Kate 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!
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.
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.
Place 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:
Leaving 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.
Misshapen 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.
Once 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.
Bring 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.
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.)
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.
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!
Tomato Basil Simmer Sauce with Roasted Garlic
Recipe from BHG
This recipe has been written specifically for, and tested, for safe home canning. Do not stray from the recipe to ensure food safety. If you’d like to alter the ingredients and or/ratios, feel free to freeze the sauce instead of canning it. You can also adjust the flavor after opening sealed jars to use them- try sauteing Italian sausage and onions and adding the sauce to simmer, or adding fresh grated Parmesan cheese.
For an intro to home water bath canning (easy!) Click Here.
12 lbs ripe tomatoes (about 25 good size plum tomatoes), peeled
3 tablespoons packed brown sugar
2 tablespoons kosher salt or 4 teaspoons table salt
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 cups lightly packed fresh basil leaves, chopped
1 cup lightly packed assorted fresh herbs (such as oregano, thyme, parsley, etc.)
6 tablespoons lemon juice
3 tablespoons minced roasted garlic (about 2 heads of garlic)
Cut peeled tomatoes into large chunks and place them in 7- to 8-quart nonreactive (that means avoid aluminum. Go for stainless steel or enamel covered cast iron like Le Crueset) heavy pot. Add brown sugar, salt, vinegar, and black pepper to the tomato mixture. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to a steady simmer (it should be bubbling all over). Continue to simmer, uncovered, for 70 to 80 minutes (a little longer if necessary), stirring occasionally, until mixture is reduced to about 11 cups and is desired sauce consistency. Remove from heat; stir in herbs and garlic.
Spoon 1 tablespoon lemon juice into each of six hot, clean pint canning jars (or do 2 tablespoons in each of 3 larger quart jars). Ladle sauce into jars with lemon juice, leaving 1/2-inch headspace. Wipe the jar rims; adjust lids. Process filled jars in a boiling-water canner for 35 minutes (start time when water returns to a full boil). Remove jars; cool on wire racks. Sauce is shelf stable for up to one year.
Optional add-ins: Stir in 1 tablespoon crushed red pepper flakes with the herbs for a spicy sauce. Or for a double-tomato sauce, add in 1 cup snipped dried tomatoes (not oil packed) with the herbs.