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Oct 29, 2011 12:11 PM

Pizza Hounds -- Favorite Canned Tomatoes for Neapolitan-style Pizza?

So since we left the east coast two years ago (and thus left our favorite neighborhood Neapolitan-style pizzeria), I've worked hard out of necessity to hone my own pizza making skills. With this minimalist style of cooking, of course each ingredient has to be just right or it will stick out in a bad way. I think I'm getting pretty good at my dough, I've found a few brands of mozzarella I like, there are numerous great finishing olive oils available, and my yard is peppered with Genovese basil plants in the good weather.

I know a lot of hounds have expressed their various opinions here on canned tomatoes; a lot of folks seem to like Muir Glen, I've seen some recs for boxed Pomi, etc. But a lot of these opinions specifically relate to long, slow-cooked dishes. For a real Neapolitan-style pizza, the "sauce" is just a raw tomato puree, with a little salt added; since it's barely cooked when you fire the pizza in a hellishly hot oven, any "off" tastes really jump out at you.

I've tried a ton of different brands, including the D.O.P. ones I can find, but many have an unpleasant, often metallic taste with this quick flash cook. By far the best I've found are La Valle (interestingly I can't tell a difference in taste between their D.O.C. and D.O.P., both are excellent), but they're pretty difficult to find where i live.

Thus my question: specifically for Neapolitan-style pizza, what brand of tomatoes do you favor? Are there any that approach or surpass La Valle? Bonus points for ubiquitous availability and good prices, but taste is paramount. Thanks in advance!

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  1. There's a popular local place here in Northern New Jersey that uses La Fede brand plum tomatoes for their Neapolitan renditions.......he boat motors them with large commercial stick blender. Nothing else is added and he simply spoons it over the stretched dough

    1. Citric acid is the ingredient in canned tomatoes that produces that "off" flavor. Unfortunately, it's getting harder and harder to find canned tomatoes without it. Lately, I've been using Colavita crushed tomatoes---nothin' but tomatoes and salt. Not sure how "widely available" it is, but I paid just over $2 per 28oz. can.

      1. I've posted this link to Jeff Varasano's recipe/tips before, but along with a lot of good pizza making info (well worth the read IMO) he also (about halfway down the page) has a list of his favorite brands of tomatoes.
        I have yet to try out the entire list but I've found that his tip about removing seeds and rinsing the tomatoes makes a big difference in my sauce no matter what brand I use.

        6 Replies
        1. re: Bryan Pepperseed

          Holy moly, this is the most anal retentive discourse on pizza I've ever read, which I mean as a tremendous compliment. Thanks for the link.

          He recommends Cento's DOP product, which was actually one of the brands I alluded to above as having that off, metallic taste. If citric acid is the issue, I'd imagine the trick of rinsing the tomatoes would help quite a bit, I'll give it a try. If this works, it's too bad on one level, in that at least when I use La Valle (not on Varasano's list), I can include the puree in my sauce without hurting flavor, which also helps add a nice smoothness (I know, some people like their rougher crush, I like a smooth sauce). The upshot of this is that one of the little 14-oz cans is enough for a two-person pizza night. But again, if the rinse trick gets me access to a greater variety of serviceable choices, I'm all for it, even if I have to go with a 28-oz can.

          Interesting, I just looked in my cabinet. La Valle *does* add citric acid. I also have a can of Scalfani that I haven't yet tried (but is pretty high on that list) that doesn't add it. A taste test is in order. Will report back after our next pizza night...

          1. re: finlero

            Glad you liked the link. Since I discard all the liquid from any brand I use, I'll be interested to see if you had decent results with saving the puree. - it might save me from (more often than not) having to use tomato paste to get the right viscosity.

            1. re: finlero

              My understanding is the Cento product isn't DOP. It's labeled as "certified", which is meaningless.

              Perhaps they have another actual DOP that's not available in stores near me.

              I prefer Muir Glen. The easiest way to determine which you like best is to set up a simple and relatively inexpensive taste test with 4 or 5 cans. You'll notice quite a difference.

              Regarding metallic tastes, I've never heard that citric acid causes an off flavor. Most brands I've tried contain it, and they certainly all don't taste metallic. I would think the flavor comes more from the processing, can, or the product itself, but I really don't know.

              1. re: tommy

                For whatever it may matter, Cento does offer DOP now, I have no idea how widespread their availability is:


                They have an organic version as well, although I haven't tried it:


                Regardless, I agree that citric acid shouldn't be directly responsible for the metallic taste.

                1. re: finlero

                  From Wikipedia: "Citric acid is a weak organic acid. It is a natural preservative/conservative and is also used to add an acidic, or sour, taste to foods and soft drinks."
                  "Citric acid is the active ingredient in some bathroom and kitchen cleaning solutions. A solution with a 6% concentration of citric acid will remove hard water stains from glass without scrubbing. In industry, it is used to dissolve rust from steel."

