The purpose of the pizza crust is a lot like the purpose of pasta, it’s simply the vessel that brings a sauce and other ingredients to your face. So I always listen to these TV chefs praising the virtues of pizza crust and think, “Aaaay! Whatsamattafah you?” Nobody orders a pizza because of the crust unless something in particular is done to the crust to make it more appealing.

But remember that it’s the additions which are being ordered, not the crust itself. The pizza crust is only desirable if it is stuffed with cheese, sprinkled with herbs, or encrusted with some other thing. Nobody orders a pizza “Extra cheese, pepperoni, and extra crust” or says “Let’s go to Tessio’s pizza place since he has the best crust.”

No, folks, the key to a great pizza is the sauce. Some pizza restaurants have realized the importance of pizza sauce and are so proud of their sauces that they put the sauce on the top of the pizza. Some say it’s pride, some say it’s a marketing ploy; I say it’s pizza so have fun with it.

Pizza is best when all of the ingredients are of good quality and there are some very decent quality ready-made pizza crusts you can purchase at the grocery store. From there you select your quality cheeses, meats, veggies – whatever toppings you like on your pizza – but these ingredients are single notes in the pizza. The only thing that can be really controlled and experimented with is the sauce.

I often think that too many pizza sauces taste good on the spoon but get lost on the pizza, so for my recipe I used much larger amounts of herbs and spices than most pizza sauce recipes call for. I want the sauce to have a chance of being tasted on the pizza, not just be some tomato based lubricant for the other ingredients. Big flavors – now that’s the key to a great pizza!

There is a lot of debate among chefs about whether you should cook your pizza sauce or not during the making, and I’m a big proponent of cooking it so you can pull those flavors out of the dried herbs. I also use wine in the sauce and cooking helps remove that winey taste. I like to use an Italian-style wine for this since “I know a guy” at Rosa D’Oro Winery, and why shouldn’t you use a nice Italian wine for an Italian recipe? I used their 2007 Sangiovese for the recipe and served what was left with the pizza.

When making this pizza sauce recipe be sure to use freshly grated Parmesan; if you use something out of a can, “Why I oughta!” That’s like using powdered lemonade instead of lemon juice in a recipe. I finely grate the cheese with a microplane zester (available at The Kitchen Gallery) and you should use three tablespoons of the cheese if it’s tightly packed, or half a cup if loosely packed.

In view of the fact that I use salt packed anchovies and Parmesan cheese in the recipe I omitted salt as an ingredient, but if you don’t want to use anchovies then you will want to add salt to taste. Just remember to do it when the sauce is finished or you could end up with a tomato-based salt lick.

Almost as if it was planned this way, the average pizza will need one quarter cup of sauce and your average ice cube tray makes cubes in one quarter cup size. Freeze your pizza sauce in ice cube trays, and once frozen remove them from the tray and put into a plastic bag and store in the freezer. This will make portioning easier, and when you’re ready to make a pizza simply take out a cube, let it thaw and then spread it out on your crust. If you are a home canner you can put your pizza sauce up, but use smaller jars so they will be easier to portion.

One footnote about the ice cube trays: the molecules for oil and plastic are very similar and they bind with each other very easily and it is very difficult to separate them, so if you freeze the pizza sauce in plastic ice cube trays they may very well be stained red for life. You may want to purchase new trays to freeze the sauce in.

One last note: Your stovetop WILL be covered in pizza sauce by the end of this. “Sorry ‘bout dat.”

To all of those TV chefs that learned something today ... Fuggitaboutit!

Pizza Sauce

1 six ounce can tomato paste

1 cup tomato juice

1 cup red wine

½ cup grated Parmesan (loosely packed)

1 clove garlic, finely diced

1 anchovy filet or 1 teaspoon anchovy paste (optional of course)

2 tablespoons honey

1 bay leaf

1 teaspoon onion powder

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1 teaspoon dried basil

¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes

¼ teaspoon celery seed

¼ teaspoon fennel seed

¼ cup extra virgin olive oil

Mix everything together except the olive oil in a sauce pan and bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer (uncovered). Let reduce for half an hour until sauce thickens, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat. When cool enough to handle, process through a food mill or your favorite strainer to remove seeds. Add the olive oil and stir together. Makes 1 ½ cups of pizza sauce.

Ross A. Christensen is an award-winning gardener and gourmet cook. He is the author of "Sushi A to Z, The Ultimate Guide" and is currently working on a new book. He has been a public speaker for many years and enjoys being involved in the community.

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