Picture this. You’ve finally decided to try your hand at making the perfect pizza at home. You’ve kneaded the dough, left it to proof, and have already picked out all your favorite toppings. However, the moment you go to assemble your pie, you realize you’ve made a horrible mistake — that tomato sauce you have lying in your fridge is actually pasta sauce, not pizza sauce.
So, you have two options here. You can let your perfectly proofed dough go to waste while you go off to the store for the pizza sauce. Or, you may ask yourself, ‘can I use pasta sauce for pizza’. If you’ve found yourself in this culinary tizzy, keep reading to discover if your pasta sauce can rescue your masterpiece.
Can I Use Pasta Sauce for Pizza?
If you’re a connoisseur of Italian cuisine, then you know that tomatoes reign supreme. This delicious red fruit is a staple in simple salads, while sauces made from it act as the backbone of various cooked dishes — including pasta and pizza.
However, the sauce you use for your Penne alla Puttanesca is not the same as the tomato sauce you put on your pizza. So the question now is, could you still use pasta sauce for your homemade pie?
At the risk of angering Italians everywhere, the answer is yes. But, you will have to make a few modifications to it to have the right flavor and consistency. For starters, you will have to cook the sauce down to reduce its water content.
Pasta sauce has a much thinner consistency and often includes chunks of tomato or other ingredients like meat or onion. Therefore, after reducing it in volume, you’ll likely want to coarsely blend it to take care of any bumps.
Likewise, you’ll want to season your sauce well. Most plain pasta sauces have no seasonings other than the standard salt, pepper, and maybe a hint of oregano. So, to get that authentic pizza flavor, you must add the right herbs after you’ve finished reducing the sauce.
3 Differences Between Pasta Sauce and Pizza Sauce
If you can substitute pizza sauce for pasta sauce, you may wonder if there really is a difference between them. After all, both come from the same source, have a similar taste, and have the same overall application. It seems logical that manufacturers should start making an all-purpose tomato sauce that can work for both pasta and pizza.
But you don’t have to be a cooking snob to shoot down that idea. Pasta sauce and pizza sauce have several key traits that make them very distinct from each other.
1. Production Method
For starters, both sauces use tomatoes as their base. However, the difference is what you do with those tomatoes.
For pasta sauce, you’ll need to cook crushed tomatoes till the flesh falls apart and releases water. Ideally, you’d want to cook the sauce for 15-20 minutes along with the spices. This will reduce the acidity of the tomatoes giving the sauce a more mellow flavor.
Pizza sauce, on the other hand, should have a more tangy flavor. Therefore, you’re supposed to use only raw, pureed tomatoes combined with a hint of tomato paste to create a thick, grainy sauce. The higher acidity is meant to offset the rich flavor of the other toppings and compliment the crispy crust.
2. Water Content
It may seem strange that pasta sauces use cooked tomatoes while pizza sauce requires raw tomato puree. But, if you’re familiar with food science, this makes absolute sense.
Pasta sauce requires a higher water content. This is because the sauce needs to stick to the noodles well and coat them thoroughly. Plus, almost all pasta recipes require you to cook the sauce to get the flavor. Therefore, the sauce needs to have enough moisture to withstand a longer cooking time while still retaining its creaminess.
In contrast, pizza sauce shouldn’t be watery. If a pizza sauce has a thinner, more runny consistency, you’ll have a harder time spreading it. Plus, the water will soak into the dough while it bakes, thus ruining your chances of getting that perfectly crispy bottom.
Pizza sauce differs from its pasta cousin in terms of flavor, too. This is because of the different spice blends used to make both.
Pizza sauce requires a simple blend of several herbs, including oregano, Italian seasoning, onion powder, and garlic powder. Some chefs will also add some white sugar to the mix to bring out the tanginess of the sauce so that it perfectly aligns with the rich, cheesy topping. However, despite this small addition, pizza sauce is usually relatively uniform.
The same cannot be said for pasta sauces. Overall, a basic store-bought pasta sauce will be plain, featuring just salt, pepper, and maybe a pinch of oregano. This is because different pasta recipes call for different combinations of spices, meaning you can season the sauce to taste.
