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Tech Slices: Alternatives to Tomato Sauces

Alternatives to Tomato Sauces


April 17, 2008
By Bob McDougall

Topics

Last year in the Sept/Oct issue, we dealt fairly
extensively with tomato-based sauces. This year, let’s extend the
discussion to pizzas without such sauces, often termed “pizza bianca”
or “white pizza.”

Last year in the Sept/Oct issue, we dealt fairly extensively with tomato-based sauces. This year, let’s extend the discussion to pizzas without such sauces, often termed “pizza bianca” or “white pizza.”

Probably everyone has heard the story of the earliest pizzas, made without sauce. Many have perhaps seen some type of sauce-less pizza product, based upon pizza crusts or focaccia-type bread. There’s a whole world of variations available.

It’s always a good “scientific” approach, when trying to get a handle on a subject with multiple different types or styles, to “group.” In this sense, tomato-less pizzas seem to follow one of three classifications:

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Classic – dough with surface dressings of spices, herbs and usually minimal toppings.
Coated crust – oil coated or “painted” crusts, with sparse or heavy toppings.

Sauced – true sauce-containing pies, using spoon amounts of heavier no-tomato sauces.
While all these styles can be very tasty, each has peculiar advantages and limitations.
Let’s compare from a number of different standpoints.

Classics win hands-down for ease of prep. They also usually show a great shelf life, since they bake to quite a dry state, and with certain dough recipes, can be pre-prepped for an entire day. In order to increase the perception of spice and to increase chewing ease, a sprinkle of sea salt or salt and spice is used to promote salivation.

For more upscale versions, saltiness and a bright acidity, together add a powerful deliciousness to the relatively low-flavoured dough, and can be provided by finely chopped or pureed kalamata or other high-quality ripe olive. Feta cheese is another logical addition.

Staying with our salt + acid approach, sun-dried tomato bits moistened in a blend of balsamic and cider vinegar add natural flavour enhancers and enough acidity to survive a bake. How about brined jalapeno bits for both salt and acid from one ingredient?

Balance the harshness with a dairy ingredient to cool the palate – a bit of shredded havarti cheese works very well. This is the same principle that makes blue cheese or ranch dip so great with Buffalo-style wings – dairy ingredients tend to protect the taste buds from the challenge of the “chemical burn” provided by the spice.

Moving ahead to the coated-crust types, remember, a slightly different principle is manifest here. While the lessons from the Classics about salt and acid still apply, the use of flavour liquids, pastes or oils permit a strong base flavour to be laid down consistently on the crust. As simple as a thin coat of olive oil, as complex as an aioli or garlic mayonnaise or as novel as an oriental chili oil or sesame marinade, all these coatings provide the same added advantage. While acid, heat or salt may still stimulate salivation, the oils, syrups and honeys lubricate the food to bring out flavour and promote ease of chewing.

Infused oils, wherein dry herbs have been extracted into oils, are very useful in these applications. Ensure safety by using only oils produced using controlled or commercial production. Salmonella and even lethal botulism can result from insufficiently dried or poorly acidified herbs. Alternately, numerous sources of essential oils and oleoresins extracted from many herbs and vegetables are available in pure form for dilution in oil.

How about roasted red pepper and jalapeno oil, porcini mushroom bits and thinly shaved pancetta (Italian-style bacon)? Another great combination is finely pureed fresh garlic in a mixture of mayonnaise and a bit of olive oil, with finely-chopped brined artichoke bits.

Or build a great oriental veggie offering by coating your crust using a few drops of Thai fish sauce per spoon of regular eggroll or plum sauce. Top with all the fresh vegetable toppings on the make table, and crumbled soya cheese.

Finally, we arrive at the non-tomato, fully-sauced pizza types. While some purists may claim that these pies do not have the pedigree of the others, they can be amazingly delicious. Extending the examples above, this classification adds to the previous flavour-generating characteristics, two factors.

First, the typically high moisture content adds juiciness and chew-ability, which permits the use of lower levels of salivation stimulation and hence more delicate flavours. This is where delicate aiolis and finely balanced cheeses can strut their stuff! Secondly, the sheer amount of sauce delivers both a more pervasive flavour as well as enabling satisfactory use of larger dough amounts without losing the sauce flavour in the crust.

An important thing to remember is that unlike tomato-based sauces, with their complex pectins, there is often little to hold the sauce together and prevent weeping. Careful use of starches, flours and gums is therefore almost always necessary.

Many approaches to white pizza sauces exist, from rich and mellow alfredo-style creamy dairy sauces, to simple starch and gum bases. One of the nicest in my experience consists of fontina and parmesan cheeses slowly melted into gently heated coffee cream (10 per cent), with pinches of finely ground white pepper and mace. Add rice flour dispersed in water to thicken, and to ensure adequate yield.

The translucence of the gelled rice flour allows the natural smooth texture of the cheeses to show, and reduces the “chalky” look of the sauce. This combines well with exotic mushrooms, bacon or good quality ham, and even lighter sausages such as Octoberfest-style, or basic pork sausage topping.

Some excellent combinations to try include mayonnaise with horseradish under beef sausage or ground beef, pureed garlic and presoaked dried chipotle peppers in sour cream, brined jalapeno puree in a mixture of mascarpone or cream cheese and ranch dressing. Simpler approaches use mixes of salad dressings and mayo or heavy sour cream, or any flavourful preparation like seafood or tartar sauce made thick enough for use, with the addition of starch or a thicker fluid.

The possibilities are truly endless, and can sometimes be confusing. Applying the science of food through grouping and analyzing, however, can yield a level of understanding of the various factors involved. New combinations can then be devised with a good chance of a successful product and a new contribution to the art of pizza.•