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Authentic Southern Italian Cuisine
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Secrets to Carlino’s Great Pizza Sauce

October 20, 2012 Carlino's Restaurant no comments
San Marzano Tomatoes
“Seek out the queen of sauce tomatoes, the San Marzano”

Of all the elements of a perfect pizza, the toppings grab most of the attention. Mellow mozzarella, homemade sausage, pungent onions and other great pizza toppings deserve their spotlight, but it’s the rich, tangy tomato sauce that creates the stage for them. You’ll find cans of sauce on the shelves, but once you’ve tasted the concentrated flavor of freshly made pizza sauce, you’ll be spoiled for anything less. At Carlino’s, our sauce is a big part of what makes our pizzas so special. We’d like to share a few of our secrets for a great sauce.

Pick the Right Tomatoes

Many cooks reach for the best-looking tomatoes they can find, but those big, juicy beefsteak tomatoes that taste terrific on a sandwich are exactly wrong for pizza sauce. Instead, hunt for smaller, firmer Italian tomatoes. You’ll also see them labeled as Roma tomatoes or plum tomatoes. A rich red color and a strong tomato scent tell you when the tomatoes are just right for sauce.

The tastiest sauce comes from layering flavors, so you’ll also want to seek out the queen of sauce tomatoes, the San Marzano. These long, thin tomatoes are related to Roma varieties, but they’re sweeter and more potent than their plum-shaped counterparts. Getting fresh San Marzano tomatoes shipped from Naples is a challenge for home chefs, so you can also use a San Marzano tomato paste from the gourmet aisle of your local market.

Prepare for Saucing

Tomato sauce requires peeling your tomatoes, but if you’ve ever tried to peel a raw tomato, you know it’s a challenge. There’s a trick to it: blanching. Dunking the fresh tomatoes in boiling water, cooking them for a few seconds until their skins begin to split and transferring them to a bath of ice water makes them easy to peel. Because they don’t stay in the boiling water long, they keep their flavor while shedding their skins. Once you’ve peeled your tomatoes, split them and remove the pulp and seeds with your fingers. You can do this step over a strainer placed over a bowl to reserve the juice for other recipes.

Tomatoes are the star of the sauce, but at Carlino’s, other flavorful ingredients play important roles too. Diced onions and garlic simmer with the tomatoes and impart their distinctive flavors to the finished sauce. Save the stems from fresh basil and oregano to give the sauce a more complex bouquet. If you’re using dried herbs, rub them between your palms to release their flavorful essential oils as you add them to the sauce.

Simmer Down

Proportions for pizza sauce vary by taste, and every chef has a signature blend of ingredients. Chef Wali likes to start by covering the bottom of the pot with diced onions and letting them brown in a splash of olive oil. When the onions are brown, the garlic goes in the pot. Stir the mixture frequently to keep the garlic from overcooking; singed garlic tastes bitter and can spoil an otherwise great pizza sauce. After a few minutes to soften the garlic, add peeled, seeded tomatoes and fresh herb stems if you have them.

The perfect pizza sauce is slow simmered over low heat that produces a natural sweetness. The real secret to a perfect pizza sauce is frequent tasting. If you love the milder taste of fresh tomatoes, simmer your sauce for half an hour or so. We prefer a bold and sweet taste that stands up to the vibrant flavors of our toppings and our fresh homemade mozzarella.  So we create our sauce every day and simmer it for hours to reduce the liquid and turn it into the sweet, thick and rich signature style that’s made our award winning pizza and Italian dishes famous.

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