If we look at a pizza crust as a canvas on which the pizzaiola can create his art, then it follows that the sauce becomes the foundation for the work. Pizza sauce has come a long way. Not too many years ago (less than 40, in fact) it was tomato, and nothing but the tomato, that graced this “canvas.”
The question of when the tomato first appeared on pizza stirs hot debate among food historians. Everyone agrees (more or less) that the tomato (seeds actually) traveled from Peru to Spain in the 16th Century. (The seeds from Peru bore small yellow tomatoes; hence the name pomo d’oro or golden apple.) Shortly thereafter, circa 1522, the tomato showed up in Naples. However, the tomato did not really come into favor as a food until the middle of the 18th century, when it found its way onto flat breads of varying sizes and shapes — the forerunner to pizza. The idea at that time was that fresh tomatoes were crushed by hand then spread across the flat bread and seasoned with herbs and olive oil.
Today, pizza sauce presents an entirely different picture. True, tomato-based sauces still dominate, but each year I see sauces that are bolder, more pronounced, and, yes, even more elaborate when it comes to texture, color, and variety.
Think Outside the Red!
Here are some interesting sauce variations to give a whirl:
Extra-Spicy Tomato Sauce
This is a cooked and prepared sauce. I make it in big batches. It can be held in the cooler, covered, for 4-5 days. The sauce has an interesting smoky flavor from the peppers. Adjust the spiciness by adjusting the amount of the chipotles used.
Makes about 1 1/2 quarts of sauce (may be scaled up in direct proportion)
2 large cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 quarts plum tomatoes
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 tablespoons dried oregano, crumbled
2 tablespoons chopped chipotle peppers in adobo sauce
Salt to taste
§ Sauté the garlic in the oil for about 2 minutes over low heat. Add the tomatoes, their juices, and the remaining ingredients. Crush the tomatoes to a puree.
§ Simmer the sauce over medium-high heat for 20-25 minutes until the sauce has thickened and reduced. Cool slightly before storing in the cooler.
There are a lot of excellent barbecue sauces on the market, so doing a barbecue pizza can be as easy as opening a can or a jar. However, here is a recipe for a barbecue sauce that you can call your own. Because it has vinegar in it, this is known as a Carolina style sauce.
Makes about 3 cups (can be scaled up in direct proportion)
3 tablespoons brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
2 cups tomato puree
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup water
2 teaspoons dry mustard
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 tablespoons paprika
1/2 cup white vinegar
1/2 cup ketchup
§ Combine all of the ingredients in a heavy saucepan. Simmer for 15 minutes to blend the ingredients. Cool for 20 minutes. Cover and refrigerate.
§ The sauce needs an overnight in the cooler to develop the flavors.
Dessert Pizza Sauce
It is very simple to get into dessert pizzas. If you are working with a basic thin-crust pizza dough, you don’t have to change a thing. All you need to do is heat and liquefy a flavor of jam — strawberry, raspberry, apricot, etc.
Using a pastry brush, brush the entire crust with the jam, a little heavier along the edge of the crust (as the pizza bakes the jam caramelizes and adds a nice sugary coating). This will add just enough sweetness to the crust and prepare it for the other toppings — apples, peaches, bananas — and other add-ins such as streusel, nuts, or, my favorite, apple pie pizza with grated cheddar cheese as a topping.
The concept of a white sauce for pizza (as opposed to a white pizza) starts with a basic white (béchamel) sauce. That sauce can be taken to several taste levels by adding other ingredients, such as cheeses and herbs.
The secret to working with a white sauce is to use a light hand. A white sauce is literally painted on the pizza crust. You would use about half the amount of white sauce as you would a tomato sauce. For example, if you’re using 8 ounces of tomato sauce for a 14-inch pizza, you would use 4-5 ounces of white sauce. The key to doing it right is to get the proper balance between the sauce and the other toppings.
Basic White Sauce (balsamella)
Makes about 4 cups (recipe can be scaled up in direct proportion)
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 tablespoons flour
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
4 cups milk
§ Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Do not brown. Add the flour and salt. Stir and blend well.
§ Add the milk slowly in a steady stream. Stir with whisk. Cook and stir over medium heat until the sauce boils and thickens. Add white pepper to taste.
§ Remove from heat and cool slightly before smearing it on the pizza crust.
# Fold grated Parmesan or Romano cheese into the sauce while it is hot, and blend.
# Fold Asiago or Fontina cheese into the sauce while it is hot, and blend.
# Make a basil-white sauce by adding a chiffonade of fresh basil to the sauce (let the sauce cool a bit before you add the basil).
# Turn the basic white sauce into a carbonara sauce. After smearing the white sauce on the pizza, sprinkle chips of cooked prosciutto or pancetta over the sauce, followed by a liberal sprinkling of grated Parmesan, and plenty of ground black pepper.