Pizza Sauce Tips from Jeff Varasano Himself

I feel like I’ve published a good many options here for pizza dough, so in an effort to provide you with a more in-depth pizza resource, I will be beginning to bring you sauce tips and recipes as well as any new dough information I may find. Since Jeff Varansano pretty much got me started my pizza journey, I thought I would bring you a small selection from his novelish site on his pizza process dealing with sauce specifically.

Oh! And as an aside, I noticed that Jeff has a photo with Keith Giusto from Central Milling about 3/4 of the way down his page… I told you that Central Milling flour was some good stuff! Take a tip from Jeff and I and pick up some Central Milling flour already!

Please to enjoy, sauce and tomato tips from Jeff Varasano:

  • Always buy Whole Peeled Plum Tomatoes and crush them yourself.
  • Be careful of marketing tricks like cans that say Italian ‘Style’ instead of Italian. Italian Style means nothing. It’s subjective. If I grew tomatoes in Chernobyl I could still claim they are Italian Style.
  • Similarly there’s a San Marzano ‘Brand’ which is grown in CA. I hate marketing gimmicks like that. The put the word ‘brand’ so small that you can barely read it.
  • Shake every can as you buy it. If it sounds watery, it is likely to be more bitter. Try to get cans which sound more viscous.  The sound will vary a bit by season. They try to pick and pack in just one season, but still there are seasonal differences even within the same brand.
  • If you have a local tomato supplier, try those too.
  • One time I bought a jar of tomatoes at a farmers market – no can. These were hand packed and they had no tin can taste. They were excellent but all the major suppliers use cans.  Be on the lookout for jars someday…
  • If you want to go crazy and make your own, try ‘ugly ripe’ heirloom tomatoes. The taste of these are amazing and I use these when I need whole tomatoes.
  • When I open a can I taste it. Every can is a little different. About 10% of the cans I just throw out because they are too bitter and I put too much effort in the dough to waste it on a $2 can of bad tomatoes.
  • DON’T make a sauce. That is, don’t pre-cook the tomatoes. The tomatoes will cook on the pizza.  If you cook a sauce first, it will cook again on the psizza, turning it brown and yucky.  No need to make a sauce.  Look at how overcooked many sauces are. The best places don’t do this. This is actually the one step  in this whole process that you can save yourself some time.
  • I strain the seeds. This is really optional. If you do choose to do it, follow these steps, which seem obvious now, but took me a long time to flesh out:
    • Pour the can out into a bowl
    • Cut the green/yellow stem ends off the tomatoes with your hands or a paring knife, then discard.
    • Squeeze out the seeds into the puree and then Dip the tomato into the puree. You can even cut the tomato open to get out any remaining seeds, by essentially rinsing them with the puree.  This will have all the seeds fall into the puree.
    • Put the flesh back in the can
    • At the end of this process you have a can of flesh and a bowl of watery puree and seeds. Strain this, pouring the puree back into the can.  In the strainer are then 90% of the seeds, all by themselves. Discard the seeds.
  • Now crush the tomatoes. This is one of those areas where I made a recent change for the better and it’s really helped a lot. I used to crush the tomatoes by hand. But it was always a bit chunky. Now I blend them with an  immersion mixer (“boat motor”). I cannot tell you exactly why this has made a huge improvement  in the TASTE of the tomatoes, but it has. I’ve done side by side taste tests. The tomatoes should be crushed but not pur ed. Go Easy. I have nothing against using a food processor or mill, but I will say that you should not crush by hand.
  • Tomato Rinsing: All cans have some bitterness. You need some bitterness and you don’t want to strip all of it out. But if the can is too bitter it’s not good. I have a procedure I call tomato rinsing to remove some of the bitterness. But you have to taste the can and determine for yourself if it needs it. The better brands on my list don’t.  Here’s the Tomato Rinsing procedure: Strain the tomatoes in a fine mesh strainer..  If the mesh is fine, the water will be mostly clear with very little tomato escaping. If the water escaping is very red, pour it back on top of the tomatoes and continue straining. Eventually the water will run almost completely clear.  Here’s the key. The water that comes out is completely bitter. Taste it.  What I do is pour fresh water on top of the strained tomatoes and strain them again. Taste this second batch of water.  It’s also bitter but less so. You are removing bitterness and acid without losing a drop of red tomato. Instead you are replacing this bitter water with fresh water. You can repeat this several times if you like, but once or twice is usually fine. The net result is that what is left over, which is all the red tomato solids, is sooooo sweet and yummy.
  • Here are some other things you can do to remove the bitterness. But don’t go crazy adding tons of spices and things. It’s mostly just tomatoes.
    • Add some grated Romano cheese directly into the tomatoes.  I use Locatelli Romano. Some have criticized this, but I like it.
    • A bit of sugar will also help 1/4 – 1 teaspoon.  Taste and see.
    • A pinch of salt
    • A pinch of dried oregano, crushed by hand to release the oils
    • If you are used to putting garlic in your sauce, try these steps once without it.
    • Taste and taste
  • So you are removing and then adding back water. In the end though you should have less water than you started with. The total weight is probably about 1/3 less than you started with. But the exact amount of water you remove depends on the overall temperature of the oven and the temperature differential in the oven.. There is not much time in a hot oven to evaporate the sauce, so the hotter the oven, the drier the sauce must be going in.  But if the top differential is high, the sauce will evaporate too quickly and needs to start wetter. You have to test. Surprisingly, if the sauce is too dry, it’s not as sweet. You don’t want it soupy but don’t overstrain either. This will take real practice with your oven. Sometimes after the first pie I add more water to my sauce. Again, this is another area where recent improvements have really transformed the sauce. I think that when the sauce is chunky (hand crushed) it’s harder to get the amount of water right.
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How to Make a Sourdough Pizza from Scratch – THE VIDEO!

