Pizza Margherita, Homemade Tomato Sauce, Homemade Ricotta

classic pizza margherita

Oh my gosh, I have so much deliciousness to report to you all, I don’t know where to begin. I suppose it all started last week after Food 52 reminded me of Marcella Hazan’s widely adored tomato sauce recipe and the NY Times reminded me of the pleasure of eating fresh ricotta cheese, a delicacy (a nonentity, really) in my neck of the woods. And then I remembered seeing a Barefoot Contessa recipe for homemade ricotta cheese on Gwyenth Paltrow’s blog, which reminded me of a different GP entry about homemade pizza, all of which has led me to so many wonderful discoveries this week. Is your head spinning?

Let me summarize:

1. Marcella Hazan’s tomato sauce is every bit as delicious as everyone has claimed. I’ve never had success making tomato sauce. Never. I had accepted that jarred sauce tasted better than anything I could produce at home. That is until this past Tuesday, when I dipped my wooden spoon into my pot of gently simmering tomatoes, lifted it to my mouth, and tasted the freshest, lightest, most delectable flavors. And I have been smiling ever since. For all of you food bloggers, I know this is nothing revelatory. But friends, family, and any of you out there who have tomato sauce making fears, rest assured that you, too, can cook like an Italian grandmother. This sauce is gold.

2. Thanks to discovery #1, I’ve finally made a classic pizza margherita at home. One of my all-time favorite spots for thin-crust pizza is 2Amys in Washington D.C., which serves an incredible pizza margherita topped with a most memorable fresh tomato sauce. 2Amys Pizza was my first thought after tasting Hazan’s sauce. Now, I’ve accepted that until I build my wood burning oven, I’m not going to achieve a restaurant quality crust at home. But I no longer have an excuse for not making pizza margherita. This sauce is so damn good. I credit nothing other than the sauce for producing the pizza that emerged from my oven today. It was one of the best. Less is more is the key here: a thin layer of this sauce topped sparingly with fresh mozzarella cheese and a sprinkling of fresh basil out of the oven does the job. Yum yum yum.

3. Making fresh ricotta cheese at home is as easy as the Barefoot Contessa’s latest book promises. And it is SO delicious. I made myself nectarine and fresh ricotta bruschetta for lunch today. It was heaven. And then I remembered one of my all-time favorite pizza combinations — nectarine with basil and reduced balsamic — and made a variation of that for dinner. Tomorrow morning, I’m going to spread what’s left of my fresh ricotta on a toasted bagel and top it with one of my CSA tomatoes. I’m really living it up here.

The most fragrant purple basil freshly picked from my garden, a treat I have my brother-in-law to thank. Thanks Mr. T!
tomatoes and basil

Making tomato sauce:
making homemade tomato sauce

Straining homemade ricotta through cheesecloth:
homemade ricotta

Homemade tomato sauce and fresh ricotta cheese:
homemade ricotta and tomato sauce

Sauce approved by a silent and contemplative kitchen assistant:
Ella eats pasta

unbaked margherita pizza

Classic pizza margherita:
classic pizza margherita

classic pizza margherita

Nectarine and ricotta pizza with fresh basil:
nectarine and ricotta pizza

nectarine and ricotta pizza

Recipes
Marcella Hazen’s Tomato Sauce
Note: I watched the video on Food52 on blanching tomatoes, which I found to be helpful.

For the Sauce:

2 pounds fresh, ripe tomatoes, peeled (see video on Food52 for guidance)
5 tablespoons butter
1 medium onion, peeled and cut in half
Salt to taste

1. Place the prepared fresh tomatoes in a saucepan, add the butter, onion, and salt, and cook uncovered at a very slow, but steady simmer for about 45 minutes, or until it is thickened to your liking and the fat floats free from the tomato.

2. Stir from time to time, mashing up any large pieces of tomato with the back of a wooden spoon. Taste and correct for salt.

