Basic Tomato Sauce

Posted on September 13, 2012


My "drought-weary" bitter melon vine

My Internet is back, finally (damn you, Comcast). But the canning crunch is really on now. It’s amazing how quickly it seems we went from long, hot, sticky days to comfortably-warm afternoons and evenings to down-right chilly mornings and nights. Heck, my porch has become a temporary veggie “crisper” at night since I currently have more produce than I can fit into my standard-sized refrigerator.

Morning glories and Kentucky Wonder beans in the LG

As was pointed out in my farm’s CSA newsletter this week, our steady descent into the cooler part of the year means not only the arrival of New England’s finest landscapes and flavors, but also the demise of several summer crops, including the coveted tomato. While I originally wanted to put up loads of tomato products this year, I fear that a few of these items will have to wait until next season (right along with any and all intent I had to try my hand at pressure canning). Because if by the powers of the universe (and my bank account, schedule, stovetop capacity…) I was allowed only ONE tomato product to preserve, I assure you it would be basic tomato sauce. Granted my circumstance isn’t that dire, the tomato harvest will end sooner rather than later, and the five quarts of sauce I put by yesterday are simply not enough!

Tomatoes and peaches on the porch

This past weekend I purchased three cases of what I call field tomatoes (not sure of the exact variety, but let’s just say they are red and generally somewhere between the size of a baseball and softball) with the intent to put them up sauced. Any seasoned canner knows that there are more preferred varieties, notably plum-types, better suited for jarring due to their lower water content. But my market’s vendors never seem to carry this variety, and so I have learned to love and accept that fact that my sauce will a) take longer to cook down, and b) remain thinner than desired anyways because I’m too impatient to reduce the volume by a full half. It’s all good, though.

Zucchini "noodles" with sauted summer veggies and tomato sauce

The thinner sauce acts as a perfect base to a jazzed-up sauce (add some fresh peppers, onions, mushrooms, herbs) or meal-in-a-pan (sauteed veggies doused with sauce will quickly “tighten up” over a high flame). In the photo above, I’ve featured the sauce in a new late summer favorite: raw zucchini “noodles” with sauteed vegetables (in order of when they hit the pan: garlic, onion, red bell pepper, summer squash, Kentucky wonder beans, Swiss chard), fresh basil, and grated parmesan. High in nutrients and fiber, gluten-free, and vegan sans cheese, this dish satisfies my craving for a warm meal but uses up those summer staples that continue to overwhelm my fridge ( … and porch). The “noodles” are easily and quickly made with the help of a julienne peeler I purchased at Whole Foods.

Tomato sauce

Basic Tomato Sauce

Makes about 5 quarts


  • about 15 lbs tomatoes, washed, cored*, and quartered
  • about 2 cups onion, chopped
  • 4-6 cloves garlic, minced,
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tbsp dry oregano
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 1 tsp red pepper flake
  • salt and pepper to taste (optional)
  • lemon juice

*Includes stem and blossom ends


Prepare tomatoes as indicated. Saute onions and garlic in olive oil in a large, non-reactive sauce pot. Add the tomatoes, oregano, bay leaves, red pepper flake, and sugar, stirring well to combine. If using, add some salt and pepper, but not too much (at this point, I added just over a tablespoon salt and less than a teaspoon white pepper); you will likely want to add more of these later, when the sauce has reduced and is closer to the consistency of the intended finished product. Simmer the sauce for about 20 minutes; remove the bay leaves and, if desired, carefully puree the sauce with an immersion blender. Continue to cook the pulp, uncovered, over medium-high heat until the sauce thickens and reduces by about half; stir frequently while it cooks to prevent sticking and scorching. Add 1 tablespoon of lemon juice to each pint jar or 2 tablespoons to each quart jar; ladle hot sauce into hot jars, leaving 1/2-inch headspace. Wipe rims, adjust two-piece caps, and process pints for 35 minutes, quarts for 40 minutes, in a boiling water bath canner.

Recipe slightly adapted from Ball’s Blue Book Guide to Preserving.