First question: Why make it at home when you can order it from your favorite pizza place? Answer: It is not only 100,000 times better, but it makes your house smell like you are living in a Tuscan villa in Italy. And who doesn’t want that life?!?!
Why make pizza at home?
Making pizza at home is also a super fun activity to get everyone involved, especially if you have kids, because it is so fun for everyone to personalize their own and add as much or as few toppings as they want. We, personally, tend to go for a margherita style pizza with fresh mozzarella and fresh basil, with the addition of pepperoni and red pepper flakes (We buy these extra hot red pepper flakes from Penzeys in Dallas, and they are our absolute favorite addition to many meals, but especially pizza and pasta).
Homemade (almost) anything is better than prepackaged store-bought foods, and pizza sauce is definitely worth making yourself. Why? Well, it isn’t that difficult, and the possibilities are nearly endless. Being able to tinker with ingredients can dramatically change a sauce. For instance, using fresh basil as an herb of choice will result in a much different taste than oregano. Dried herbs vs. fresh, garlic vs. no garlic and spicy vs. mild…you get to choose! Different tomatoes have different flavor profiles as well. And with the multiple combinations of just these few examples, coupled with the fact that you will be creating a sauce reduction, you will see that this isn’t just a jar of pre-made glop. No one wants that. And we are about to give you a roadmap to something truly wonderful!
Homemade pizza sauce vs store-bought sauce
I really think it is obvious that store-bought sauce has only one advantage…convenience. Making your own offers the flavor advantages already discussed as well as the ability to make your pizza sauce more or less intense depending on your personal preference. Most importantly, however, you KNOW what is in it and preservatives and other junk won’t be among your ingredients. Just like anything homemade, you control EVERYTHING. So, if you prefer low sodium foods, no worries, as this will still be amazing limiting the amount of salt you use.
What is the best sauce for homemade pizza?
The best sauce for homemade pizza should have a rich flavor and be about as pourable as common ketchup. If you find that you like it thinner than that, it may make the dough soggy…but it’s your choice and there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s not my pizza, it’s yours! We found that a thicker sauce that resembles tomato paste lacks a lot of the flavor nuances that we were trying to achieve due to the extreme concentration of flavors. Again, if you want that style, just reduce your pizza sauce a bit more. That’s another bonus…you can (and should!) taste as you cook your sauce. The flavor changes constantly so you should be tasting constantly! If you go overboard and reduce too much, add a bit more water back in to thin it out to the desired consistency.
How do you thicken pizza sauce?
So, getting that consistency and viscosity that you want in a pizza sauce shouldn’t be a daunting task. You are basically reducing your sauce on LOW heat to the desired thickness. Blending it (I use an immersion blender) about 1/3 along the way is my preference. There is no thickening starch necessary. Just keep stirring, just keep stirring, stirring stirring… as you can ultimately burn the sauce, which will compromise all of the amazing flavors you have worked so hard to incorporate and combine. Note that there really isn’t a time we could give you for cooking your sauce. Just keep an eye on it and when you like the consistency, you’re done! When the pizza is ultimately finished, take note of the sauce and make adjustments next time if you like.
Can I make this ahead and freeze it?
Yes! And this is why we provided a recipe that makes enough for 2-3 dinners, depending on your crowd of course. Just wait until the sauce has cooled to room temp before placing in the freezer. To defrost, remove from freezer and place on the counter until it returns to room temp, then reheat in a sauce pan on low.
What is the difference between pizza sauce and spaghetti sauce or pasta sauce?
Some sources out there claim a pasta sauce is cooked and a pizza sauce is not. Hey, if you want to try that (which we have), go for it (here is a reference for you). But the reason we are posting this is because it’s BETTER!! So, to us, the difference is the thickness and, in some instances, the consistency. Pizza sauce shouldn’t be chunky, but pasta sauce may very well be chunky. So, to me, it’s about thickness of the sauce. If you want a bright tomato flavor instead of a complex sauce, then a raw tomato-based pizza sauce can be done. The most important thing to keep an eye on in this case is how much water is in a raw tomato sauce. It is quite a bit. And if it isn’t quickly put into a very hot oven/grill to reduce the amount of time the moisture is in contact with the dough, you’ll get a soggy crust. And that sucks. The bottom line is you can put whatever you want on a pizza and nobody will get hurt. And if you are critiquing – it should be on taste and texture. A limp waterlogged dough is hard to overcome no matter what is on top!
How we make our sauce
The recipe is below…but there are some things that just make the sauce better. I’ve touched on a few things that are a matter of taste, but there are a few things that we do that will certainly help your sauce.
First, seed the tomatoes. You can peel them as well, but I’ve found it unnecessary for pizza sauce if you are going to blend it. The seeds are not something you want or need in your sauce.
