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 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 (5.5 kg) fresh tomatoes, 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.