Tomato Basil Marinara Sauce
This simple and flavorful tomato basil marinara sauce made with fresh tomatoes and plenty of herbs is the best way to enjoy the taste of summer all year long. Keep in the freezer or can it for shelf storage, I’ve got instructions for both!
Just a few years ago, any canning apart from a small batch of jam was completely beyond me. Extremely intimidating, and pretty much impossible. But thanks in part to the encouragement and inspiration from local friends, I’ve overcome my fear and discovered how doable the whole process is.
Canned marinara sauce was one of those projects that at one time I was too scared to try, and now it’s one of my favorite things to put up each fall. The process is a little long, though not difficult, and at the end you’re left with several jars of homemade marinara that will brighten even the darkest winter day.
How to make fresh tomato basil marinara sauce
There are 3 main steps to making this fresh tomato sauce— peeling and chopping the tomatoes, cooking the marinara sauce till thick, and prepping it for storage. This can be a long process (12 lbs is a lot of tomatoes to peel!), but it’s something everyone can do. I usually pick an open day late in the summer when I can multitask around the house while the sauce is cooking, etc. It’s well worth the effort, believe me!
Step 1: Peel and chop tomatoes
Do I really need to peel the tomatoes? Yes, you really should. Can I make this recipe without peeling the tomatoes? Yes, but the sauce will be filled with bits of tough, bitter peels, and no one wants that.
- Score the bottom of each tomato with a small “X”.
- Working with a few tomatoes at a time, drop into a pot of boiling water for about 30 seconds to loosen the peel.
- Transfer tomatoes to a bowl filled with ice water to stop the cooking process.
- Starting with the “X”, grab loosened peel and remove. The peels should slip right off.
- Cut tomatoes in quarters and scrape seed pockets out with your finger, then chop tomatoes into rough 1-inch pieces or use a food processor to chop tomatoes finer if you want a smoother sauce.
Step 2: Cook marinara sauce
In addition to fresh tomatoes, here are the other ingredients you’ll need:
- Brown sugar
- Balsamic vinegar
- Salt and pepper
- Fresh basil
- A handful of other fresh herbs, such as thyme, oregano, rosemary
- Bottled lemon juice (for canning only)
Cook the tomatoes with the brown sugar, balsamic vinegar, and salt and pepper until sauce is reduced and thickened. This can take up to an hour and a half, but it only needs to be stirred occasionally so feel free keep an eye on it while you do other things.
When the sauce is thick, stir in the basil and other herbs. Adding the herbs at the end gives this marinara sauce a bright and fresh herb flavor. It really will remind you of summer!
Step 3: Prep marinara sauce for storage
I like to use a water bath canning process to make this marinara sauce shelf stable for a year, but I know that’s not everyone’s preference so I’ve got instructions for both canning and freezing.
- Canning for shelf storage— Using water bath canning is easier than you think! All you need is a big pot and jars with lids. See the full instructions below in the recipe card, and if you need help my home canning tips and resources page has lots more info. Use within a year of canning.
- Freezing— This marinara sauce can be stored in plastic containers or zip-top freezer bags for up to 4 months.
More recipe tips
- Roma tomatoes are my favorite tomato to use when making marinara sauce because they are a little easier to work with, have more flesh, and fewer seeds. Look for big boxes at your farmer’s market.
- Don’t forget to wear an apron, tomatoes are messy!
- Lemon juice is required to bring the pH of the marinara to a safe place for shelf storage. It’s best to use bottled lemon juice instead of fresh as it has a more consistent acidity.
- This sauce has many uses— spoon over pasta, use it as a pizza sauce, cook it with meatballs, or serve it as a dip for garlic bread.
- Just as an FYI, the total cost per jar is approximately $5.
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This recipe was originally published September 2014.
Tomato Basil Marinara Sauce
- 12 lbs fresh tomatoes (5.5 kg), preferably Roma
- 3 tablespoons packed light or dark brown sugar
- 2 tablespoons coarse salt
- 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
- 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 2 cups packed fresh basil leaves , chopped
- 1 cup packed assorted fresh herbs (such as oregano, thyme and rosemary), chopped
- 6 tablespoons bottled lemon juice
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Prepare a large bowl with ice and water.
- With a paring knife, score a small "x" in the bottom of each tomato. Working in small batches, dip the tomatoes in boiling water for about 30 seconds, or until the flesh at the corners of the "x" appears to loosen. Immediately plunge tomatoes in the ice water.
- Beginning with the loose flesh at the "x", peel each tomato. Then cut tomatoes into quarters and squeeze out seeds and juice. Reserve skins and juice with seeds (see Step 5), set aside. Use a food processor to chop tomatoes as desired, leave them chunky or pulse until almost smooth. You can also use a knife to chop tomatoes into rough 1-inch pieces.
