Tomato-Basil Simmer Sauce with Roasted Garlic {For Canning!}

Tomato Basil SauceKate and I are definitely lovers of sauces and spreads.  We make a mean BBQ Sauce, delectably sweet caramel, and chocolate sauces, fantastically flavorful green chili sauce and flavored butters and sandwich spreads galore.  And we get email after email after email saying, “Hey, I love this!  I want 48 bottles on my shelf all at once!  Can I can it?”  And our answer is always the same:  sorry, no dice.  Canning is a science, and it’s really important that you only can recipes that are formulated and tested for safe home canning.  I’ve had loads of people emailing in that they’re loving our Fresh Tomato Basil Sauce from our latest cook book.  It’s one of my summer favorites, too! But alas, it wasn’t meant for canning (freezing however is A-Okay.)  So for those of you who like me, have ripening red tomatoes in the garden, and want to preserve every last drop, I bring you this simple sauce, made for home canning!

Basket of Tomatoes

Now, I feel like I need to warn you if you’ve never canned tomato sauces before.  The first time I ever tried, it literally took me ALL day.  I labored, I toiled, I peeled, I chopped, and I simmered.  And when I was done I had like, 2 jars of sauce and I wanted to cry.  How those 427 pounds (slight exaggeration) of tomatoes boiled down to 2 measly jars was mind boggling to me.   That being said, I’ve really learned how to streamline the process (see my note later in this post about prepping and freezing tomatoes) so it’s not a huge process for me.  This recipe still only produces 6 pints (pints are fairly small jars) so I usually do it once or twice during the summer.  But for me it’s totally worth it when I crack open one of those lids and taste fresh summer tomatoes.  I save these sauces for special things like homemade pasta, fresh breadsticks, or a  yummy simmered chicken dish.  As opposed to like, dumping it over spaghetti noodles for my kids on a hurried weeknight.  I want them to appreciate that darn sauce!  They always think it’s cool when I remind them that they helped pick those very tomatoes.

Picking Tomatoes

We’ll need to start by peeling the tomatoes.  When I can salsa, I never peel my tomatoes, but for something like a delicate sauce, I think it’s always better to peel.  This is super easy, and just like we do peaches.  Start by making a small “X” incision on the bottom of each tomato, just barely piercing through the skin.

Marked TomatoesPlace tomatoes in a large pot of boiling water.  It just takes about 30-60 seconds; I watch for the skin to just start splitting like in this picture below.  If you wait too long, the delicate tomatoes turn to mush under that skin, so remove them when the just start to crack like this:

Split TomatoesAnd plunge them immediately in a bow of ice water.

Tomatoes in Ice WaterThe skin should peel right off rather easily.

Peeling a TomatoLeaving you soft, juicy skinless tomatoes. Now, you might be noticing how beautifully perfect these tomatoes are.  I’m using a few gorgeous, round ones for this tutorial because I knew they’d be the best for demonstrating the technique.

Peeled TomatoesBut be aware (lest you think I have some super human ability to grow perfect produce) that most of my garden tomatoes end up looking like this:

Peeled Garden TomatoesMisshapen and imperfect, like me.  Since I don’t always have 12 pounds of tomatoes sitting around at once, and the peeling process can be tedious, what I often do is peel small batches at a time, just whenever I have a good picking, and pop them in the freezer.  I always weigh them first and label the bag so as soon as I have enough, I can use them in a recipe like this.  I do the same thing for my salsa, just with diced tomatoes.  It makes the whole canning process so much more manageable.

Frozen Peeled TomatoesOnce your tomatoes are peeled, take a knife and gently remove the core if needed (sometimes you don’t even need to on small tomatoes.)  I use a set-up like this photo below with a large cutting board set over my sink.  I very roughly chop the tomatoes and slide them into the bowl below, and any garbage just goes into the sink and down the drain.  Don’t stress about chopping too well, the tomatoes simmer for so long that they’ll get totally broken up on their own.

Counter Set-up for TomatoesOnce they’re all in the pot, add some sugar, salt, pepper, and balsamic vinegar.  All of those ingredients really enhance the natural flavors in the tomatoes.

Sauce FlavoringsBring that mixture to a boil on the stove and then reduce it to a steady simmer.  You’ll notice it’s very watery, and that’s okay.  This sauce will simmer for about an hour and a half, uncovered, so the extra moisture evaporates and the flavors are concentrated.  The original recipe suggests simmering for 70-80 minutes, and I’d say I do closer to 90.  My mixture started about 2 inches from the top of that pot when I started, so you can see how far down it’s moved.

Simmering Tomato Sauce
When it’s done simmering, we’ll add in some roasted garlic.  You can have this roasting while your sauce simmers and it will have plenty of time to cook and cool off a bit.  Also your house will smell like heaven.  (For a tutorial on how to roast garlic, click here.)

