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Nov 14, 2011 07:56 AM

Special pizza sauce with fennel? Help me crack secret recipe from a Connecticut-man

I´m trying to copy a pizzasauce from Norway. It has has quite an unusual flavour compared to normal basil-garlic-oregano-chili combinations.

The guy who made it, moved here in the 1960s and had worked in Frank Pepe´s pizza restaurant in Connecticut in USA.

He started what is now Norways biggest pizza chain, and the sauce is still quite special, compared to all other pizzas I´ve tried. So I was hoping someone in here is familiar with the way to use these ingredients, and perhaps have heard of similiar sauces before. I need help cracking this recipe!

The sauce has a distinctive licorice-like flavour. And I´m unsure if it is fennel or anis. Or both. I´ve tried just putting fennel seeds in the sauce, but that does nothing. Same with anis. And I´ve tried putting them in the olive oil while I fry the garlic, which is how I usually start a sauce. And after putting the tomatoes in. I´ve also tried grinding them, and I´ve tried fresh fennel too. Nothing works.

After eating this pizza for ten years, I have been careful to analyse the flavour. And it leads me to think it is made of a combination of these:

Mustard seed/powder
Black pepper
Onion powder

Addiotinally I´m unsure if they use crushed dry chili, and paprica powder. I´m also not sure thyme is the right herb, but this flavour is so strange it is hard to tell. It might even be a more generic herb like parsilly

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  1. I probably have no business posting here because I don't know the sauce you're talking about, and I'm no expert on pizza (though I make them at home). One thought is yes, it's probably fennel seed (seems a more traditionally Italian ingredient than anise) and two, you either didn't use enough fennel or you added it too early in the cooking time. Herbs tend to lose their distinctive flavors with long cooking (though they can contribute subtly, like thyme/oregano) so add it toward the end of the cooking time for your sauce. And grind your fennel from whole seeds just before using.

    1. Comestible offers some excellent points with respect to handling the herbs. With all of the possibilities for ingredients that you list in describing what you believe is in the sauce, you've got a very road ahead of you. Each of the "suspect" ingredients, except perhaps for the paprika, has the potential for a very strong flavor influence and a slight variation of one when compared to another can throw a sauce flavor in an entirely different direction. You also say that you "fry the garlic". Does that mean you're browning the garlic? Browned garlic becomes bitter. For a sauce, you want to cook the garlic in the oil at a relatively low temperature, just long enough for the garlic to flavor the oil. Then, remove the garlic, add your other ingredients and at the point where you might want to simmer the sauce, add the garlic back into the mix. Last point - Europeans typically shop daily for their ingredients and their recipes often include fresh herbs and spices rather than the dried varieties used in this country. If it's possible that your Connecticut restaurant had access to fresh ingredients it'll be difficult to duplicate their sauce with dried goods.

      6 Replies
      1. re: todao

        I´ve used both fresh and dry herbs in my ten years of pizzamaking, and my opinion is that fresh are the best. Though it was new to me that they loose flavour after prolongued cooking. I simmer my sauce on low temperature for quite some time. And yes, I dont brown the garlic.

        Still looking for more answers to this. Perhaps from someone who lives in Connecticut and are familiar with their way of cooking and influences. I can always try to use more fennel, but it doesnt seem right to use several tablespoons of it.

        1. re: Ramius

          Try adding an anise liqueur, such as Sambuca, and see if that helps. Not only does it have an extremely strong anise flavor, the addition of alcohol brings out flavor compounds in tomatoes that you miss otherwise.

          1. re: Ramius

            Both Peter Reinhart (in the last paragraph) at


            and Jeff Varasano (about one third of the way down the page) at


            suggest not heating the sauce - if you heat the sauce and then bake it on the pie in the oven , you're essentially cooking it twice.
            They don't specifically say, but perhaps one of the reasons is that some of the flavor "gets lost" in the second cooking.

            I suppose you could make your sauce and do a test by taking half and simmering it and leaving the other half at room temp - make a pie with each and see if there is any difference after baking.

