Tomato Sauce with Fresh Basil

sauce1Tomatoes have been scarce this year in the Northeast, so cheap, local tomatoes have been a bit of a pipe dream.  But after a long holiday weekend of climbing with friends at the Gunks, Tai & I moseyed our way home on backroads to beat the traffic.  In addition to a much more pleasant ride home, we got to stop at Dressel Farms in New Paltz and pick up some of their tomatoes, peaches, nectarines, Bartlett pears, Honeycrisp apples, and sweet corn.  I obviously have a lot of cooking to do in the next few days.

I bought a half-bushel basket of “utility” tomatoes for $8.  Utility, canning, sauce or second tomatoes are often available from local farmers or farmer’s markets; they are generally perfectly fine, ripe, firm tomatoes, but have cracks, green shoulders, rough patches on the skin, or an odd shape that keeps them from selling at the market.  Therefore, before they get too ripe, the farmers offer them up for a song for people like me who are planning to make sauce (or ketchup, or tomato paste, or salsa, etc.).  These ones were quite lovely; a little scarred at the stem end, but a deep red, meaty & juicy and other than one or two soft spots in the tomatoes at the bottom of the barrel, in perfect condition. It ended up being over 13 pounds of tomatoes, not too shabby at about $0.60/lb.

This is a great, multi-purpose tomato sauce; thick enough for a chunky pasta, ‘basic’ enough for pizza, flavorful enough to instantly transport you back to the dog days of summer on a February afternoon. I won’t lie – it takes a long time.  This is a project for a Sunday afternoon, when you can enjoy the slow process of turning the peak of late-season bounty into the locavore’s version of fast-food – a gorgeous tomato sauce that will be endlessly useful until August rolls around once more.

Adapted from dozens of tomato sauce recipes in various cookbooks.  Proportions of high-acid to low-acid ingredients determined from Italian-Style Tomato Sauce in the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving, J. Kingry & L. Devine

Tomato Sauce with Fresh Basil


  • 13 lbs fresh tomatoes
  • 1 ⅓ cups onion, finely chopped (about 2 baseball sized onions)
  • 1 cup carrot, grated or finely chopped (about 2 medium carrots)
  • ¼ cup garlic, minced (about 6 large cloves)
  • ½ cup dry red wine or apple juice
  • 1 cup fresh basil leaves, slivered and loosely packed (about 1 medium bunch basil)
  • ½ cup lemon juice
  • 1 tbsp sea salt, or to taste
  • 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper, or to taste
  • 1 tsp chile pepper flakes, or to taste
  • 1 tsp nutmeg


  1. Prepare canner, jars and lids.
  2. Wash and sort the tomatoes, removing any bruised areas. Quarter 6 tomatoes and transfer to a large stockpot. Crush lightly with a potato masher to release juices.  Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally, over medium-high heat. While maintaining a low boil, and stirring to prevent sticking, quarter additional tomatoes and add in batches, maintaining a boil throughout. Crush lightly and simmer for about 30 minutes, until tomatoes are very soft. Remove from heat.
  3. Working in batches, press tomatoes through a food mill or fine sieve to remove seeds, skins and cores. Measure tomato purée, return to stockpot, and bring to a boil over medium heat. Simmer, uncovered, over low heat until tomato purée volume is reduced to 16 cups (make sure you have at least 16 cups purée to match with the rest of the vegetables). A long, slow simmer will add flavor and should take anywhere from 2 – 4 hours.
  4. Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan heat the wine or juice over low heat until it begins to bubble slightly. Add the onions, carrot and garlic and sauté over low heat until softened, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat.
  5. Once the tomato purée is reduced, add the onion, garlic & carrot mixture, lemon juice, salt, pepper, nutmeg and chile flakes. Mix well and return to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat and simmer for about 10 minutes (or simmer longer if you’d like a thicker sauce, remembering that it will thicken slightly upon cooling). Add the basil and bring to a boil over high heat. Taste and adjust seasonings if necessary.
  6. Fill hot, sterilized jars to ½-inch headspace and process in a boiling water bath for 35 minutes. Cool, label and store.

Yields about 5 – 6 pints of a thick, chunky sauce, more if you prefer your sauce thinner.


  1. For safety in canning, you must not increase the total amount of low-acid ingredients (onions, carrots, garlic, herbs) or decrease the amount of high-acid ingredients (tomatoes, lemon juice).  You may increase the amount of tomatoes if you wish.
  2. This recipe is made without olive oil for safety in canning; to serve, you may wish to add a little olive oil for flavor. Basil-infused olive oil would be an especially nice touch.
  3. Different varieties of basil, like lemon, cinnamon, chocolate and Thai, make for an interesting twist on traditional tomato sauce.  You can also substitute other fresh herbs, like oregano, marjoram, savory or thyme, or a combination of herbs, just make sure you keep the total amount to 1 cup or less.


Canned, store at cool room temperature, in the dark, for up to 1 year. Frozen, store for up to 6 months. Refrigerated, use within 2 weeks.




  1. Hannah

    the specific-ness of this recipe is really helpful. I can’t tell you how many times I have gone crazy trying to figure out what other canning recipes meant by a “small onion” or a “handful of basil”. I am really looking forward to making this recipe with veggies that I got from my CSA yesterday.

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