Pizza Sauce

Punchy and herby pizzeria-style tomato sauce is the anchor of any respectable thick-crust or New York-style slice. In order to fulfill my quest to make an ideal Sicilian pizza, I had to begin with the sauce.

Adapted from Perfect Pan Pizza, this recipe is more of a marinara and combines canned tomatoes, herbs, and acid in the form of lemon juice and red wine vinegar. The assumption may be that those last ingredients would add too much bite, but layering acid actually pops and sweetens the tomato flavor when paired with the right amount of salt. The smell alone transports me to the best NYC slice shops. Acid is the sauce's secret.

Pizza Tomato Sauce is part of my Recipe Card series. Posts are shorter in nature and offer an opportunity to feature simpler dishes that I plan to reference down the road. Stay tuned for my Sourdough Sicilian Pizza recipe.

Recipe Tips

Patience (...sometimes)

In an ideal world, this pizza sauce should be made a day in advance so that the flavors have time to marry. With that said, I've blended some up just a couple of hours before baking the pizza and the results were still delicious. My current routine is to make a batch of tomato sauce on Friday for a Sunday bake and then freeze half for the next pizza.

Acid and Salt

I beat this drum often. If a dish doesn't pop, tweaking the acid and salt is usually the best place to start. The tomato sauce from Perfect Pan Pizza was the first recipe I had seen that included lemon juice and/or red wine vinegar. When the flavor of the sauce goes from raw to cohesive, you've hit upon the sweet spot. I recommend using a mix of red wine vinegar and lemon juice and then only using lemon juice for the adjustments. Extended notes under "Instructions".

Original vs. Adapted


Perfect Pan Pizza's recipe includes garlic. Rather than infusing the sauce, I add minced garlic directly to the pizza in two additions (half on top of the sauce and half on top of the pizza). If you want to include garlic in the sauce, add it after the sauce has been puréed.

Farmers | Artisans

I make an effort to source my food from California artisans with a special focus on the Santa Monica Farmers Market. Below is a list of the folks who contributed to this dish.

Ingredients (Adapted from Perfect Pan Pizza - Makes Enough For Two Sicilian Pizzas)

  • 28-ounce can whole peeled tomatoes Note: La Valle D.O.P. is my current brand of choice.
  • 5-6 fresh basil leaves cut into a chiffonade (about 2 generous tablespoons after prep)
  • Generous 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano Note: The original recipe suggests 1 teaspoon of chopped fresh oregano as an alternative but I haven't tried that.
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice, plus more as needed
  • 3/4 teaspoon Diamond kosher salt, plus more as needed
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more as needed
  • UPDATE: 1/2 - 1 1/2 teaspoons maple sugar (or brown), as desired IMPORTANT NOTE: Maple sugar doesn't seem as sweet as brown sugar. Whatever sugar you use, add 1/2 teaspoon at a time until you reach the desired salt/acid/sweet balance. How much sugar I use depends on the toppings. For my pepperoni Sicilian, I lean into the maple sugar a little more.


  • Add the tomatoes and any sauce to a medium bowl then thoroughly crush the tomatoes by hand.
  • Add the rest of the ingredients.
  • Stir and taste. The flavor may come across as raw or a bit flat. Add another pinch of salt and a 1/4-1/2 teaspoon of lemon juice. Take your time with the lemon, you don't want to notice the citrus. Stir and taste again. Continue to adjust incrementally until you hit the point where the flavor becomes cohesive and pops - it will register as almost sweet even though you've been adding acid and salt. Food magic. As Perfect Pan Pizza rightly points out, the flavors will intensify slightly in the oven so keep that in mind.
  • Sometimes I add a pinch of sugar depending on the tomatoes and how the sauce is tasting.
  • I highly recommend giving the sauce a night in the refrigerator to marry up.


Store in an airtight container for 2-3 days or freeze for future use.

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