Roasted Garlic
Next in goes a bunch of fresh basil,

Fresh Basiland then a cup of any assorted herbs you like.  You could just add more basil if you want; I added stuff I have in my garden right now, lots of oregano, a little thyme and sage and some rosemary.

Fresh HerbsLadle the sauce into hot canning jars that have a little lemon juice in them (necessary for acidity purposes for safe canning- don’t skip it.)  See how dark and gorgeous that is?

Home Canned Tomato Basil Sauce with Roasted Garlic from Our Best Bites
After placing lids and rings on the jars, you just process them in a waterbath canner.  Don’t let a canning term scare you- all you’re doing is placing your jars in a large pot of simmering water!  So easy!  You don’t even have to have a big special canning pot, it just needs to be able to have the jars covered by an inch or two of water, and fit some sort of rack on the bottom of it for good circulation (a round cake cooking rack works well).  Then you’re all set to enjoy your garden-in-a-jar during some cold winter months.  Doesn’t this jar look so cute all dressed up for gifting?  Well it’s just a clever ruse.  I give away jams and jellies without a second thought, but I hoard every last jar of this sauce for myself.

Home Canned Tomato Basil Simmer Sauce with Roasted Garlic

Try this sauce on pasta, or used to simmer chicken or bake eggs. I’ve even added chicken broth and crumbled Italian sausage and veggies for an amazing tomato soup.

And if you’re curious about how that jar is prettied up, see comment #6 below for info on the brown labels, and I just wrapped some washi tape around the ring!




And pssst…new secret dinner recipe was just added to the Timeless Originals Channel!  It involves chicken, cheese, and breadcrumbs.  Can’t go wrong there.  Click Here to find it!

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Meet The Author

Sara Wells

Sara Wells co-founded Our Best Bites in 2008. She is the author of three Bestselling Cook Books, Best Bites: 150 Family Favorite RecipesSavoring the Seasons with Our Best Bites, and 400 Calories or Less from Our Best Bites. Sara’s work has been featured in many local and national news outlets and publications such as Parenting MagazineBetter Homes & GardensFine CookingThe Rachel Ray Show and the New York Times.

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Questions & Reviews

    1. Tomatoes don’t have to be pressure canned unless non-acidic ingredients are added. Tomatoes are on the line between being acidic enough to can using only a waterbath and having to pressure can. The lemon juice in the recipe adds additional acidity (and it’s better to use store bought as store bought has a standard acidity whereas an individual lemon’s acidity level can vary).
      For this recipe, even though the garlic and herbs are non-acidic, there is basalmic vinegar (acidic), sugar (natural preservative), salt (natural preservative), and lemon juice (acidic). These ingredients outweigh the non-acidic/non preservative nature of the herbs & garlic.

  1. Do you have a printable template for your label? I love it and love the idea of gifting the sauce.

    You guys are awesome! Keep up the good cookin’

  2. Can you use honey in place of brown sugar? One of my kids is on a special diet and can’t have sugar.

  3. Do the processing times differ if I use quarts instead of pints? Does elevation matter too? Am I over-complicating this? haha

  4. Thank you for posting this. I love the idea of freezing the tomatoes. Quick question on the basil and other herbs- do you measure before you chop or chop and then measure? Thanks.

    1. Measure, then chop. When reading a recipe, you can always tell because it will be written one of these ways:

      “2 cups lightly packed fresh basil leaves, chopped”


      “2 cups chopped fresh basil leaves”

      The same goes for things like nuts, or even melted butter. “2 tablespoons butter, melted” vs. “2 tablespoons melted butter” Make sense? Hope that helps!

  5. Here’s a little trick for streamlining the process even more. If you wash and freeze the tomatoes WITHOUT peeling them, you can run some warm water over the frozen tomatoes before cooking and the skin will peel right off! It’s super fast and easy!!

  6. Hello ladies! Love the blog. I recently discovered citric acid for canning tomatoes. If the flavor of the bottled lemon juice bothers you, you just add 1/4 tsp of citric acid per pint or 1/2 per quart of tomato recipe. Ball makes it, and I found it at Walmart with all the other canning stuff, so I assume you could probably buy it anywhere you buy canning products.

  7. I made this recipe at the beginning of summer and it is good. Can I ask where you got your cute labels and rings for the jars?

    1. Tish, see comment 6.1 for the answer to the labels. For the lid, I just wrapped some washi tape around the ring!

  8. Does the lemon juice need to be real juice from fresh lemons or can you use the stuff in a bottle? The recipe sounds delicious!

  9. This is exactly the time of year when I run out of last year’s canned tomato sauce and need to make more. Whoo hoo! I’m excited to try this.

