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Why Seasoned Home Pizzaiolos Use San Marzano Tomatoes

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D.O.P. (Protected Designation of Origin) certified San Marzano tomatoes, delivered directly from Italy, where pizza all started. As you’ll learn in this post, San Marzano tomatoes are thinner and more pointed than Roma tomatoes and the flesh is much thicker with fewer seeds, and the taste is stronger, sweeter and less acidic.

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Updated: November 23, 2022

Pizzaiolos use San Marzano tomatoes to make the best pizza sauce. But the big question is why? If you are wondering if there really is a big difference in tomatoes and if San Marzano tomatoes really are the best for pizza sauce, then read on as we explore this special tomato. But first, a little bit of history.

pizzaolios use san marzano tomatoes like these brands

A Short History of the Tomato

The humble tomato hasn’t always been a part of Italian cuisine. This red fruit, yes, tomatoes are a fruit, not a vegetable, has a long history of misrepresentation. When tomatoes originally arrived in Europe from South America in the 1700s, many thought they were poisonous.

At the time, the wealthy used pewter plates, which contained a lot of lead, and the acid from the tomatoes leeched the lead out, leading to lead poisoning. So for a long time, tomatoes were associated with death and called the “poison apple.” 

It took some time for science and botany to catch up, and by the mid-1800s, Europe and the world had accepted tomatoes as a food. Of course, around this time in Naples, pizza was starting to take off, and the rest is history. Now we have many kinds of tomatoes, from Roma to Beefsteak to cherry-sized to the beloved San Marzano tomatoes.

San Marzano tomatoes are a special type of tomato that pizzaiolos everywhere rave about. The tomatoes are considered the best tomatoes in the world and are the key ingredient to pizza sauce, marinara, and ragu.

If you are new to San Marzano tomatoes, you might be wondering what is so special about these bright red tomatoes and why pizzaiolos use San Marzano tomatoes. So let’s dive in and learn more about San Marzano tomatoes and what makes them so special.

What are San Marzano Tomatoes?

san marzano tomatoes
Photo by Goldlocki on Wikipedia

San Marzano tomatoes are a type of plum tomato that grows in the volcanic soil of the Sarno River valley close to Mount Vesuvius. They have a sweet flavor and low acidity. These tomatoes are meaty with very few seeds making them perfect for making scrumptious sauces.

Pizzaiolos use San Marzano tomatoes because the low acidity means you can make a simple pizza sauce without a lot of extra sugar. Sugar is often added to the sauce to cut the acid, but if you start with low-acid tomatoes, you can easily cut the sugar.

San Marzano tomatoes are sold cut in half or peeled whole and have an official seal that states Pomodoro San Marzano dell’Agro Sarnese Nocerino D.O.P label.  The D.O.P. is short for Denominazione di Origine Protetta (literally “Protected Designation of Origin”), basically meaning that they are authentic from the region.

There are several brands that can San Marzano tomatoes, like Sclafani, Rega, Strianese, Pastene, La Valle, and Alessi. And then there are other brands of tomatoes that say Certified or Italian Style or San Marzano style, which do not have the DOP label. But why would we link to those!?

One company got sued because they were claiming to be San Marzano tomatoes and the prices reflected that, but in reality, they did not have a certification.

In Italy, food is a serious business, and DOP label is important for authenticity, so keep that in mind when you go to the grocery store looking for San Marzano tomatoes; if you do not see DOP label, then they are probably fake San Marzano tomatoes.

How to Make Pizza Sauce with San Marzano Tomatoes

san marzano pizza sauce recipes
Photo by Jason Jarrach on Unsplash

Technically, in Italy, pizza sauce is uncooked, and pasta sauce or marinara sauce is cooked. But as recipes have morphed and traveled between families and continents, that rule is only still followed in Italy. 

Italian purists believe pizza sauce should never be cooked and should always be made with either fresh or canned San Marzano tomatoes, and never under any circumstance should tomato paste be added. In the classic Neapolitan pizza, the sauce is a simple uncooked sauce.

But others believe pizza sauce should be cooked; for example, New York-style pizza, Chicago deep dish, and Detroit-style pizza all use a cooked sauce. And then there is St. Louis-style pizza that uses a barely cooked sauce of tomato paste, not canned tomatoes.

So you can see, there are several ways to make pizza sauce. It really comes down to pizza style and, of course, personal preference. 

Here are two recipes for pizza sauce using San Marzano tomatoes; one is a traditional uncooked sauce, and the other is a cooked sauce. If you aren’t sure which you like better, make them both and invite your friends over for a taste test.

Uncooked Pizza Sauce with San Marzano Tomatoes

Pour the tomatoes into a bowl and crush them with your clean hands. Then add olive oil, some ripped basil leaves, and salt. Let the sauce sit for 30 minutes, so the basil infuses in the sauce. That’s it. It’s now ready to use. You can store it in the refrigerator for up to three days or freeze it for up to one month.

Cooked Pizza Sauce with San Marzano Tomatoes

The first step is to use a food processor, blender, or immersion blender and blend the tomatoes. Put aside.

Next, in a saucepan, add the oil and butter and cook on medium-low until the butter is melted. Then throw in the minced garlic, oregano, crushed red pepper flakes, and a large pinch of salt and cook. Keep stirring it for a few minutes. It will smell lovely.

Then pour in the tomatoes, onion, basil leaves, and sugar. Bring to a simmer, then reduce heat to the lowest setting for one hour. Check frequently and stir. Taste and add more salt as needed. 

When the sauce is cooked, take out the onion halves and basil leaves and toss them in the garbage or compost. Let the sauce cool down, and use it on your pizza. Or store in a covered container in the refrigerator for up to five days. Or place in reusable freezer bags and freeze for up to one month.

Pro Tips for San Marzano Tomato Sauce

  • Both uncooked and cooked sauces make great dipping sauces.
  • You can puree both sauces smooth or leave them a little chunky.
  • Add an extra pinch of red pepper flakes to either sauce for a spicy kick.

Have you made pizza sauce with San Marzano tomatoes? Do you prefer cooked or uncooked pizza sauce?

Share With Other Pizza Lovers:

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DK & Eliana

DK & Eliana

Thanks for reading about our homemade pizza journey! We're a young married couple who started making pizza at home on our wedding night and haven't looked back yet. We've learned over countless attempts of trial and error how to make the perfect pizza sauce, pizza dough, and exactly which pizza accessories to buy for your home setup...

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