Your favorite tomatoes suck.
April 11, 2008 7:16 AM   Subscribe

Help me find the tomatoes Bertucci’s uses on their pizza or at least a close approximation.

I think I make a pretty decent pizza at home. I’ve got the dough / crust down, cheese is a no-brainer, but the weak link is the sauce / tomatoes. I’ve been looking for a certain taste, a taste that Bertucci’s (A brick-oven pizza chain in the Northeast U.S.) gets in their tomatoes. I can only describe the taste as “bright.” There’s no acidic taste, just a very fresh tomato-ish flavor. If memory serves me well, Pizzeria Regina (the chain, I’ve sadly never eaten at the original) gets a similar fresh taste.

I believe when it comes to pizza simplicity is best. I usually use crushed San Marzano tomatoes and while tasty, they still don’t match up to the taste from Bertucci’s. I asked at a restaurant once and was told they use “Bertucci’s brand.” Certainly someone else makes these tomatoes.

As far as I can tell their “sauce” is just crushed tomatoes, which is what I prefer to use with maybe a little fresh basil. Is it a technique? The brick oven certainly helps the crust but I don’t think that’s the secret to the tomato flavor. Do they add a bucket of High Fructose Corn Syrup to every pizza?

I’ve used 6-in-1 brand tomatoes, which the pizza nazis on the pizza nerd forums suggest because they don’t add citric acid or something like that. These were ok, but not what I’m looking for. I’ve tried several other brands as well. I’ve done all manner of fresh (including direct from the garden), I’ve tried adding sugar, brown sugar, red wine vinegar, salt, etc. I’ve tried roasting the tomatoes ahead of time. I’ve made elaborate sauces and I’ve used nothing but sliced fresh tomateos. They all make a great product but I’ve still never been able to achieve the flavor I’m after.

I’ve seen that amazingly detailed site where the guy explains the steps he goes through to make a pizza. Great site but I know how to make a pizza already.

Please note I’m not looking for Your Favorite Sauce Recipe or your opinion of Bertucci’s pizza. I’m aware there are better pizzas around.

A free slice from Pizzeria Bondacliffo to whoever can find me these tomatoes.
posted by bondcliff to Food & Drink (19 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I use a teensy bit of sugar in tomato sauce to cut the acidity, but not enough to make the sauce really sweet. Maybe that's their secret?
posted by SuperSquirrel at 7:23 AM on April 11, 2008

Oh crap, sorry - I didn't read your post thoroughly. Ignore me please.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 7:24 AM on April 11, 2008

I worked at a Bertucci's years ago and remember them using a lot of plum tomatoes. I'm not sure if that's what was in their sauce, but they do have a lighter flavor which could be described as bright.
posted by Constant Reader at 7:27 AM on April 11, 2008

A quick google search also brought up this article by someone else seeking the sauce.
posted by Constant Reader at 7:30 AM on April 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

I've never had Bertucci's.

Whenever I work with tomatoes, I've found if I cut the watery seedy part out of the tomato and leave the thick flesh (so it looks like a spoked wheel) it really cuts down on the acidity.
posted by adamwolf at 7:37 AM on April 11, 2008

Response by poster: Hmmm… interesting. I’m not sure I’ve ever had their pasta. Is the pasta sauce the same as the pizza sauce? Maybe I’ll try that tonight.
posted by bondcliff at 7:38 AM on April 11, 2008

CR and adamwolf probably have the hint: plum tomatoes have much less pulp and water, so you don't have to cook the sauce down as long and get a brighter flavor. Also, maybe a tiny bit of lemon juice?
posted by nicwolff at 8:03 AM on April 11, 2008

I used to work in a traditional-style italian trattoria, and we made the pizza sauce as follows: crushed whole, ripe plum tomatoes in a large blender - about a gallon at a time - along with a couple cloves of garlic (not a lot), a couple leaves of basil, and one tablespoon of sugar. No salt.