I’ve been talking about how “my new great pizza recipe is coming soon” for a while – well, now it is HERE. And I’ve even shot a video to go along with it! Enjoy making your new, most favorite pizza EVER.

How to Make Sourdough Pizza from Scratch

from Ryan Sanders on Vimeo.

Here is the recipe I follow in my newly released how-to video. This is based on the Jeff Varasano recipe, with a few modifications for an oven that only goes to 550.

Things to know before you begin:

  • This recipe assumes you have an active sourdough culture.
  • Prep time on the dough is at least one day.
  • This recipe makes two pies.
  • This recipe is only given in weights. You’ll need a scale that can measure grams.
  • If any of this sounds a bit much, check out my simpler thin crust recipe here.

1. Make sure you have a sourdough starter going before starting this recipe. If you don’t have one going yet, you can order one at sourdo.com or cultivate your own local yeast like this.

2. Measure according to weight (in grams) the following.

  • Filtered Water – 220 grams
  • Bread Flour  – 336 grams
  • Kosher or Sea Salt – 1.5 tsp
  • Sourdough Yeast Culture -36 grams
  • Instant Dry Yeast – 3/4 tsp

3. Pour everything except for about one quarter of the flour into your stand mixer.

4. Use the standard paddle attachment and mix on the slowest speed until your dough is evenly mixed. You should be aiming for the consistency of a thick batter. It shouldn’t look like dough yet.

5. Cover the bowl and let the dough rest for 20 minutes. THIS IS IMPORTANT, DON’T SKIP THIS.

6. Put the dough hook onto your mixer and start kneading your mixture. After five minutes, bein to gradually add in the remaining flour. Aim to have all the flour in by about the eight minute mark or so. If you reach a point where the dough looks good but you still have more flour, just don’t add it.

7. After about 8 minutes, click your stand mixer up to the next highest speed. Kneed until you see the dough form a wet ball. Always err on the side of dough that is too wet, and never “be a slave to recipes” as Jeff Varasano would say. If the dough needs a bit more flour, put some in.

8. Cover the bowl and rest for 20 minutes. THIS IS IMPORTANT, DON’T SKIP IT.

9. Pour the dough out onto a lightly floured counter top, sprinkle the top of it lightly with flour, and use your hands to form it into a nice round ball. It should be wet enough so that it sags when you form your ball. If it’s perk, your dough may be too dry.

10. Place the dough in a container, cover it with plastic wrap or a nicely fitting lid, and stow it away in your fridge for 1-6 days. The 3-4 day range is best, I’d say.

11. Take the dough out about an hour to an hour and a half before you want to bake it.

12. Heat your oven to as hot as it will go.

12. Toss the dough and put a small amount of sauce on. I stick to one ladle full.

13. Top the pie with mozzarella and the toppings of your choice and slide it onto your super hot pizza stone, or if you are using a pan, just slide the pan onto a baking rack.

14. My over doesn’t have a cleaning mode, so I top out around 500 degrees. My pizzas take about 5-7 minutes to bake. Keep an eye out on yours.