Homemade Ricotta Cheese
Source: The Barefoot Contessa via Goop
Serves: Makes about 2 cups

4 cups whole milk
2 cups heavy cream
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3 tablespoons good white wine vinegar

1. Set a large sieve over a deep bowl. Dampen (or don’t) 2 layers of cheesecloth with water and line the sieve with the cheesecloth.

2. Pour the milk and cream into a stainless steel or enameled pot. Stir in the salt. Bring to a full boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Turn off the heat and stir in the vinegar. Allow the mixture to stand for 1 minute until it curdles. It will separate into thick parts (the curds) and milky parts (the whey).

3. Pour the mixture into a cheesecloth-lined sieve and allow it to drain into the bowl at room temperature for 20 to 25 minutes, occasionally discarding the liquid that collects in the bowl. The longer you let the mixture drain, the thicker the ricotta. Transfer the ricotta to a bowl, discarding the cheesecloth. Save the whey — you can make bread with it. Use the ricotta immediately or cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate. The ricotta will keep refrigerated for 4 to 5 days.

Classic Pizza Margherita
Dough yields 4 pizzas serving 3 to 4 people total

1 recipe pizza dough (follow instructions here)
1 recipe tomato sauce
fresh mozzarella cheese
fresh basil leaves, sliced thinly after pizza is removed from oven

Nectarine and Fresh Ricotta Pizza
Dough yields 4 pizzas serving 3 to 4 people total

1 recipe pizza dough (follow instructions here)
1 recipe Homemade Ricotta Cheese (recipe below)
1-2 nectarines
olive oil
fresh basil leaves, sliced thinly after pizza is removed from oven

Homemade Ricotta
Source: The Barefoot Contessa via Goop
Serves: Makes about 2 cups

4 cups whole milk
2 cups heavy cream
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3 tablespoons good white wine vinegar

1. Set a large sieve over a deep bowl. Dampen (I don’t dampen — I just line my sieve with cheesecloth) 2 layers of cheesecloth with water and line the sieve with the cheesecloth.

2. Pour the milk and cream into a stainless steel or enameled pot. Stir in the salt. Bring to a full boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Turn off the heat and stir in the vinegar. Allow the mixture to stand for 1 minute until it curdles. It will separate into thick parts (the curds) and milky parts (the whey).

3. Pour the mixture into a cheesecloth-lined sieve and allow it to drain into the bowl at room temperature for 20 to 25 minutes, occasionally discarding the liquid that collects in the bowl. The longer you let the mixture drain, the thicker the ricotta. (I tend to like mine on the thicker side but some prefer it moister.) Transfer the ricotta to a bowl, discarding the cheesecloth. Use immediately or cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate. The ricotta will keep refrigerated for 4 to 5 days. Note: You can use the whey to make bread and other things — don’t chuck it.

nectarine and ricotta pizza

50 Comments

  1. Ali, beautiful photos and I can’t wait to try making this sauce. I don’t love ricotta cheese, but perhaps that’s because I’ve never had good, homemade ricotta?

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  2. How perfect! I haven’t made pizza this summer, I must correct that! I had the same tomato sauce revelation using a Jamie Oliver recipe. So delicious! And actually, mozzarella is very easy to make at home too.

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  3. Gorgeous photos and inspiring recipes, Alexandra. I could eat like this every day (if I only had fresh tomatoes and nectarines and/or peaches…). I want to try the nectarine/ ricotta pizza. Have you ever tried making the ricotta with whole milk and buttermilk (no cream)? It’s not as rich as Barefoot Contessa’s, but very easy and good.
    Toby

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  4. This tomato sauce really is awesome. We made a batch, then grilled pizza dough on the outdoor grill, flipped it, slathered with the sauce and fresh mozz, grilled until the cheese melted, then basil chiffonade. Unbelievably good!

