I have all these exotic pizza recipes in my repertoire, from asparagus to zucchini (with hummus and strawberry in between), without a basic Margherita. We make tomato-sauce pizza at least once a month, but we always load it up with our favorite toppings: mushroom and sausage for me, pepperoni and jalapeno for A. Yet cheese pizza was my favorite as a picky child, and as an adult I’ve come to appreciate its sophisticated cousin, Margherita, as the archetypal authentic Neopolitan standard at fancy artisan pizzerias, where its simplicity lets high-quality crust, sauce, and cheese shine through. Making it at home, though, seemed like it might be too…plain, at least until I spotted a delectable-looking “Pizza Margherita, Fancified” at Annie’s Eats. With a double hit of tomatoes—in a sauce spiked with cream as well as in my favorite secret-weapon roasted form—it seemed anything but dull.
And indeed (although it is not a true Margherita), this pizza was a minor revelation for me, mostly because it threw into question why I’ve been bothering to make pizza sauce out of canned tomato sauce all these years. My old sauce recipe is pretty great, doctored up with herbs, balsamic vinegar, even soy sauce—yet this simple concoction of butter, pureed canned tomatoes, tomato paste, a tiny bit of onion, garlic, and red pepper flakes gives it a serious run for its money. The tomato flavor is so much fresher and brighter this way that I feel myself slowly gravitating toward making it my go-to sauce.
The original quantities were a bit odd, calling for less than a full can of tomatoes, but I’ve found that if I use a whole can and increase the other ingredients accordingly, I can make enough for three pizzas in one fell swoop, allowing me to stockpile reserves in the freezer for later use. (If you only feel like making enough for one go-round, for some reason, use the original version at Annie’s Eats.) The cream in the sauce is delicious but not necessary—I might add a bit if I happened to have it sitting around, but it’s almost too decadent for frequent eating, and the sauce is plenty great without it. For the roasted tomatoes, I swapped in my usual recipe. Not much else to it but crust and cheese and basil, but the results are incredibly tasty and far from plain. Even A, who tends to feel that any vegetarian pizza I make would be better with meat (usually bacon) added, really enjoys this (although I’ve also found that sprinkling on some pepperoni and sautéed sliced mushrooms doesn’t hurt when I feel like branching out from the Margherita concept). Only time will tell if this really becomes my regular tomato-sauce pizza recipe, but regardless it’s a delicious diversion.
Tomato sauce (makes enough for three pizzas; freeze the rest for later use):
1 28-ounce can whole tomatoes in tomato puree (I use Trader Joe’s San Marzano)
2 tablespoons butter
6 tablespoons minced onion
2 tablespoons tomato paste
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
Salt and pepper to taste
¼-½ cup heavy cream (optional)
1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes
¼ cup olive oil
1 tablespoon Grade B maple syrup
½ teaspoon coarse salt
1 pound pizza dough
4 ounces shredded mozzarella cheese
1-2 ounces grated Parmesan cheese
¼-½ cup fresh basil, coarsely chopped
- To make the sauce, puree the tomatoes and their liquid in a blender or food processor (or using an immersion blender) until smooth. Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and cook about 1 minute, until it begins to soften. Stir in the tomato paste, garlic and red pepper flakes and mix just until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in the tomato puree, lower the heat to medium-low, and simmer about 5-8 minutes, until the sauce is slightly thickened. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the cream, if using. Divide the sauce into three equal portions and freeze two of them for in airtight containers for later use.
- To make the pizza, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Slice the tomatoes in half and place them on a parchment-lined rimmed baking sheet. In a small bowl, whisk together the olive oil, maple syrup, and salt. Pour the mixture over the tomatoes and gently toss until well coated. Arrange the tomatoes in a single layer, cut side up, and roast, without stirring, until the tomatoes shrink a bit and caramelize around the edges, 45 to 60 minutes. (You can do this up to a week ahead of time if you like—just let the tomatoes cool, scrape them into a glass or plastic container along with any liquid that was left on the baking sheet, seal tightly, and store in the refrigerator.).
- Increase the oven temperature to 450 degrees and roll out the pizza dough on a baking sheet dusted with cornmeal. Spread with an even layer of the tomato sauce. Sprinkle the mozzarella in an even layer over the sauce, and sprinkle the Parmesan over that. Dot the roasted tomatoes evenly over the cheese.
- Transfer the pizza to the oven and bake until the cheese is melted and bubbling and the crust is lightly browned, about 10-12 minutes. Remove from the oven and sprinkle the chopped basil over the top of the pizza. Let cool slightly before slicing and serving.
Time: 2 hours (some work can be done ahead)
Leftover potential: Good; reheat on a dry skillet on the stovetop.