The key to the perfect pizza sauce settles an age-old debate between fresh and canned tomatoes. Canned tomatoes emerge a clear winner, with a few caveats conditional on them being of high-quality whole peeled tomatoes.
In fact as Chef Alex Sanchez himself enthuses in his guide to stocking the perfect pantry (a must read if you haven’t already):
There’s no shame in a canned tomato. I may not put it on my BLT, but it is a well-accepted fact that the tomatoes used for canning actually get better IN THE CAN.
Why, you ask? Well a number of reasons starting with consistency of flavour. Tomatoes are typically preserved during the peak of tomato season, which means you’re usually guaranteed the best flavour versus taking a chance on pallid off-season tomatoes. What’s more, the little bit of salt added to canned tomatoes goes a long long way in amplifying the depth of flavours.
Next, with canned tomatoes you can take your pick, choosing the likes of San Marzano plum tomatoes. Grown in volcanic soil in the foothills of Mount Vesuvius, these are arguably the best kind of tomatoes you can hope to cook with.
Whatever you do, make sure you pick out a high quality can and go for whole peeled tomatoes so you can control the final texture of your dish. Already-diced tomatoes? A definite no-no, as they’re bound to be swimming in unsavoury preservatives and additives to help the tomato chunks keep their shape. Also do remember, context is everything. So while canned tomatoes work wonderfully well for this recipe, they’re not particularly apt for sandwiches, salads or other preparations which don’t require much cooking.
Moving on to the recipe at hand: canned tomatoes are supported by a worthy ensemble of starring ingredients spanning a mix of fresh and dried herbs, chilli flakes (to lend that right dash of heat) and a touch of paprika to buttress the sauce with a natural sweetness. Vanilla extract might look a tad out of place in a recipe which doesn’t involve baking, but it’s really a must if you wish to mellow the acidity of the tomatoes (for more uses of vanilla extract, do have a read here).
Let your sauce simmer lazily on the stove for at least a half hour. The thicker, heartier texture that ensues makes it a versatile base for many dishes beyond just your next pizza. Which is just as well, as this big batch recipe will leave you with heaps of leftover sauce for your next pasta or shakshuka!
- 1 can (28 oz) whole tomatoes*
- ¼ cup onions, minced (½ medium onion)
- 2 or 3 cloves of garlic, minced
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 2 tbsp dried oregano
- 1 tbsp red chilli flakes (can increase depending on heat preference)
- 1 tsp paprika
- 2 tbsp fresh basil, coarsely chopped
- 1½ – 2 tsp sugar (adjust depending on taste)
- ½ tsp vanilla extract (optional but highly recommended to mellow the acidity of the tomatoes)
- ¾- 1 tsp salt (I use sea salt)
- A few good grinds of black pepper
* This recipe inherently relies on the use of good quality canned tomatoes. If you prefer to use fresh tomatoes, you’ll need about 6-7 of them.
Blanche the tomatoes: score a small ‘x’ on the bottom of each tomato using a sharp knife. Add to a pot of boiling water and boil for about 1 or 2 minutes. Once removed, allow the tomatoes to cool before peeling. Once peeled, proceed with the recipe as outlined below; however, do note that the final flavour and texture might not be the same as with good quality canned tomatoes.
- Start by breaking down the canned tomatoes in a large bowl until they are chunky. Note: we are not going for a smooth or completely liquid texture.
- Next, heat the olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add in the onions first, cooking for a few minutes until sizzling. Then add in the garlic, chilli flakes, oregano, stirring often (to ensure nothing sticks to the bottom of the pan or burns). Cook for a few minutes until the spices are fragrant and have released their flavour and aroma.
- Next add the tomatoes, bringing the sauce to a gentle boil. Stir in the chopped basil leaves, add the vanilla extract and season with paprika, sugar, salt and black pepper. Lower the heat (to medium-low) and let the sauce simmer on the stove or at least 30 minutes or so until it has thickened. Stir occasionally and adjust the seasonings as per your taste. During this time the herbs and spices will infuse their magic and the flavour of the tomatoes will be amplified and much more concentrated.
You can use the sauce immediately. Be generous and spread it evenly across the pizza dough.
Pro tip: follow the sauce with a thin layer of cheese before adding on the rest of your toppings. From cherry tomatoes to olives, jalapeños, fresh basil leaves and finely diced green chillies – the options and combinations are as diverse as they are deliciously set up by an intensely-rich pizza sauce as the base!
This is a big batch recipe, so you’ll have heaps of sauce left over for liberal use across dishes from pasta to shakshuka! You can refrigerate the sauce for up to 1 week or freeze it for up to 3 months.
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