- Place chopped tomatoes in a large heavy-bottomed pot, and add the brown sugar, salt, balsamic vinegar, and black pepper. Bring to a boil, and then cook for 70-90 minutes until reduced and thickened.
- (Optional step) Bring tomato skins and juice with seeds to a boil in a large saucepan. Simmer for about 30 minutes until juices have thickened. Pass mixture through a fine mesh strainer, pressing on solids to remove all liquid. Then pour strained mixture into the large pot with the rest of the sauce as it simmers and proceed.
- Remove from heat and add chopped basil and other herbs.
- Water bath canning: Put 1 tablespoon of lemon juice in each of 6 sterilized pint jars, and then ladle in marinara sauce, leaving 1/2-inch headspace. Wipe rims clean and then add sterilized lids and rings.Process in a water bath for 35 minutes. Remove from water bath and let cool to room temperature. Ensure lids are sealed (the center of each lid should not bounce back when pressed) and store in a cool dark place like a pantry for up to 1 year. Once opened, store in the fridge and use within 1 week.
- Freezer storage: Let sauce cool to room temperature then ladle into plastic containers or zip-top freezer bags. Freeze for up to 4 months.
- For help with canning basics, check out my post on home canning tips and resources.
- Bottled lemon juice has a consistent pH level and is preferred for canning. Do not use freshly squeezed lemon juice.
- Step #5 is completely optional, but it will increase the amount of your sauce by a few cups and I like that there's less waste. If you prefer to skip this extra step, simply discard the peels and seeds.
51 Comments on “Tomato Basil Marinara Sauce”
I love how easy this marinara looks! I may have to try this one instead of the white wine one this year!
It is SO easy! And not all the fuss, just straight up tomatoes. You definitely should give it a try!
I love that you added basil to this marinara. This looks delightful!
There’s nothing quite like homemade marinara…especially in the middle of winter!
I love easy and simple sauces like this one. It’s always so useful to have some at hand!
Hi Annalise! This looks absolutely delicious!
I have a million tomatoes this year, so I’d love to can some quarts. Is there an easy way to figure out the processing time for quart jars?
Nothing beats homemade marinara! I just made a big batch of roasted tomato sauce… trying to take advantage of these last summer tomatoes before it gets chilly! Mine has always been destined for the the freezer, but this makes me want to try “real” canning!
Yes! You can do it! 🙂
I am drooling over all of these photos!
Thanks Chels! Fresh tomato sauce is the best!
A few questions! Do you cook covered or uncovered for 70-90 minutes? Is there a reason why you peeled tomatoes an ran through a food mill instead of perhaps food processing them all (after coring)? I don’t have a food mill but I have an immersion blender and a food processor. Do you add the herbs at the end to keep them fresh tasting when you open a jar? Do you find that their flavor infuses during the shelf time?
1. Simmer the sauce uncovered.
2. I actually didn’t use a food mill! Read the recipe again, after peeling and coring you just use a food processor to chop the tomatoes.
3. Adding the herbs at the end instead of the beginning lends a stronger, fresher flavor.
Hope this helps! Happy canning! 🙂
I am on my third batch.This recipe is perfect.I am so glad I found it,as I was looking for many years for this texture.Thankyou so much.
mm my favorite sauce to go with pasta this. Great recipe. Thanks simon.
We planted roma tomatoes with the sole intention of making our own marinara. I had no idea it took so many to make a batch. I guess next year we will be have to plant about 8 romas vs the 3 we planted this year. I have made two batches so far and it is delicious. I did chose to do the optional step with the peels and juices because I had 2 quarts of juice and I didn’t want to waste anything. I saw someone one ask but I didn’t see an answer; if I do quarts instead of pints, is the processing time the same? Out of all the recipes on the WWW, I chose yours and I am glad I did! It is wonderful! I will share with my vegetarian friends.
Hi Rich! So happy to hear you liked this recipe. After doing some digging, it looks like quarts should be processed slightly longer than pints. An extra 5 minutes, so 40 minutes total should be sufficient.
I saw the answer to my question from my previous comment 😉
Thanks!! I’m really excited to do this for my first time!! Also, very pleased there are fresh herbs as I have MANY and wanted a recipe with them. Others use only dried … THANKS AGAIN!
How did you squeeze out the juice and seeds after you had cut the tomato in quarters??
Hi Shannon! Just use your fingers to remove the seed pockets from the flesh of the tomato, they should come apart quite easily.
Is processing time the same if using a pressure canner, and would you still need to add the lemon juice if so?
Hi Tammy! Unfortunately I don’t have any experience using pressure canners so I can’t give any advice. There is a lot of canning information out there though, so if you do a google search I’m hoping you’ll find the answers you’re looking for. I’m sorry I can’t be of more help!
