I must admit that preparing, cooking, and canning homemade tomato sauce is not an easy job. But having dozens of jars with healthy and delicious sauce in the pantry for the next year is a true reward.
I’m familiar with making tomato sauce at home because my grandmother and then my mother made dozens of jars every summer. They prepared it and cooked it outdoors on a fire in the yard, to avoid heating the kitchen too much.
They used to ask me to help them with chopping the tomatoes and passing them through the tomato sauce maker. I didn't enjoy the task every time – I even remember I once crushed my finger in the sauce maker and it hurt a lot – but I’ve learned some things about homemade tomato sauce from those moments.
Preparing homemade tomato sauce with fresh tomatoes
If you use 15 pounds (6.8 kilos) of ripe tomatoes, you’ll get about 8 pints (3.8 liters) of homemade tomato sauce. Use ripe tomatoes. We recommend you use big tomatoes, like beefsteak tomatoes, because they have thick flesh.
For this quantity of tomatoes, you’ll also need 1/4 to 1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice or red wine vinegar, and about 2 teaspoons of salt (but this is optional). The cooking time will be about 1 hour.
If you decide to make more tomato sauce, you should buy tomatoes in bulk, preferably direct from farms. Also, adjust the lemon juice and salt quantities and consider a longer cooking time.
Here are the steps to follow for making tomato sauce at home:
1. Peel the tomatoes
You can simply peel the tomatoes using a knife or you can poach them. For poaching, bring a pot of water to a boil and fill a large bowl with ice and water. Core out the stems from the tomatoes and slice a shallow ‘X’ on the bottom of each tomato. Sink several tomatoes into the boiling water, depending on their size. Keep them in the water until you see the skin starting to wrinkle and split, 45 to 60 seconds. Using a slotted spoon, lift the tomatoes out and place them in the ice water. Continue with the rest of the tomatoes. At the same time, transfer the cooled tomatoes from the ice water to another large bowl. When you finish poaching and cooling the tomatoes, peel them using your hands.
2. Blend the tomatoes
Start by chopping the tomatoes coarsely. Then work in batches and blend the tomatoes into a sauce using your food processor (fitted with the blade attachment). You can either make a chunkier sauce by pulsing a few times, or make a thinner puréed sauce if you process until smooth. You can also use a food mill if you want a smoother sauce, without seeds.
3. Simmer the tomato sauce
Once you blend the tomatoes, transfer the sauce to a stock pot. Bring the tomato sauce to a simmer over medium heat. From then on, continue simmering, stirring occasionally, until the sauce reaches the taste and consistency you like, from 30 to 90 minutes.
4. Season the homemade tomato sauce
While simmering, add the lemon juice (or red wine vinegar) and salt. Adding lemon juice or vinegar is a must, to ensure a safe level of acidity for canning. Taste the sauce and add more lemon juice or vinegar if needed.
5. Preserving the sauce
If you make small amounts of tomato sauce and you plan on using it in less than 3 months, you can let it cool, transfer it to freezer containers or freezer bags, and then keep them into the freezer until you use the sauce.
When you make more tomato sauce, your best option is canning. Use our guide for canning. Canned tomato sauce can be stored in the pantry for at least 1 year. If you notice that any lids do not seal completely, refrigerate that sauce and use it within a week or freeze it for up to 3 months.
How to make your tomato sauce taste better
Most people say that the secret for a perfect homemade tomato sauce consists of ripe tomatoes and the right amount of salt. Still, everyone has their own favorite method for enriching their sauce.
Roast the tomatoes first
Roasting is one of the methods you can use for peeling the tomatoes. But roasting the fruit also changes the sauce's taste. Roasted tomatoes give a robust depth of flavor to a simple sauce.
Add garlic and/or onion
If you add pureed fresh garlic and/or onion in the food processor together with the tomatoes, you’ll have a flavored tomato sauce. Onion adds a thick texture, too.
In cooking, both red and white wine add flavor to any dish. And tomato sauce is no exception from this rule. Red wine gives the sauce richness and robustness, while white wine gives it a fruity flavor. Just make sure you add the wine early in the cooking process, just after the vegetables have softened. That way you make sure the alcohol will cook off, while its flavors remain.
For a different flavor profile, you can try adding dried oregano, thyme, parsley, basil, or chili flakes (the latter if you want to make a hot sauce). You can opt for black pepper too. Add the seasonings after you bring the sauce to a simmer, then cook them together until the sauce is ready. Taste it to try its taste and, if necessary, adjust by adding a little more salt and dried herbs.