I know most red sauces come in glass jars. It’s one of those foods where plastic can easily be avoided, so yes, making sauce for the winter technically isn’t a necessity. But in my family, canning tomato sauce from scratch has always been an annual routine.
Growing up, my father kept a garden right outside of our home, so when August hit it was just a matter of time until “Tomato Sauce Saturday” would commence. My mother would grab buckets of tomatoes from the garden to clean, boil, peel, and process into the most delicious red sauce you could possibly comprehend.
She comes from an Italian background, so I’ll avoid the whole “trying to be humble” thing and tell you that this red sauce is damn good. Mom learned from my grandmother, who is 100 percent Italian and 100 percent amazing.
I always watched my mom and grandma canning tomato sauce at the end of the summer, but never actually partook in the festivities. It was another thing I watched my parents do while I flitted around my house writing stories in my diary or making up dance routines. It wasn’t until college that I realized how spoiled I was when it came to red sauce. It took me years to actually buy a jar of red sauce in the store because it could never compare.
As I have gotten older and started to truly appreciate the recipes and traditions passed down from my family, I have grown a special love for the tomato sauce my grandmother makes. Which is why I felt it was necessary to learn her process on how to can tomato sauce for the entire winter!
Now before we get into the details for the recipe, there are a few things you need to learn about the process of canning tomato sauce.
Making the sauce
Check for impurities: The last thing you want is a moldy tomato blended up in your delicious sauce! Make sure to chop off the parts of the tomato that aren’t looking too hot. If this means cutting the tomato in half, make sure to leave that out of the group of tomatoes to boil. It could get messy real fast. But if it’s just a small sliver of the tomato, feel free to still boil.
Add tomato to boiling water: This makes the tomatoes easy to peel. When you add the tomato to boiling water, it takes about three minutes for the tomato to split. Once they split, remove the tomatoes and add them to ice-cold water. Once they are cool enough to hold, peel away. Make sure to also remove the cores, they can be tough in a sauce.
Use a food processor: Both for the extra vegetables and the tomatoes! Use the vegetables first (onions, garlic, basil) and process until it’s pulverized. Do the same for the tomatoes: Process until they are smooth, almost like juice.
Cook add-ins with oil first: Add olive oil to a large, warm pot. Cook the pulverized vegetables (onions, garlic, basil) on there for a minute or two before adding in the processed tomatoes.
Boil the sauce, then turn it to a simmer: After adding in the extra spices (to taste), bring the sauce to a boil. Once it boils, have it go down to a simmer. Never cover the pot. If you cover it, the moisture is trapped in there, making your sauce watery. You want to keep the lid open and let the smell float through your home. I promise it won’t be a disappointing experience.
Use an immersion blender: After many, many hours, use an immersion blender to make the sauce smooth. Now, this step is optional! If you like a chunkier sauce, leave it be. But I’m a fan of a smooth sauce, so I use the blender to make it smooth.
Keep the sauce warm: Throughout the process, you want to keep the sauce warm. It helps with canning tomato sauce later. Basically, if you’re going to blend your sauce, you should be ready to start canning soon.
Canning the sauce
Boil the jars & lids first: This is probably the biggest lesson I learned throughout the whole process. If you want your sauce to sit preserved in a jar for months, you need to make sure the jar and lid are completely clean. Boiling them is the best way to ensure that the jars are fully clean of any extra germs. We use these canning jars for our sauce.
Clean utensils with boiling water: Same concept as the jars! Make sure the utensils you are using (ladles, spoons, jar magnets) are all clean of extraneous food/germs before using them to jar the sauce.
Use lemon juice to preserve: Another fun trick I learned, this one from my mom! Sprinkle in a half teaspoon of lemon juice (for 2 cups, use 1 teaspoon for 4) in the jar before adding the sauce to it. Do the same to the top of the sauce after adding in the jar as well. The lemon juice will work as a preservative during those long winter months!
Do not fill jars all the way: The last thing you want is a jar explosion in your pantry! Make sure to leave some space so the jar can properly seal. Our rule of thumb is to stop adding sauce when you hit the lines where the lid screws on.
Use a proper canning pot: You can’t just put cans in boiling water, you actually need a canning pot and wire rack for this endeavor. My mom and grandma actually got theirs over at Walmart, but there’s a cheap one over on Amazon that’s got some good reviews.
Place the jars in hot water: Add cold water to the canning pot (with the wire rack already in place) and start to bring it to a boil. When the water starts to get super warm, add the jars in.
Boil the jars for 45 minutes: Do not start the timer until the water is officially at a boil! You can cover the canning pot so it will boil faster. Once it’s boiling, remove the lid and leave it uncovered during the 45 minutes. Yes, use a timer!
Remove the jars and wait for the seal: After the 45 minutes are over, remove the jars immediately. We covered the counter with an old beach towel so the hot jars had somewhere to go. After a few minutes, you should hear a small popping noise as the jars start to seal. If you didn’t hear a pop, you can check for a seal by looking to see if the small bump in the center finally pressed down on its’ own.
Twist the lid tight: Once the jars cool, this the lid tight! It may be a bit loose after the canning process. Don’t worry, the jars are still properly sealed! This just ensures that they are nice and tight for proper storing.
Voila! You now have red sauce for an entire year. Or less, depending on how often you decide to eat up your sauce. I have learned that 25 pounds of tomatoes make about 40 cups of sauce (20 small jars, or 8-10 large jars). So if you need more (or less) than that, grab tomatoes accordingly.
Here’s the Italian tomato sauce recipe! Make a huge batch and store for later, or you can simply cut this recipe into 1/4 and have some sauce for a few meals during the week.
Italian Tomato Sauce
- 25 pounds tomatoes
- 4 onions
- 10-15 garlic cloves
- 3-4 handfuls fresh basil
- 1 28 oz. can tomato puree
- Salt, to taste
- Olive Oil
- Parsley (dried, optional)
- Oregano (dried, optional)
- To cook the tomatoes: Check for any “impurities” (terrible bruises, moldy spots) of the tomatoes, and chop off those parts to discard. Boil the tomatoes for three minutes, or until they start to split and peel. Take the tomatoes out and place them in ice cold water to cool off. Once cool, peel off the skin. Use a knife to cut out the core.
- In a food processor add the onions, garlic cloves, fresh basil, salt, and any other spices you would like (I add parsley and oregano to mine). Process until it’s a thick paste.
- Heat up olive oil in a large pot (you probably will need to split this up into two pots). Add the onion/garlic/basil mixture to the pot and cook until fragrant.
- Add the tomatoes to the food processor. You’ll probably do this a few times to get all the tomatoes through. Once they are completely blended through (almost like a thick smoothie) add to the pot.
- Bring the sauce to a boil. Once boiling, turn the stove on “low” or simmer
- Add the tomato puree, which makes the sauce thick. If you want it even thicker, add another can or so of tomato puree until it is thick to your likeness.
- Let it sit for a while! Make sure to stir every now and then.
- If you want a smoother sauce, use an immersion blender after a few hours of simmering. The blending shouldn’t take long, maybe 2 or 3 minutes.