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  5. Okay…WOW! I made this tonight – the entire schabang – and it was incredible. I’d made the dough before (a gazillion times) but for some reason tonight was extra good The fresh tomato sauce is perfect for pizza, nice and light. And that ricotta, which I added to a margarita, was so so so SO good. I couldn’t find cheesecloth in Zürich, but I used muslin that I bought in the baby section of a department store (can’t you see I was desperate for cheeese). I’d never made cheese before and I was blown away by how easy and delicious it was. Kerry is coming next week and I told her to bring me some cheesecloths, even if it means scouring every store in NYC. Thank you thank you for a great post!

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  6. Bless you and thank you for sharing the joys of Ina Garten’s fresh, homemade ricotta – and special thanks, of course, to Ina! I just made some for the first time and am in heaven…and quickly looking up the recipe for the pizza dough to do something creative here.

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  7. Oh, and I couldn’t find cheesecloth either, here in Chile, so I bought some crochet-y lace-y kitchen curtains, which they have plenty of, and cut them up to make a triple layer. Worked great ;)

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  8. Anyway you can repost the whole sauce recipe? The link to it does not work anymore to retrieve the full recipe. Thanks! I would love to try!

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  9. Hello, I just Stumbled upon your site today and I’m really enjoying it! I am going to try your chicken recipes for sure.

    I was curious to see that the full recipe for making ricotta isn’t listed? Am I missing something?

    Thanks for the inspiration, I look forward to cooking up some of these recipes. =D

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  10. I just wanted to find out from you if I do not take whole milk can I use soya milk instead and what do I use for the cream? I am vegan and I do not do any animal products

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    • Shirley, gosh, I’m not certain, but I don’t think soya milk will work in place of the whole milk for the ricotta. I wish I could offer advice about a substitute but I am not familiar with vegan substitutes for cheese making. If I learn of anything, I will report back.

      Reply
  11. I just made both the Margherita with the fresh tomato sauce and the Nectarine with the fresh ricotta. Wow! These were amazing. I also used your pizza dough recipe, which gave me nightmares because it was so wet and sticking everywhere…. but it was perfect with these two pizzas. Yummy!

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  12. I totally agree with you regarding Marcella Hazan’s tomato sauce recipe-it is the best and easiest tomato sauce I have ever made or tasted. It works equally well with tinned ( I think you say canned in the States) tomatoes, to which I add a teaspoon of sugar to counteract any acidity there might be. I have two of her recipe books and never had a failure with any of the recipes I have tried. I enjoy reading your website, and I am looking forward to trying out the aubergine involtini. Do you have a recipe for spinach and ricotta malfatti?

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    • Ingrid, hi! Thanks for the tip on using canned tomatoes with the Hazan sauce — I bet that bit of sugar goes a long way. Which books do you have? I can’t believe I’m going to admit this, but I don’t own one! I need to do something about this. And no, I am afraid I don’t have a recipe for spinach and ricotta malfatti. But now I’m intrigued. I’m going to have to do some research :)

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  13. Hi Alexandra. I have Marcella’s ‘The Classic Italian Cookbook’ originally published in 1973, and ‘The Second Italian Cookbook’ published in 1982. They are simple staightforward recipes with no photos, but as a lover of Italian food, they have been well used! I believe her son has followed in his mother’s footsteps and has also published recipe books in the US. (I live in South Africa.)
    I have found various recipes for spinach and ricotta malfatti but they all vary slightly in the quantities of spinach, ricotta and eggs used, so I am looking for the definitive one!

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    • Ingrid — Thanks so much for these suggestions! I think those old, unflashy cookbooks are some of the best. I’m going to check for these at my library this weekend before biting the bullet on one or both. I feel like these are must-haves in any good home-kitchen cookbook library. If I come across any malfatti recipes, I will be sure to be in touch. And how fun to hear you are from South Africa!

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  14. Love your website. Just wanted to share….while making ricotta, when you separate the curds from the whey, curdle it with lemon instead of vinegar. That way you can use the whey by blending it with a couple of cucumbers, a dash of salt and a sprig of mint. It makes a great summer cooler .