If I use quarts instead of pints, do I still use 1 TB of lemon juice or does that need to be increased?
I would double it.
i was wondering if you can replace the fresh herbs with dryed ones and if so what would be the amount
I’m making this right now with cherry tomatoes because we have so many. If you could smell our kitchen! Thank you for this recipe.
How did you prep the cherry tomatoes? Did u peel them??
did you ever figure this out? 🙂
I made this today and it was delicious! I used San Marzano tomatoes from my garden and I was so happy with the results. Thank you so much for the recipe.
This is my second summer making this marinara with romas and herbs from our garden- simple and delicious! Thank you!
Yay! I’m so glad to hear you enjoy this recipe. Thanks, Rachel!
I made this today using tomatoes and fresh herbs from my garden. I did the extra step with the skins and seeds. It turned out amazing! Even my husband was impressed and he is hard to impress. I will make this again for sure.
Glad to see this recipe. I’ve done a fair bit of canning tomato sauce and I have always heard that it is not safe to can tomato sauce recipes with fresh herbs in a water bath canner. Did you invent this recipe yourself or it based on a tested “safe” canning recipe?
Hi Sarah! That is interesting, I have never heard that. This recipe came from a Better Homes and Gardens canning magazine, this one I think. I thought I had the link down at the bottom of the recipe, I’ll add it now.
This recipe looks delicious! I’m going to make and can it this weekend with a friend. Is there a reason why you don’t add garlic to your recipe? Have you ever? I don’t have time to make a batch to test it – do you think it would be good? I don’t think I’ve ever seen a marinara sauce without garlic!
When it comes to canning, I use recipes from sources I trust and don’t mess with them. I’m nervous that playing around with the recipe will interfere with the shelf stability, so I leave it as is. That being said, I’m sure there are marinara recipes for canning that use garlic, and it’s possible this recipe could be adapted to include garlic without any problems. I just don’t know and can’t make a recommendation. Sorry I’m not more help! I can tell you, however, that this marinara is wonderful! And I’ve never thought twice about the absence of garlic.
How many pint jars does this make?
If I wanted to add garlic to this – what steps could I add that In?
Not sure, I’ve never tried this recipe with garlic.
Roma’s are tasty but try the San Marzano for sauce. They are easy to grow like Roma’s and the taste? Will leave you speechless!
If you use the kitchen aid attachment to extrude the seeds and skins at what point do you do it. This would eliminate the scoring and removal of skins I think.
For the last few years I was freezing just a raw tomatoes but this time I’ll try this recipe. It should be easy when I have your tips 🙂
Purely fantastic. IBS-friendly. It is near impossible to find a store-made marinara without onion and garlic. This recipe makes their absence unnoticeable and I hope fellow IBS folks will find your page. The taste is out-of-this-world. My daughter and I followed the recipe completely and had fresh basil but no other fresh herbs. We used the dried Italian herb blend and only had to add about a teaspoon, but we only had 6lbs of tomatoes. ? ? win!!!!!
I’m a bit confused with the recipe. It says a handful of the three herbs plus 2 cups basil. But it also reads to add 1 cup of the variety of 3 herbs plus 2 cups basil.
Then it reads this is for 12 pounds of tomatoes.
I’m thinking I have a lug which is 22 pounds maybe 24 pounds and would have to double with these herbs. Don’t you think that might be a bit too much.
Please tell me before I buy more herbs. This is fun but very time consuming,as I am one person.
Hi Tamara! The recipe calls for 2 cups basil, chopped and 1 cup of assorted herbs (rosemary, thyme, oregano, etc), chopped. I can’t find another place in the recipe where it states other amounts. If you’re doubling this recipe, you could probably get away without doubling the herbs if you’d like, as this sauce is has a strong herb flavor. But you can of course double the herb about too! Just be sure you have a few pots to cook down the sauce, it starts with a large volume and slowly cooks down to 12 cups. Hope this helps!
I’m making this right now, I don’t have any lemon juice, can I use vinegar instead?
With canning recipes, the recommendation is to follow the recipe exactly so it preserves properly without spoilage. If you aren’t planning on canning the tomato sauce you can just leave the lemon juice out.
This tasted like utter and complete crap, way too salty
Do I HAVE to get rid of skins and seeds or…..can I blend it all in and still be safe?
Getting rid of skins and seeds is for texture not for safety. If you want to leave them in, that’s up to you. They won’t blend up completely, however, so just be aware of that.
We use this recipe every year!
Have made this sauce many times and it’s always delish. Try adding minced garlic, tomato paste, and/or a can of crushed tomatoes. I like it chunky but have used the immersion blender to make it smoother for spaghetti and meatballs.