            1. re: Bryan Pepperseed

              I dont quite support this claim. Heat is needed to melt the sugar into the sauce, the extract the oils out of the spices into the sauce, for some of the liquid to evaporate and thicken the sauce.

              I dont think this is my problem at all though, cause I have tried all variations in the method of preparing the sauce. Even just stirring it cold together, with no heat at all.

              And I dont think the Sambucca is the answer here, because this is a commercial pizza chain, and most likely do not add booze into their sauces.

              Anyone familiar with cooking here who knows how to make fennel really shine? Are there some other spices that backs up the aroma of fennel and strengthens it?

              And is there anyone who has tried MSG in their tomato sauce?

              1. re: Ramius

                you can try bruising the fennel seeds with a mortar & pestle, then frying them in the oil. pizza sauce doesn't need the long slow simmer of a sunday sauce, but you do need some heat to get it going.

                sambuca is very sweet and very strong. i doubt that would be in there. perhaps a shot of anisette?

                traditionally, dried herbs are used in the beginning of cooking, with fresh ones added at the end. yes, the flavor gets lost otherwise.

                msg is not something you'd find in a pizza shop.

        2. Have you tried tarragon instead of fennel? Both impart a licorice like flavor and both are used in Norwegian cooking.

          3 Replies
          1. re: Coogles

            That could be the key - fresh tarragon in particular has a distinct licorice flavor to it, the dried not so much, at least to my palate.

            1. re: BobB

              I agree, sounds like maybe tarragon is the key. Fresh, for sure.

              1. re: ChristinaMason

                No one has mentioned caraway seeds which have a kind of fennel flavor. I added them to the 'meatza' (pizza with a meat crust, not bread) as I didn't have the usual Italian sausage to mix with ground beef or turkey that I usually do.

          2. I just tried a Google search using "pizza with fennel" and that returned quite a few ideas right on the first page. In all cases, it was fresh fennel, and in most cases it had been sauteed to the point of caramelization, sometimes along with onions. In another case, it was roasted in the oven.

            However, these used few or no tomatoes. More of a "white pie" with onions and cheeses. The "Norwegian connection" you mentioned hints at a very unusual recipe. My take on it is that cooked fennel is actually rather mild and tomatoes can overpower it. But it actually got me very interested in using fennel on my next pizza!

            1 Reply
            1. re: comestible

              comestible, this thread has me thinking the same thing! I'm going to grill or roast some fennel and put it on my next pizza. A white pizza. Will need to think about what kind of cheese. Might be right up there with our fig, bleu cheese and smoked chicken pizza :)

              As to fennel flavor it could be fennel seeds (has a sausage flavor without the meat or calories). Maybe the fennel seeds were sauteed in olive oil and removed? Or maybe some roasted fresh fennel? I don't like the sound of fennel in pizza sauce. This is not the first time something didn't sound appealing and ended up being delicious. Good luck with your pizza mystery :) No plans to head to CT for pizza any time soon . . .

            2. I'm guessing that you have asked them for the ingredients but they won't give them to you? I use fennel seed in a few tomato based recipes. If it is good, sauteeing it in oil and then cooking for awhile in the tomato sauce- should give you lots of fennel flavor.( anise seed is a little sweeter imo but it could be what he uses. can you not see the seed when you deconstruct a slice?) I would instinctively doubt sambuca as an ingredient. and fresh fennel/vegetable would not likely give you as strong a fennel flavor as you have described.

              i would suggest making a master batch of simple tomato sauce(tomatoes, onion, garlic, oil, s and p) and then dividing it and tinkering with each division, keeping accurate notes.that way you could try a batch heavier on the fennel seed etc.

              another option involves lying. you could call and tell them that you want to serve it to friends but that , between them, they have many many food allergies. and you need to know all the ingredients so you can check with them. "yes, even the spices." In the U.S. these last years, allergies have become such a huge issue in the food industry that chefs are more used to getting these requests re: ingredients.

              then again, you could take a cue from the hilarious Japanese movie, Tampopo, and go through their trash... or make friends w/ the teenage prep boy!