                  I'm pretty convinced it's the way the citric acid reacts with the metals in the can that is producing that metallic taste. If you are homecanning, using GLASS jars, the addition of citric acid (or, more commonly, lemon juice) probably has a less pronounced effect on the taste.

                  1. re: Anne

                    Right, agree it seems to be a factor, but given that my favorite brand adds it to the puree, there are clearly other factors at work as well. I'm making a trip to the imports market today, will see what brands I can round up.

          2. I've been tinkering with my pizza sauce recipe for a while now, and I've concocted a ton of different tomato-based sauces. My favorite is the Escalon 6-in-1 All Purpose Ground Tomatoes in Extra Heavy Puree. I like to mix this with some salt, dried oregano, red pepper flakes, onion powder and freshly minced garlic. I often also mix some freshly shaved Parm or Pecorino into the sauce. It works great on Neapolitan-style pies.

            Unfortunately, I am still searching for the right "sauce" for my white pizzas. A few have been very good, but I haven't found the right recipe yet.

            9 Replies
            1. re: MonMauler

              What is a white pizza sauce? To me a white pizza can be whatever, but it is the lack of tomato sauce that makes it "white".

              1. re: escondido123

                The lack of "red" sauce makes it white. The sauce is often made of cheese, flour, butter, etc.

                1. re: tommy

                  It sounds like you are talking about an Alfredo type sauce which I've only seen on pizzas in the US. Did you have a "white sauce" in Italy? I understand in Italy they might use a ricotta or mozzarella, but most typical ones that I had were non-tomato toppings with olive oil as the sauce.

                  1. re: escondido123

                    I don't recall having white pizza anywhere but my home, Italy or otherwise. Regardless, I'm pretty sure the name has to do with the lack of red sauce, rather than the lack of sauce (which as you note can be olive oil-based).

                    Then again there's no certification of the name, I'm guessing. However the fact remains that the item exists, with a sauce, unless MonMauler is one heck of an innovator.

                    1. re: tommy

                      It's an American invention I am pretty sure. Until about 10 years ago the only white pizzas were ones done without a sauce so the bare "white" dough shows through or have some ricotta or mozzarella cheese but not a white sauce. First time I saw it with the Alfredo sauce was at one of the big pizza delivery chains.

                      1. re: escondido123

                        Re: White Pizza.

                        I consider any pizza that does not have a red sauce to be a white pizza, like you guys are saying. Under this definition the first few centuries of pizza history would've exclusively consisted of white pizzas, as the Europeans didn't have tomatoes until later, IIRC.

                        This definition would also encompass pesto based sauces and other sauces of color, but I really need to be in the mood for one of these pies. The sauce I'm trying to "perfect" is exactly how you guys described it: either an olive oil based "sauce" or an alfredo-style sauce. I make a few variations.

                        My olive oil based "sauce" is just olive oil, garlic, thyme and salt.

                        My cooked sauces generally consist of butter, flour, milk, salt, pepper, garlic and parmesan.

                        I really like the white pizza sauces I make most frequently. They really are very good. For some reason, though, they just aren't yet "perfect" to my taste. However, I have been tinkering with my red sauce for a lot longer and a lot more often. I'll get there with the white sauce...hopefully.

                        Interestingly, since you brought it up, the only white pizzas I've had in Italy have used an oil based sauce. I've never seen one over there with an alfredo-style sauce.

                        1. re: MonMauler

                          I wouldn't call it an oil-based sauce so much as herbs, cheese etc placed on the dough and then olive oil drizzled on top. As for alfredo, that's truly an American invention to satisfy the American appetite for cheese sauce.

              2. re: MonMauler

                MonMauler, guessing you precook this sauce before applying to the pizza?

                1. re: finlero

                  I do not precook my red sauce at all. The consistency of the 6-in-1 tomatoes is pretty good, and will work straight from the can. Just mix in your herbs and spices, apply to the pizza, top with your other toppings and throw it in the oven. However, I have found that the sauce does really benefit from from the quick use of an immersion blender:

                  I throw the sauce into a bowl, hit it with the immersion blender and then strain it. I've found that if you don't strain it the sauce can be a little too watery and the resulting pizza too soupy. After the tomatoes have been strained, I add the other ingredients.

                  In re-reading my previous post, however, I just noticed a couple missing sauce ingredients that I think make a significant difference. First, sugar. A little bit of sugar can really help the cut the acidity from the tomatoes. And secondly, thyme. I like it and think it adds some depth to the sauce.

              3. Boxed Pomi lists as its ingredients, tomatoes. That's it. They taste pretty good for canned tomatoes, but usually need salt because they don't have salt added.

                1 Reply
                1. re: Iota

                  Thus the advantage, the cheese has the salt. l just drain them and plop them on for something quick. In essence white pizza with cheese , garlic,and chunk tomato