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    • Inez — thank you for this! Love this idea. Will definitely try lemon next time. If the recipe calls for 3 tablespoons of vinegar, would I just use 3 tablespoons of lemon juice? Or would I have to use more or less? Thanks so much.

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  15. Hi! I am making this tomato sauce right now but I am trying it with fresh yellow tomatoes! My sauce seems really watery and runny. Is there any way to thicken it up? Thanks!

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    • Michelle — Hi! I would just try gently simmering it until the right amount of liquid has evaporated and the sauce looks like the right consistency. I don’t think there’s anything else you can really do unfortunately. I wonder why this has happened?! Yellow tomatoes sound totally delish. Let me know how it turns out.

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      • Exactly – that’s why my mother took all day to slowly simmer her sauce. Simmer it uncovered until you get the consistency you want. That also helps concentrate the flavors!

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  16. This recipe looks so amazing! Do you recommend a certain type of tomatoes to use for sauce? Also what kind of vinegar do you use? I have trader joes on hand but want to make sure I get this recipe right the first time around! Thank you so much in advance!

    Reply
    • Dabielle — hi! Well, if you can get to a farmers’ market, any tomatoes there will likely be better than what you can get at the grocery store, but I don’t think it’s necessary to spend a boodle on heirloom tomatoes. Just a nice beefsteak tomato will do the job. Does that help? Let me know if you want specific names. When I was in CA, I loved Cherokee purple tomatoes, but I never cooked with them…they were like gold. I ate them with just a little salt and olive oil. So good! Ok, and I use white balsamic most of the time, but I have made it with white wine vinegar, too. I like the Colavita brand, but I don’t think you have to be too fussy here either — any relatively good white vinegar will work. Let me know if you have other questions!

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  17. Alexandra, the pizza looks wonderful! You’ve inspired me to make it all from scratch…
    The cheese you’ve made, while lovely and perfect for a Margherita, is not Ricotta. I would call it a Queso Fresco, and I thin Inez’ suggestion of using lemon juice to curdle the milk is a great idea. Try that, but DON’T throw out the whey (however you make it). True Ricotta is “re-cooked”, and made from the saved whey.

    After draining the cheese, return all the whey to the pot and gently raise the temp to about 180°F. Hold there for 5 minutes or so, then slowly continue heating, until near boiling, but stop at 200°. Remove from the heat and let cool naturally.

    Filter again through new cheesecloth, and you’ll have TWO batches of homemade cheese for your effort!

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    • Kat, hi, I store it in the fridge. If you do the whole canning process, you can store it in the pantry, but otherwise, I would refrigerate it, or freeze it if you aren’t going to use it within a week or so.

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  18. After seeing the tomato photo I realised that I was giving the cuts on the opposite direction hence always had difficulty in peeling it. Thank you. Nice sauce, and your kitchen assistant must be helping you a lot more now.

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  19. I keep looking at this recipe for tomato sauce in disbelief! Can it really be just tomatoes, butter and an onion? And does the onion eventually melt into the sauce, or do you need to take it out of the pot once it’s done? I’m definitely going to try it, but I’m so used to more ingredients (i.e. garlic, basil, oregano)!

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  20. Oh man do I ever miss 2Amys! The polpettone pizza, the pizza with eggplant sauce, the broccoli rabe salad, salt cod croquettes…I’m drooling right now. I’d say based on those photos you win at the Neapolitan pizza game. So glad I stumbled on this page!

    Reply
    • Oh I miss 2Amys! Honestly, everything is so good. I never tried the polpettone pizza…I need an excuse to fly back to DC now :) We always get the pizza margherita with the bufalo mozzarella…their sauce is so fresh and light and tasty.

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  21. The ricotta is sublime. I’ve made it several times, and I find that spending a little time to find cream and milk that are not ultra-pasteurized (just pasteurized) is well worth the result. The cheese seems to be fluffier and richer tasting. Love all the variations on your blog–the roasted grapes and thyme are a great combination.

    Reply

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