Lots of people like pizza without cheese – in traditional Neapolitan cooking this is called pizza marinara. But what about pizza without sauce? Can pizza without sauce still be considered pizza?
A pizza without tomato sauce is still pizza, in fact it’s called pizza bianca, or white pizza, and it has become incredibly popular the world over. White pizza can come in many forms, but it typically includes cheese and seasonings as a base and leafy greens like arugula on top. White pizza is often served with “soft” cheeses like ricotta or creams instead of tomato sauce.
But there’s more to pizza than just cheese and tomato sauce. Let’s get into the history of pizza and why it hasn’t always included tomato sauce, as well as some delicious ideas for your next white pizza dinner.
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Pizza Without Sauce – “White Pizza” – Is A Very Old Tradition
Pizza didn’t begin on the streets of Naples or New York just over the last few centuries, it actually has a long tradition stretching back thousands of years or more.
The history of pizza is a subject of ongoing debate and research. There is no definitive “origin” of the pizza as we know it today, but we can find various foods in the historical record that we can attribute as influencing the current dish.
Most of these historical pizza-like dishes come in the form of flatbreads, or pitas, topped with various cheeses and vegetables. In ancient Persia, soldiers in the 6th century BC were known for baking flatbreads topped with dates and cheese on their battle shields. In ancient Greece, it was common for people to eat a kind of flatbread topped with garlic, onion, cheese and herbs. There is even a reference in the ancient Greek Aeneid from over 2000 years ago of soldiers eating round pita breads topped with vegetables (source).
In every one of these references to pizza precursors, the “pizza” was eaten without tomato sauce. The reason for this is simple: tomatoes were not available in Europe until the Columbian exchange began in 1492, and the first reference of tomatoes being used in Italy did not occur until as late as 1548.
Even these early references to tomatoes are not proof that they were actually being used in cooking, let alone on pizza. For a long time, tomatoes were considered poisonous and mostly used for decoration or garnish. It would not be until the late 17th century that Italians in Naples started using tomatoes as part of their normal cuisine (source).
As you can see, the existence of “pizza” in European cuisine long predates the presence of tomatoes on the continent. For this reason, it’s difficult to argue that pizza without tomato sauce is not pizza. However, it still can be said that traditional pizza as we know it today nearly always includes some kind of tomato sauce.
What Is A Pizza Without Sauce Called?
Pizza without tomato sauce can go by lot’s of names, but it’s most commonly referred to as a white pizza, or pizza bianca. This mostly has to do with the fact that pizza without tomato sauce doesn’t have the characteristic red hue we associate with most pizza today.
This being said, not all pizza without tomato sauce can be considered a “white pizza”. For example, barbeque chicken pizza, which is common in the United States, uses barbeque sauce instead of tomato sauce. However, few if any people would consider a barbeque chicken pizza a kind of “white pizza”.
In this way, you can see that what qualifies as a “white pizza” is very subjective and often has more to do with the final color of the dish more so than the actual ingredients it contains. In some cases, you can even find “white pizza” topped with slices of tomato, which seems counterintuitive, but the lack of tomato sauce simply gives the pizza a “whiter” look to it despite still containing red tomatoes.
In most cases, traditional white pizza, or pizza bianca, is simply a crust topped with cheese, seasonings and leafy greens like arugula or fresh herbs. It’s also common to see white pizza include a base of cream or soft cheese like ricotta to add moisture that’s missing from a lack of tomato sauce.
What Can I Use Instead of Sauce On Pizza?
If you’re looking to make a pizza without tomato sauce, either because you don’t have any or because you like white pizza, thankfully there are lots of options to choose from.
Try any one of these tomato sauce alternatives on your next pizza and let us know how it turned out in the comments.
