A New Take on an Old Favorite

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I can’t stop talking about the bountiful, beautiful tomatoes we are getting from our garden right now and I know farmers markets are overflowing with them as well. So, at this time of year, I’m always looking for any way to use the tomatoes before they go bad. I’ve already shared with you our Easy Roasted Tomato Sauce recipe, which is one way to use up a lot of your tomatoes. Another way, that may not use a ton of tomatoes but is definitely a way to show off that prized fruit, is a Margherita pizza. One of the most popular pizzas in the world, the quintessential basil, tomatoes and mozzarella toppings are simple, yet delicious.

According to popular belief, Pizza Margherita was created during a visit by King Umberto I and his wife Queen Margherita of Savoy to Naples in 1889. Chef Raffaele Esposito created a pizza which resembled the Italian flag of green, white & red (basil, mozzarella & tomatoes) and named it after the Queen. Since 2009, Pizza Margherita is one of three Napoli pizzas with a STG label (Traditional Guaranteed Specialty). This labeling is similar to the DOP (Protected Designation of Origin) labels on some Italian food or the DOCG (Controlled Origin/Production and Guaranteed Quality Denomination) labels on Chianti and other Italian wines. To make a true, STG Pizza Margherita, there are certain specifications that must be met:

  1. A 3mm thick disk of dough with a 1-2cm high crust
  2. No other working tools other than the hands of the pizza maker are allowed, no rolling pin or mechanical press machine
  3. It needs to be cooked in a wood-fired brick oven at 485C for about 90 seconds.

That’s a nice thin crust, 3mm is only around 1/10th of an inch thick and the crust would be around 1/3 to a little over 2/3 of an inch. Also, can we talk about that heat! WOW!! 485C is around 905F. We don’t fire our wfo to that temp. As a general rule, the dome is usually around 500F and the floor is anywhere from 500-750F.

Of course, we are not as precise as those rules; however, the traditional toppings of basil, mozzarella and tomatoes are standard when making or ordering a Margherita pizza. That is until my wife decided to shake things up a bit and we found a new favorite way to make Pizza Margherita. The secret? Ricotta cheese!

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Add herbs, salt, pepper and red pepper flakes to the ricotta, schmear it all over the crust, top with fresh sliced tomatoes, basil and a drizzle of olive oil. Then pop it into your wfo for a minute or two. The seasoned ricotta soaks up the watery tomato and the flavors all blend well together to make a truly tasty pizza!!

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We prefer to use fresh tomatoes whenever possible, but you could also use our tomato sauce or make a super simple sauce from a can of San Marzano tomatoes and a little salt. Now, I do realize this isn’t really Pizza Margherita since we didn’t use mozzarella, but I won’t tell if you won’t 🙂

Try it the next time you have fresh tomatoes…you won’t regret it.



Easy Roasted Tomato Sauce

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It’s that time of the year where most everyone’s gardens are overflowing with amazing produce. Our “urban” garden is no exception…we’ve had a wonderful harvest so far of Roma beans, jalapenos, hot & mild banana peppers and, of course, tomatoes! We planted four kinds this year, 4th of July, Better Boy, Carolina Gold and the Italian and culinary tomato of choice, San Marzano.

So, what to do with all of this bounty? I say, “stock that pantry!” There is not much better than having a meal in the middle of winter that tastes of summer. By canning and/or freezing, you can have that fresh-picked flavor all winter long.

A couple of years ago, we found a recipe for roasted tomatoes on a great blog, FoodieCrush and our pantry has never been the same. This is the ONLY pizza/pasta sauce we use in our house now and it is so easy to make. You just need a bunch of tomatoes, good flavored extra virgin olive oil, garlic, salt, lots of herbs and a few hours to cook low and slow in your oven. I can’t begin to tell you how much flavor you get from these simple ingredients.

If you don’t have a garden, visit a local farmer’s market or co-op. If the absolute only option for you is a grocery store, try to buy organic. You really want the freshest, most flavorful tomatoes you can find. Great in, great out.

You’ll need enough tomatoes to fill at least two baking sheets, approximately 5-6 pounds. Wash and core the tomatoes and fill those pans. Add at least 5-6 whole cloves of garlic to each pan and drizzle with olive oil. Then add herbs of your choice…we use basil, oregano and thyme…and salt liberally with coarse salt. Add fresh ground black pepper if you like and/or some hot pepper flakes, if you want a little kick to your sauce.


If your wood fired oven (wfo) is large enough to accommodate both baking sheets, this is the perfect opportunity to use the residual heat from the previous night’s cooking. By the morning after, my oven is usually still around 250-300F degrees depending on how chilly it was overnight. If the oven is still around 300F, you may want to check these tomatoes after around 3 hours to ensure you don’t cook them too much. If you didn’t use the wfo the night before or you don’t have one yet, you can definitely do these in your kitchen oven. Place the trays into a 250F degree oven for around 4 hours, until the tomatoes are soft.

tom4 tom6  tom5 Just look at all that flavor!

After removing from the oven, place the tomatoes into a stock pot, making sure to scrape down the tray to get all of those tasty juices. DO NOT skip this step because you feel you’re putting too much oil into your sauce…you simply can not wash that succulent juice down the drain!


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Use your immersion blender to combine everything into a smooth sauce. If you don’t have an immersion blender, you can use a regular blender. Just be careful because the liquid will be hot. This recipe makes around 15 pint jars of sauce. You could also place the sauce into freezer bags and freeze flat. They’ll keep up to 4-6 months in the freezer; however, we prefer canning because you don’t get any extra water from freezer burn and canned sauce lasts longer. I also think it tastes fresher than from the freezer.

Important Canning Tip:

  • Make sure to add 1/4 tsp citric acid powder to each pint jar before filling if you are canning via water bath. You could also use 1 Tbsp bottled lemon juice, but I feel that does add a flavor change. There is no impact to flavor with the citric acid powder.
    • The Penn State University extension shares why this is important:  “Tomatoes were once considered an acid food that could be safely canned in a boiling-water canner. However, because of the potential for botulism when some newer, less acidic tomato varieties are canned, certain precautions must now be taken.


I do hope you will try this easy recipe so that you too can enjoy the flavors of summer all year round!


Yield: 15 pints


  • 5-6 pounds medium or small tomatoes, stems and cores removed
  • 1 medium head of garlic, peeled (you can chop the garlic if you want but I keep the cloves whole and add 5-6 per pan)
  • ⅓ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • ½ cup fresh basil leaves
  • 4-5 springs fresh thyme
  • ⅓ cup fresh oregano
  • coarse salt
  • freshly ground black pepper and/or red pepper flakes, if desired


  • Preheat the oven to 250 degrees F.
  • Place the tomatoes on large baking sheet with a raised 1-inch lip. Add the garlic cloves and drizzle with extra virgin olive oil. Use your fingers to mix well to coat. Top with torn basil leaves, a couple sprigs of thyme and some oregano. You can also add a bay leaf to each pan if you wish or maybe a few sprigs of rosemary. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper, if using.
  • Bake for 4 hours or until tomatoes are soft and bursting.
  • Blend to desired consistency.
  • Freeze or can following proper canning methods.