cucina bene; mangia bene (Cherry Tomato pizza sauce)
During the welcomed months of August and September on the Oregon Coast, we get to enjoy nicer weather. The farmers’ markets are teeming with all sorts of fresh vegetables, fruits, and other great artisanal food products. Amidst the myriad of heirloom tomatoes are cherry tomatoes which are often used for summer salads, but are overlooked for Italian pizza and pasta sauce recipes. For those in the know, these small gems can take your Italian cuisine to another level; it’s like being in Italy itself but without the summer heat!
Throughout summer, the arrival of sun-ripened tomatoes is something celebrated in Italy. Many of the pizzaioli (pizza masters) switch from using canned tomatoes during the winter months to fresh tomatoes. Especially treasured are cherry tomatoes grown in Sicily known as pomodori di Pachino, which carry a special IGP (Indicazione Geografica Protetta) status.
For those pizza makers using wood fired ovens, simply placing ripe cherry tomatoes on the pizza with a little olive oil and mozzarella can be a delightful experience. The high heat of the wood oven quickly bakes the tomatoes roasting them right on the pizza. For those of us using a conventional electric or gas oven, we can still create a delicious pizza with the sweet taste of roasted cherry tomatoes.
Cherry tomatoes offer a sweet taste profile and their size lends themselves to being placed on a pizza without a lot of trouble. For pizza, you can use them raw and bake them as a topping. To further bring out their tasty qualities, I like to roast them first to the point of caramelization.
Two approaches for using roasted cherry tomatoes for pizza sauce are presented below:
The first is to roast the tomatoes in the oven (three small baskets or more) with some olive oil and seasonings. After washing, place the cherry tomatoes in a large baking dish and drizzle lightly with some nice olive oil (EVOO). Season the cherry tomatoes with some good sea salt, black pepper and a little dried oregano.
Several seasoning options are available to impart complimentary flavors to the tomatoes. You can drizzle over the tomatoes a tiny amount (one tablespoon or less) of balsamic vinegar. Also, you can add a tiny amount of brown sugar sprinkled over the tomatoes to heighten the sweetness of the tomato flavor. For added complexity, you can include sliced onions and garlic bulbs and roast them with the tomatoes where they will marry with the tomato juice and olive oil. You can use the roasted onions and garlic bulbs for pizza toppings or for save them for another menu item.
Mix the tomatoes with the seasonings and place in a pre-heated oven between 350 and 500 degrees. The lower temperature approach aids in controlling how fast the tomatoes will caramelize but it also extends the cooking time. When the tomatoes are toasty brown, remove them from the oven. Let them cool down and then scoop up the tomatoes into a bowl. The remaining olive/juice mixture should be placed as well in a separate bowl.
You can use the oil to coat the base of the pizza. Place the tomatoes on top of the pizza and then add your cheeses like fresh mozzarella and grated parmesan. Bake the pizza and enjoy. Sharing with family and friends is optional!
The second approach follows the same path for prepping and roasting. When the tomatoes come out of the oven, place in a large skillet along with the juice/oil mixture. Sautee the tomatoes while evaporating the moisture out. Once the sauce is reduced, set aside to cool. Place the sauce on the petola (pizza base) and spread around the flattened dough. Then sparsely add your toppings like cheese, roasted garlic and crumbled sausage. Fire away and try to share it when it comes out hot from the oven. 🙂
The first two photos show the ‘before and after’ during the roasting process. The Pizza Margherita shown was done using the first approach. The final photo shows the pizza sauce (a second batch) after it has been reduced in the skillet. The sauce can be stored in the refrigerator for a few days or can be frozen. Either way, you will be able to celebrate the wonderful harvest of cherry tomatoes on pizza here on the Oregon Coast!
P.S. The cherry tomato sauce can be used in pasta dishes as well. Buon Appetito! Bruce Birt