The sugar makes a huge difference, and so does fresh plum tomatoes. There are some good brands of canned plum tomatoes that work well too - in some cases better than fresh - look for imported from Italy brands like Pomi.
posted by Miko at 8:05 AM on April 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

you don't have to cook the sauce down as long

We didn't cook it at all. It cooked on the pizza.
posted by Miko at 8:06 AM on April 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

You mention visiting pizza nerd forums. Have you tried asking there? A quick search at one of my references,, suggests Bertucci's might be using crushed Roma tomatoes. You might be able to dig up more info over there.
posted by kepano at 8:14 AM on April 11, 2008

Response by poster: Like Miko, I usually add the tomatoes right to the pizza without cooking it down. Even if I make a "sauce" I usually just mix the ingredients in a bowl before putting it on the pizza.

I'm a disciple of Peter Reinhart. American Pie is my pizza bible.
posted by bondcliff at 8:14 AM on April 11, 2008

Ah, tomatoes. The only food improved by canning.

Miko is right. There are several imported brands of canned tomatoes that make an excellent sauce base. I won't recommend a brand, because I imagine it varies wildly by region and availability.

But a canned tomato (and use whole or crushed tomatoes, not sauce or paste) becomes sweeter due to the reaction of the natural acids with the aluminum in the can -- there will be less need to add sugar to cut the acidity when working with a canned product.

Keep opening cans until you find the right one, I say.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 8:21 AM on April 11, 2008

I'm trying to remember which company my Bertucci's purchased their goods from. I don't know the name, but remember the delivery truck having a very colorful, mural-like illustration on the side of an Italian looking young woman with dark hair surrounded by a cornucopia of food items. I have no idea if that helps, but figured it might narrow down what brand of tomatoes were used.
posted by Constant Reader at 8:26 AM on April 11, 2008

Not exactly what you're looking for, but in terms of secret pizza sauce ingredients, a friend of mine used to work at Pizza Romano in Boston's Kenmore Square back in the early 90s and said that they used to add a can of orange soda (Sunkist) to each batch of sauce. Perhaps there's some equally mysterious ingredient at work here as well.
posted by FreezBoy at 8:30 AM on April 11, 2008

I think Muir Glen tomatoes might get you on the right track. I eat their ground peeled tomatoes right out of the can - delicious.
posted by rachelpapers at 8:34 AM on April 11, 2008

Italian-import tomatoes on the consumer market are generally packed in puree rather than juice (I think I read that it's for some arcane import tax reason), which to my tongue adds a cooked taste that might be impeding the "brightness" you're looking for. Muir Glen tomatoes, which rachelpapers mentioned, are packed in juice and have the tastiest out-of-the-can flavor of any canned tomato I've tried.

So my recommendation is to buy diced or whole Muir Glen tomatoes and blend or mash them to the crushed-tomato consistency you want. If you get whole ones I would drain and seed them first.
posted by bcwinters at 9:54 AM on April 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

Well, usually in food, "brightness" = acidity. I know you've tried a bunch of things, but have you tried combinations of a little bit of sugar with something acidic- like red wine, or balsamic vinegar? There may be herbs lending a fresh taste as well. I find that fresh marjoram gives a sweet, bright green hint to the flavor of tomatoes. Fresh basil is another possibility- you would add small amounts to your sauce at the very end of cooking. They may even add a bit of fruity olive oil to their sauce.

Perhaps a side-by-side comparison of your sauce with Bertucci's would help isolate the flavor that's missing.
posted by oneirodynia at 11:09 AM on April 11, 2008

I like using Contadina brand crushed tomatoes. Their cans say they use "roma" tomatoes- have no idea what those are, but they taste much "brighter" to me. Pour a can in a saucepan, insert spices and a splash of olive oil, and then simmer real, real low for an hour or so. Not even a simmer really- steam rising, but no bubbles.

Alton Brown's advice is to used peeled whole tomatoes. Strain the juice out and reduce that juice to a syrup. Meanwhile, cut the tomatoes and scoop and discard all the gross pulp and seeds inside, then roast those in the oven. Recombine the roasted tomatoes with the syrup and mash to desired consistency.
posted by gjc at 11:05 AM on April 12, 2008

I think the key here is that you say you are using crushed tomatoes. Bought crushed? Because you would be amazed at the difference in taste when you take a moment to buy whole canned tomatoes and smush them up yourself, versus buying them pre-smushed. Seriously. I don't understand why anyone buys cans of crushed tomatoes.
posted by CunningLinguist at 1:37 PM on April 12, 2008

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