  10. I couldn’t help but laugh out loud when you said you’re dressed up marinara was just a ruse. I’m the exact same way- this is too precious a commodity to be handing out as gifts. I, too, hoard all the tomatoes I put up! I have a ton of tomatoes waiting to be put up- sauce is on my list!!

    1. Haha, glad I’m not the only one Kelley! But just so you know- if you come over for dinner I’ll totally share 😉

  11. Okay you seriously answered my prayers! I wanted to can some tomato sauce but wasn’t sure if I could just can my recipe or needed to find one that was specific for canning. Also, I wanted one that was tried and tested and tasted awesome. Thanks so much for this recipe!!!

  12. What a brilliant idea to freeze the tomatoes in little batches! We also have a garden and I never seem to have enough in one batch to do much. Do you let the tomatoes thaw before you use them? Or just chop them up when they are frozen?

    1. I set them on the counter and chop them when they’re half-way defrosted, but either way works!

    2. If you’re going to freeze the tomatoes, you don’t need to peel them first. Just core them. When you want to use the tomatoes, take them out of the freezer, and the skins will just slip off when they’re about halfway thawed.

  13. I can not seem to find your recipe for Fresh tomato Basil Sauce that can be frozen. You mentioned it today’s blog on your Tomato Basil Simmer Sauce for canning, but I can’t locate it using the search. thanks! Jan Brower

  14. This is the sauce I can every year and I even got my mom hooked on it! It’s wonderful.

  15. Love this recipe- but I don’t really have access to canning equipment. Could you freeze it? Thanks!

  16. SO excited about this recipe! I’ve been wanting to make my own spaghetti sauce for a while now but was too nervous to try any recipes! Glad it’s on a site that I trust now! 🙂

  17. This looks great! Now I need your canned salsa recipe! I didn’t see it anywhere. Did I miss it?

  18. Hi Sara, I have a bowl of tomatoes on my counter, yipee! 🙂 Am I losing my mind? I didn’t see the amount of garlic in the recipe…

    1. Ha, no- apparently I’m the one losing my mind 😉 I’ll add that important part in!

  19. Ok. I am an awful person. All I can think of after this beautiful post is that I am writhing with jealousy that you have a pebble ice machine in your kitchen. I know envy is a deadly sins, but I am hot and I have an unnatural love for pebble ice. Sigh. Maybe I’ll go eat a fresh tomato to make myself feel better.

    1. Allison, if I ever win the lottery and become ridiculously rich, I am going to buy everyone I know (you included) a pebble ice machine.

  20. Thank you! I usually make my own spaghetti sauce from scratch every time I need it. Now I will just do a GIANT batch of this, can it, and not have to worry about making it on the spot anymore. Any chance you might let us download that cute label too?

    1. Kristin, those cute labels are from Avery’s Martha Stewart Line (these ones). I just downloaded the template on my computer and then added in my text- and didn’t even save it! But I love that line of labels; they’re pretty easy to use and fun to design yourself!

      1. You are awesome, I just went and grabbed some today. I am determined to have cute gifts for my VT ladies this month 🙂 Thank you again!

  21. Looks delicious, if I end up with enough tomatoes i will have to try this. How many pints does this recipe make?

  22. Thank you for posting this recipe with such great step-by-step instructions! This is my first year canning produce from our garden and trees and your canning tutorials have kept me going!! So far … the peach bbq sauce has been my favorite, we’ve had it on roasted chicken, salmon and glazed over pork ribs and it is fabulous!! I’m hoping we have enough tomatoes hanging on to make this sauce as well. Thank you for all you do 🙂

    1. I’m so glad Meredith! I have a crazy good jam recipe I’m thinking of posting…maybe soon!

      1. Yes! Thank you so much! Last year, I had SO MANY tomatoes that I finally just cried uncle…freezing to use later is genius! (and I would love the jam recipe! I make a year of jam at a time, and I’m on my last couple jars!)

  23. I make around 150 pints of spaghetti sauce each year (4 kids- busy lifestyle- spaghetti and ravioli are a quick meal favorite). Instead of chopping I put in blender before I put in jars. But my husband doesn’t like chunky tomatoes. And then the kids don’t notice the peppers, onions and celery either because its blended. I prefer chunky- but not like I’m going to make a special jar just for me. I will try this recipe though- and I love your freezing peeled tomatoes idea! I’ve just been doing 1/2 store bought:1/2 home grown because I never have quite enough to make a few batches- and if I’m canning the darn stuff I’m making it worth my time.

    1. One of our favorite farm shops sells Tomato seconds that have about 10 pounds of Tomatoes per box. I think I’m going to try this.

  24. Just wondering if you have ever run them through a food mill instead of peeling and cutting?

    1. I haven’t, but you totally could. I just really like my sauce on the chunkier side. I like the idea of not peeling though!