However, if you buy a pre-made sauce for a specific type of pasta, then its flavor profile will vary wildly. For example, a bolognese sauce often features chunks of meat, while arrabbiata sauce has just a hint of spice.
Top 5 Pizza Sauce Alternatives
So, as established, you can absolutely modify pasta sauce and use it as a sub for your pizza. But what if you realized you’re out of pasta sauce too. Is there anything else you can use instead?
The answer is that there isn’t just one good substitute for pizza sauce — there are actually five delicious alternatives you can use to complete your homemade pie.
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One of the best alternatives to pizza sauce is marinara. This chunky tomato sauce is a key ingredient in many Italian dishes, such as Chicken Parmesan and even lasagna.
Like most pasta sauces, you’re supposed to cook marinara on the stovetop with a blend of salt, pepper, lots of garlic, and olive oil. The cook time will vary, but chefs recommend you keep it simmering for around 45 minutes to get that nice, dense consistency.
Because marinara is slightly less runny than most other pasta sauces, it can serve as a good substitute for pizza sauce. However, just like other pasta sauces, you’ll want to reduce it a bit more before spreading it on your pizza. Secondly, keep in mind that though marinara has the most similar flavor to pasta sauce, it still uses cooked tomatoes. Therefore, it won’t have that natural acid bite that real, raw pizza sauce has.
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Italians may raise their eyebrows at this recommendation. But if you’re a fan of Mexican food, you can absolutely use salsa as a replacement for pizza sauce.
Salsa is a traditional sauce with a rich history dating back to the Aztec empire. This beloved condiment can be made using a variety of ingredients, from avocados to onions and even mangoes. However, the classic salsa most people are familiar with uses a blend of tomatoes, onions, and chili peppers.
Its consistency is similar to marinara in that it’s both chunky but still liquid enough to coat taco or enchilada meat. So, if you plan on using it on your pizza, it’s recommended you strain it and only use the thicker part for the dough. Also, keep in mind that the flavor of your pizza will be entirely different, even if you add the standard pizza sauce spices to the salsa.
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Unlike salsa and marinara, this alternative is most definitely not tomato-based. Pesto is a rich fatty spread that’s made by blending crushed basil with garlic, olive oil, and Parmesan.
While the original pesto recipe originated in Genoa, Italy, it has since spread all over the country and even the world. Consequently, there are several different variations of pesto that use walnuts or almonds instead of pine nuts, and Grana Padano or Pecorino Romano in place of Parmesan.
Predictably, since this sauce uses no tomatoes, it’s not even close to resembling pizza sauce. However, you can still make a wicked pizza with it. Pair it up with light toppings like spinach, tomatoes, or mushrooms to get a decadent yet balanced flavor profile.
4. Ricotta Cheese
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Like pesto, ricotta cheese is an alternative you can use if you aren’t adamant about making a traditional pizza.
The term ricotta actually translates to ‘recooked’, and it refers to the special way this cheese is made. To get cheese, dairy farmers curdle milk with bacteria to get it to form solid. They then take these curds and press them into cheese blocks. During compression, the cheese curds leak excess liquid called whey. It is this whey water that acts as the building block of ricotta cheese.
Dairy farmers will collect this whey liquid and cook it with a bit of whole milk or vinegar. The acidity will make the milk protein coagulate and form cheesy lumps, resulting in ricotta cheese. As a result of this unique manufacturing process, ricotta is a fresh, very spreadable cheese that makes a great base for your pizza.
You can mix the ricotta with some herbs to create a nice base for a pizza Bianca. Translated as a white pizza, the term refers to any pizza that doesn’t include tomato in the recipe.
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If you’re a fan of French dishes, then this is the pizza sauce for you. Tapenade is a special spread made from finely minced black olives, capers, and anchovies. The spread originated in Provence, a southeastern region of France, where it was used as a popular starter or as a spread you add to bread, fish, or salads.
As you might expect, Tapenade’s flavor and texture drastically differ from pizza sauce. It’s much thicker and denser than pizza sauce. Plus, it has a very rich, sometimes overpowering flavor. Therefore, you should be careful how you use it on your pizza.
Add small amounts of the condiment to your dough, and pair it up with refreshing toppings. Feta cheese, spinach, and ricotta are the perfect way to offset the dense taste of olives and anchovies.