Some folks think the secret to perfect pizza is the crust. You’ll get no arguments from me there, but I believe that what you spread on top of the dough is equally important. A bad red sauce can ruin a pizza just as easily as a bland, cardboard-like crust.
You know the kind of sauce I’m talking about –– where the tomato flavor falls flat, only to be masked by an overpowering use of garlic powder and oregano. This type of sauce plagued the pizzas of my youth. Frankly, it wasn’t until I started ordering from independent Neapolitan pizza joints that I truly realized how glorious a fresh-out-the-oven pie could be.
The Best Tomatoes for Homemade Pizza Sauce
The sauce typically found on a Neapolitan-style pizza consists of really good canned San Marzano tomatoes and frankly not much else. It’s the kind of sauce that shows how using a few high-quality ingredients can positively impact a recipe.
I typically search for canned San Marzanos at my neighborhood market. A number of brands are becoming more available these days, but hands-down my favorite is Bianco Di Napoli, which was co-founded by James Beard Award-winning pizza chef Chris Bianco of Pizzeria Bianco. These California-grown tomatoes have top rankings in blind taste tests and are beloved in professional kitchens. They can be found at Whole Foods other specialty markets, and online.
If you can’t find San Marzanos at your market don’t let that stop you from making this sauce. Any canned Italian-style plum tomato puree will also work for this recipe, but trust me, once you use San Marzanos, you’ll never go back. The flavor is simple and bright with a beautiful balance of acidity and sweetness. Pure tomato goodness.
Make the Sauce Your Own
I like to think that the following red sauce honors the spirit of two classic Neapolitan pizzas: marinara sauce (tomato, oregano, and garlic) and the margherita (tomato, basil and olive oil).
My recipe, a loose riff on Marcella Hazan's Tomato Sauce, is one that I've been making for years, and it couldn’t be easier. Seriously, you don’t even have to do any chopping!
Crushed San Marzano tomatoes are briefly simmered with onion halves and smashed garlic cloves, along with a few sprigs of basil, dried oregano, a pinch of kosher salt, and crushed red pepper flakes. I stir in a splash of really nice extra-virgin olive oil at the end to lend a hint of richness to the sauce. That’s it.
Once you’ve gotten the base recipe under your belt feel free to mix things up with different herb, spices or add-ins.
- Crushed fennel seeds
- Dried marjoram
- Leftover Parmesan rind
As for how much sauce to use per pizza, I usually go fairly light, using only about 1/4 cup per 10-inch pizza, so the pizza dough can get crisp as it cooks. This recipe yields about 3 cups of sauce, which is enough for about a dozen pizzas. If you like a saucier pie, feel free to add more.
Use It On More Than Pizza!
This sauce would also be great for dipping garlic bread, pizza rolls, and mozzarella sticks. Speaking of other uses, yes, this sauce is meant for pizza, but it’s equally delightful tossed with pasta for a quick weeknight dinner.
Pizza Sauce vs. Pasta Sauce
So, what exactly is the difference between a red sauce for pizza and one for pasta? Minimal cooking is what sets pizza sauce apart from longer cooking Italian sugos and ragus.
Typically, pizza sauce is uncooked or heated only long enough for the tomatoes to be gently infused with the aromatics, producing a bold, brightly flavored sauce. Pizza sauces can also be on the thicker side, though that’s not always the case.
Pizza Crust Contenders
If you’re going to make the sauce from scratch you might as well go all out and make the crust from scratch too. This sauce will work with any crust you happen to make (or buy) but here are a few of my favorite pizza crust recipes to pair with homemade red sauce.
- Easy No Knead Pizza Dough
- No Knead Whole Wheat Pizza Dough
- How to Make the Best Cauliflower Pizza Crust
Let’s Talk Pizza Toppings
I like to keep my pizza toppings fairly simple to allow the flavors of the sauce to shine through. In my home, our go-tos are:
- Smoked mozzarella
- Creamy burrata
- Thinly sliced salami
- Chopped pepperoncini
- Sliced mushrooms
- Anchovies, while not everyone’s favorite, would be great for a kick of umami.
Making Ahead and Scaling Up
You can easily double or triple this sauce for a pizza party or just to have extra when a weekday pizza craving hits.
Whenever I make a big batch, I like to divvy up the sauce into half pint deli containers and freeze it. That way I always have sauce at the ready when I’m in the mood for pizza.
The sauce should last about 3 months in the freezer, but I’ve also kept it in the freezer for about 6 months with no problem. Pop the sauce in the fridge the night before to thaw it out.
Stored in the refrigerator the sauce will keep for about a week.
More Perfect Sauce Recipes
- Basic Tomato Sauce
- Sun-Dried Tomato Pesto
- Easy Make-Ahead Alfredo Sauce
- How to Make Creamy Vegan Cashew “Cheese” Sauce
- Spanish Romesco Sauce
Quick and Easy Red Pizza Sauce
- 1 (28 ounce) can crushed tomatoes, preferably San Marzano
- 1 small yellow onion, halved and peeled, about 5 ounces
- 6 cloves garlic, smashed
- 2 sprigs basil
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano leaves, crushed
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste
- A pinch crushed red pepper flakes, plus more to taste
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil, to finish
Make the red sauce:
In a medium saucepan set over medium-high heat, add tomatoes, onion halves, garlic, basil, oregano, salt, and crushed red pepper. Stir to combine.
Bring the sauce to a simmer, reduce heat to medium-low, and partially cover. Allow the aromatics to gently infuse the tomato sauce and cook for 20 minutes. Stir occasionally.
Remove from heat, leaving the aromatics in the sauce to continue steeping while it cools.
Remove aromatics from sauce:
When the sauce is room temperature, remove and discard the onion halves and basil sprigs. You can also remove the garlic cloves, but I like to keep those in the sauce for a zesty surprise. Stir in the olive oil to finish. Give the sauce a taste and adjust seasoning, if desired.
Make your pizza or store:
Spoon the sauce over your prepared pizza crust or refrigerate in an airtight container for up to 1 week.