Second, I’ve found the best baseline tomatoes to use are either heirloom or Roma (plum) tomatoes. Certainly, a combination of the two works as well. Additionally, adding a half pint or a handful of cherry tomatoes really freshens up the sauce as they are sweeter. I almost always add them (halved and seeded) about a third of the way through cooking and right before I blend. Of course, if you can get farmer’s market tomatoes or locally grown vs. supermarket tomatoes that will have a profoundly positive effect.
Third, an immersion blender is an awesome alternative to straining your sauce. If you don’t have one, you can always use a regular blender, but be careful with a hot sauce. If you end up with sauce on your walls and ceiling, just know you weren’t careful.
Fourth, don’t be afraid to experiment a little after you’ve made it once. There isn’t a “right” or “wrong.” It may not be traditional or exactly the way it’s done in a certain place, but whatever. Common sense should prevail. I mean, I (Mark) love crunchy peanut butter, but it’s not going in my pizza sauce. Ever. Finally, fresh herbs are better tasting in our opinion than dried herbs. I know that’s an opinion, but if you’ve never tried a recipe with fresh and duplicated it with dry herbs to tell the difference, then you will have your own opinion. I’d just say you may want to trust me on this as it makes a big difference.
There are plenty of really great pizza dough recipes out there. And we are working on a few of our own including a sourdough pizza dough made with wild yeast. Stayed tuned for a pizza dough post in the future. But generally, it’s an easy thing to make at home with very few ingredients (flour, commercial yeast, water, salt, and a touch of olive oil). Don’t buy it! Trust us again on this, you will thank us later when you realize how simple it was to make!
What should I put on my pizza?
You definitely can put whatever you want on a pizza, but a little thought goes a long way. For instance, if you use oregano in your sauce, that pairs much better with some sort of meat than basil will. So if you like an Italian sausage pizza, I’d make a sauce with oregano. If you are making a traditional margherita pizza, try basil as the main herb in your sauce (or no herb at all). But there isn’t a right or wrong. However, here are a few tips:
1) Typical ingredients are the dough, sauce, mozzarella and basil (or oregano). If you wanted a protein, pepperoni and sliced Italian sausage (hot or sweet) are common additions. I’m pretty sure you’ve had a pizza so try what you like!
2) The best pizzas I have ever eaten or made have a good dough, sauce, cheese and one more ingredient – two at most. I prefer to taste everything and with 4+ toppings, you won’t notice the sauce or dough nearly as much.
3) If you like tomatoes on your pizza as a topping, try dehydrating them a little in the oven so they don’t leach all of their juices into the dough and make your pizza soggy. Again, soggy dough is not ever desirable.
4) Everyone loves cheese…but putting so much on a pizza ruins it for me on the taste level as well as the heaviness of it. Literally, a pizza dough that collapses in your hand at the weight of the toppings is sort of…well American chain pizza takeout. And if you are into that, well, I’m not sure why you are reading this….
5) Fresh parmesan cheese (or Romano cheese if you prefer that taste) sprinkled on top and a little crushed red pepper flakes really add a lot to any pizza.
6) Speaking of parmesan cheese…if you were like me growing up and thought it only came in a green sprinkle can, splurge for the real stuff and see what you think. In my opinion, it is infinitely better and you’ll find yourself never eating the other again!
7) Don’t be afraid to use herbs/ingredients that are off the beaten path. A few options that are not as common are fennel seed, roasted garlic and prosciutto.
How to cook homemade pizza?
How do we cook it? Well, I have one word for you…HOT. Whatever you can get the hottest is where you want to cook your pizza. Our two favorite methods are on the grill or in the oven with a pizza stone to get the best texture on your crust.
Pizza on the Grill
I love grilling pizzas. My old gas grill would get so hot it was perfect. Just clean and oil the grate first and when it gets as hot as it can put the dough on it for a minute or so, flip it and then (very quickly) add your sauce and toppings. Close the lid and within another minute or two it will be perfect. Just peek at the bottom of the crust or use your sense of smell. A few dark brown spots and maybe even very dark brown spots are great (flavor)! My new (soon to be former) gas grill sucks. If you have a traditional charcoal/wood grill, you will certainly be able to get that hot enough to make an amazing pizza with a bit more flavor to the crust, so give that a try also. So…I’ve gone to the oven with a pizza stone.
In the Oven with a Pizza Stone
Preheat at the hottest temperature with the stone in the oven. You can pre-make your pizza with sauce and toppings using this method. I make it on a pizza peel with a little flour on it so the pizza will slide to the stone in the oven. Just don’t assemble your pizza and put it into the oven 30 minutes later as you’re not doing your dough any favors by exposing it to extra moisture for a lengthy amount of time. Finally, if you have a custom pizza oven then you are already a master and I’m shocked you read this far in the first place (unless you’re the judgy-type and want to get on your soapbox).
Good luck and buon appetito!