15. Pull it out and cool it on a wooden surface if you can. Wait about 3 minutes to cut into it. Serve.

Hope you found this helpful!
Cheers,
Ryan

The Pizzetta Stone – Translating Jeff Varasano’s Technique

If you, like me, have ever done a Google search for “NY pizza recipe” then you have no doubt stumbled across the bible-esque tome that is Jeff Varasano’s Famous NY Pizza Recipe. The recipe, which is in itself very simple, tips the scale at a hefty 22,000+ words. Now don’t get me wrong, I’ve read almost every single one of those words, but it took me months to get up the courage to sit down and plow through it all!

What I’ve prepared for you here is a condensation of Jeff’s recipe; a reduction, if you will, of the simple steps minus all of the asides and fascinating science behind his pie’s creation. What we’ve got here is a recipe you could have open on your laptop in the kitchen (I prepare exclusively from my computer) and actually follow the steps without hours of scrolling looking for the next step. If you ever want more explanation as to WHY you are doing the steps below, please grab a cup of coffee and sit down for a nice bit of reading at Jeff Varasano’s Famous NY Pizza Recipe. And Jeff, if you’re out there, thanks for publishing all of your findings for the rest of us to benefit from. Enjoy!

Things to know before you begin:

  • This recipe assumes you have an active sourdough culture.
  • Prep time on the dough is at least one day.
  • This recipe makes one pie.
  • This recipe is only given in weights. You’ll need a scale that can measure grams.
  • If any of this sounds a bit much, check out my simpler thin crust recipe here.

1. Make sure you have a sourdough starter going before starting this recipe. If you don’t have one going yet, you can order one at sourdo.com or cultivate your own local yeast like this.

2. Measure according to weight (in grams) the following.

  • Filtered Water – 110 grams
  • Bread Flour (Jeff likes King Arthur) – 168 grams
  • Kosher or Sea Salt – 6 grams (This is roughly one teaspoon – my scale doesn’t do well with such small amounts, so I use a tsp)
  • Sourdough Yeast Culture – 15 grams
  • Instant Dry Yeast – 0.5 grams (equivalent to a pinch – optional)

3. Pour everything except for about one quarter of the flour into your stand mixer.

4. Use the standard paddle attachment and mix on the slowest speed until your dough is evenly mixed. You should be aiming for the consistency of a thick batter. It shouldn’t look like dough yet.

5. Cover the bowl and let the dough rest for 20 minutes. THIS IS IMPORTANT, DON’T SKIP THIS.

6. Put the dough hook onto your mixer and start kneading your mixture. After five minutes, bein to gradually add in the remaining flour. Aim to have all the flour in by about the eight minute mark or so. If you reach a point where the dough looks good but you still have more flour, just don’t add it.

7. After about 8 minutes, click your stand mixer up to the next highest speed. Kneed until you see the dough form a wet ball. Always err on the side of dough that is too wet, and never “be a slave to recipes” as Jeff would say. If the dough needs a bit more flour, put some in.

8. Cover the bowl and rest for 20 minutes. THIS IS IMPORTANT, DON’T SKIP IT.

9. Pour the dough out onto a lightly floured counter top, sprinkle the top of it lightly with flour, and use your hands to form it into a nice round ball. It should be wet enough so that it sags when you form your ball. If it’s perk, your dough may be too dry. For photo examples of how wet your dough should look, go to Jeff Varasano’s Famous NY Pizza Recipe of course!

10. Place the dough in a container, cover it with plastic wrap or a nicely fitting lid, and stow it away in your fridge for 1-6 days. The 3-4 day range is best, I’d say.

11. Take the dough out about an hour to an hour and a half before you want to bake it.

12. Heat your oven to as hot as it will go. Jeff broke the safety off of his over and bakes pizzas while it is running on it’s cleaning cycle. Of course, he doesn’t suggest you follow his example… If you are using a pizza stone, make sure it is in when you begin to heat the oven.

12. Spread the dough out on a floured counter (Jeff says it isn’t great for tossing), put a small amount of sauce on. I stick to one ladle full.

13. Top the pie with mozzarella and the toppings of your choice and slide it onto your super hot pizza stone, or if you are using a pan, just slide the pan onto a baking rack.

14. My over doesn’t have a cleaning mode, so I top out around 500 degrees. My pizzas take about 5-7 minutes to bake. Keep an eye out on yours.

15. Pull it out and cool it on a wooden surface if you can. Wait about 3 minutes to cut into it. Serve.

Now if you are dying to know why or how, or want to see examples of what certain stages should look like, or want to know what your options are as far as flours, cheeses, sauces, yeasts, mixers, etc, or just want to read a more in depth explanation of anything you’ve read here, check out Jeff Varasano’s Famous NY Pizza Recipe for Pete’s sake!

Hope you found this helpful!
Cheers,
Ryan