If you've been eyeing those gorgeous tomatoes at the farmers market and wondering what it might take to transform them into jars of delicious red sauce, wonder no more. Here is everything you need to know to make a moderate-sized batch of tomato sauce for your pantry (or freezer!), from picking the right tomatoes to packing the sauce into jars.
Fifteen pounds of fresh tomatoes. One afternoon. Eight pints of sauce. It's go time.
Homemade Tomato Sauce: Watch the Video
Fresh Tomato Sauce From Scratch
Making tomato sauce isn't very hard, but it's definitely labor-intensive. Even the relatively small amount that we're making here — just enough for a few special mid-winter meals — will take you a solid afternoon of work from start to finish. If you want to make a larger batch, give yourself even more time for the project and think about recruiting some extra hands to help you out.
If you've never made tomato sauce from fresh tomatoes before, this is a good place to start. The amount isn't overwhelming, but you'll make enough to justify the afternoon. It's also a small enough amount that you can freeze the whole batch if you don't feel like canning it.
Bottom line: Grab yourself some tomatoes and make yourself some tomato sauce this weekend. You won't regret it.
Choosing Tomatoes for Sauce: Big Boys are Best
Any tomato that tastes good to you can be used to make tomato sauce; it's really that simple. Romas and other paste tomatoes are often recommended for canning because they generally have more flesh with less juice and fewer seeds. However, they are smaller (which means more up-front prep work), and I often find that their flavor isn't as good as other tomatoes. I used Big Boy tomatoes — your basic summer slicing tomato — for the batch I made for this post and couldn't be happier. If you like what you start with, you'll like what you finish with.
Another factor to consider is the cost of the tomatoes. Anything more than a dollar a pound, and the cost-effectiveness of this home canning project starts to plummet. A friend of mine who tries to can around 180 pounds of tomatoes each summer says she doesn't pay much attention to the particular tomato variety; she just picks up what she can find for cheap. This often means buying in bulk directly from farms or picking your own — or even better, growing your own if you can!
Key Steps for Tomato Sauce
- Set Up Assembly Line Processing. Prepping the tomatoes for the sauce is the most time consuming part of this afternoon project, but if you get yourself organized before you begin, the work will move quickly. Set yourself up with all the tomatoes bottoms up on sheet pan, bring a large pot of water to a boil and then set an ice bath and compost bowl near by for peeling.
- Chunky or Puréed Sauce? To save ourselves a bit of work, I recommend chopping the tomatoes in a food processor or blender before cooking them. A few pulses will make a chunky sauce, and longer processing will make a very smooth sauce. Conversely, if you like a very chunky sauce, skip this step altogether and let the tomatoes break down naturally as they simmer. You can also chop the tomatoes by hand, run them through a food mill, or purée them with a stick blender after they've been cooking.
- How Long to Cook the Sauce? I give a cooking range of 30 minutes to 90 minutes (1 1/2 hours). Shorter cooking times will yield a thinner sauce with a fresher tomato flavor; longer cooking times will thicken your sauce and give it a cooked flavor. Watch your sauce as it simmers and stop cooking when it reaches a consistency and flavor you like.
Storing and Serving Fresh Tomato Sauce
Let the sauce cool, then transfer it into freezer containers or freezer bags. Sauce can be kept frozen for at least 3 months before starting to develop freezer burn or off-flavors.
If you're feeling particularly industrious you can also hot water can the tomato sauce by moving the hot sauce to sterilized canning jars, sealing tightly with new lids and boiling for 30 minutes. Want to read more about hot water canning? Here's our quick guide.
This sauce is the most basic tomato sauce there is — just tomatoes and some lemon juice to bump up the acidity to safe levels for canning. You can add seasonings like garlic, onions, or herbs, but I like the fact that this is a neutral base for whatever recipe I want to make, from weeknight pizzas to a fancy lasagna. Just avoid using oil if you're planning to can your sauce, as this can potentially be a source for botulism.
Want to Make Tomato Sauce with Canned Tomatoes?
Check out this tutorial for making tomato sauce with canned tomatoes: How To Make Marinara Sauce