Tomato Sauce Alternatives:
- Ricotta cheese
- “white pizza sauce” (Milk, garlic, parmesan, butter, flour, salt, pepper)
- Extra virgin olive oil
- seasoned extra virgin olive oil
- simple herbs and seasoning
- Italian style dressings of your choice
- caramelized onions
- Alfredo sauce (similar to white pizza sauce)
- Olive tapenade
- Roasted pepper spread
- Sweet chili sauce
- Panna da cucina (a kind of Italian cream)
- Tzatziki sauce
- So many more…
There are so many tomato sauce alternatives for pizza that I couldn’t possibly think of them all. Do you have a favorite one you don’t see listed here? Let me know in the comments (but please don’t say ranch salad dressing…just kidding).
Simple White Pizza Recipe
- 250 g 8.5oz pizza dough ball (see the link to my recipe below if you need one)
- 50-100 g 1-3oz Mozzarella
- 2-3 pinch Grated or shredded pecorino
- 3-4 drop Ricotta dollops
- 2-3 stick Arugula leaves
- 2-3 dash Dried Oregano
- 1 tsp Extra virgin olive oil
- Roll your pizza dough into a tight ball and place it in a lightly floured plastic container or high rimmed pan with plastic wrap. Let it proof (rest) at room temperature like this for 1-2 hours.
- Carefully dump the proofed dough ball onto a clean, well floured surface. Shape or roll the dough into a round disk. Tip: If you like a puffy outer crust, make sure not to pinch or flatten the edges as you stretch it out.
- Transfer the dough to a pizza peel if you’re using a stone, or to a piece of parchment paper if you’re cooking directly on the rack.
- Spread olive oil and dried oregano on the pizza crust. Feel free to add any other seasonings you like such as basil or black pepper as well.
- Sprinkle or shred fresh pecorino cheese to your liking, but not too much. Feel free to use Parmigiano-Reggiano or regular parmesan if you prefer.
- Cut up the fresh mozzarella into cubes or batons and spread them evenly over the pizza dough. Don’t cover the entire surface unless you really like extra cheese – aim for a 50/50 split between uncovered and covered crust.
- Bake the pizza in a pre-heated oven at 500F degrees, or on a pizza stone pre-heated for at least 1 hour at 500F. Bake until the crust starts to turn a very light brown color and the cheese is melted and bubbly.
- When the pizza is finished, take it out of the oven and immediately add a few dollops of ricotta cheese and some leaves of fresh arugula to your liking.
- Feel free to add or subtract any ingredients you wish.
What Is White Pizza Sauce?
White pizza sauce is a kind of dairy based sauce that is commonly used on white pizza, or pizza bianca. White pizza sauce is made by combining milk, butter, garlic, parmesan, salt, pepper and flour and whisking it into slightly thickened kind of “gravy” that pairs well with pizza without tomato sauce. White pizza sauce is similar to Alfredo sauce except it’s thicker and doesn’t contain oil.
What Is Pizza Without Sauce Called?
Pizza without tomato sauce is typically referred to as a “white pizza”, or “pizza bianca” in Italian. This kind of pizza is not so different from other varieties of pizza except it doesn’t contain red tomato sauce. Instead, white pizza usually uses something like ricotta cheese, cream or olive oil as its base and is topped with other kinds of cheese and leafy greens like arugula and fresh herbs.
Is Pizza Without Sauce Still Pizza?
Pizza without sauce can still be considered a pizza. In fact, pizza has been made without tomato sauce for the majority of its existence. Ancient Europeans made flat breads and pitas topped with vegetables and cheese thousands of years before tomatoes were brought to Europe from the Americas. Even today, the “clam pie” pizza at Pepe’s of New Haven, one of the most acclaimed pizzas in the United States, is made without tomato sauce.
What Can Replace Tomato Sauce On Pizza?
Tomato sauce can be replaced with many different alternatives on pizza including soft cheeses, fresh herbs and olive oil. Some popular pizza sauce alternatives include: white pizza sauce, ricotta cheese, pesto, barbeque sauce, olive tapenade, Italian kitchen cream and many more.
Does Real Pizza Have Sauce?
What qualifies as “real pizza” differs from one person to the next and from one country to another. For example, many Italians would not consider much of the pizza made in America to be “real pizza”. However, national biases aside, a pizza can absolutely have no sauce and still be a real pizza. White pizza, or pizza bianca, is a very popular kind of pizza that doesn’t include tomato sauce.