Demystifying the sauce...
The next component for you to consider is your sauce. Not as daunting as the crust but it can still be a hurdle for some. The good news is that this can be as easy or as complicated as you want to make it. There are a number of options available to you but most of all, never feel like there is dishonor in the use of pre-made sauces. Ultimately, if that’s what you want, then go for it. All that matters is what tastes good to you and as I said previously, even if you slave over your sauce all day long, if your crust isn’t up to par it isn’t going to matter. So my advice is focus your energy where it is most needed.
Fresh tomatoes can certainly be used to make great pizza sauce. I find the problem, however, is that unless it is peak growing season or you are growing the tomatoes yourself and canning them, the quality is going to be inconsistent. Also, the higher water content requires you to simmer for longer periods of time in order to thicken the sauce. This extended exposure to heat can diminish the fresh flavor of the tomatoes and defeat the purpose of using them in the first place. These are the reasons why I prefer using canned tomatoes in my sauce.
Canned tomatoes come in varying forms, whole, crushed, diced and so forth. These tomatoes are canned at the peak of freshness so you can be more confident in the consistency. Also, there is a wide selection of high quality clean products available to you that taste great. In making pizza sauce, crushed or diced tomatoes will lessen your workload. If you purchase whole tomatoes, keep a few things in mind. In most cases, the tomatoes are packed in tomato juice or puree. You will need to crush them either by hand or in a blender. Canned peeled tomatoes will produce a smoother sauce while un-peeled tomatoes will be stronger as much of the tomato’s flavor is found right under the skin.
In addition to canned tomatoes, you also have concentrated tomato products available to you. These can work nicely as a base for your sauce. Mature tomatoes are crushed; removing the skins and seeds. The juice is reduced to a highly concentrated state and canned as purees or tomato paste. These products are very strong and should be used in small quantities. Because of the long heating process, the flavor of the tomato has been dramatically changed and if you use too much, this is all you will taste.
I have two different sauces that I use for my pizzas. One is a recipe designed for a single pizza while the other is designed to produce a larger batch.
Method Number One
Before I start, I should disclose that one global philosophy I have regarding cooking and herbs is that I believe in simplicity before all else. I think that if you use the wrong kind of blend, or try and incorporate too many spices, you often end up with a very general “herb” flavor with nothing that stands out. I like being able to pick out flavors so to achieve that end, I tend to be minimalist with my seasonings. You should feel free to experiment as you like.
The idea here is to try, as much as possible to integrate the flavors of your pizza so that each bite has as much as possible. To achieve this end, I like to incorporate the toppings into the sauce.
You will start by sauteeing your toppings in a large sized pan. Heat some oil over a medium to medium-high heat. If you have multiple toppings, you will need to arrange their order going into the pan based on how long you expect them to cook. So, for example, if you are putting mushrooms and olives on a pizza, you should saute the mushrooms by themselves for several minutes before adding the olives. Nothing should ever be removed from the pan – everything should cook together which will allow the flavors to mingle and combine. I would also add just a tiny amount of salt with each componant to draw out a little more flavor.
Once your toppings have reduced down, softened and released some of their moisture, go ahead and add your tomatoes. I generally use one cup of pureed canned tomatoes. To this, you can add dried spices. As I said, I like simple flavors so I would probably add a bit of salt, pepper, oregano and some sugar to cut the acidity of the tomatoes. Do not walk away from the oven at this point as the tomatoes will heat quickly. After a few minutes, when the sauce has thickened slightly, take it off the heat. It is ready to be used.
Note – if you are using meat which needs to be cooked, this would be done here as well. For instance, with beef or sausage, brown the meat in the pan until completely cooked, add any other veggies and then the tomatoes. There is no need to drain the meat if you don’t want to. The veggies and tomatoes will absorb the fat from the meat, making it that much more flavorful.
There is a certain amount of disagreement as to whether or not tomatoes should be heated before using on the pizza. The argument against is that since the tomatoes are heated before canning as well as in the oven, another heating on the stove top would be redundant. Also, the more often the tomatoes are heated, the more of the fresh flavor is lost.
My personal opinion is that if you are using dried herbs, the sauce benefits from a long low simmer. This leads me into-
Method Number Two
You will need the following ingredients.
1 14 oz can tomato sauce
1 28 oz can crushed tomatoes
1 Tablespoon salt
1 Tablespoon sugar
1 Tablespoon oregano
1 teaspoon black pepper
Start with the tomato sauce. Add the salt, sugar, oregano and pepper and simmer the sauce on a low heat, stirring occasionally. Let the sauce simmer for about an hour. Then, combine the sauce with the canned tomatoes, which should not be heated. If you would like a smoother texture to the sauce, puree the tomatoes beforehand. The advantage of this method is that you get the enhanced flavor from a long simmer while at the same time preserving the freshness of the tomatoes.
I would encourage you to take the time to find a combination of herbs and spices that you like. Experiment and see what you come up with. My advice would be to start simple. Try the basic platform and grow from there as needed. These are the recipes that speak to me, but ultimately, you need to find what is best for you. Make it simple, make it crazy, just make it your own.