Mary Ann's Blog

Ditch the Jar: Make Fresh Tomato Sauce

Jarred tomato sauce, no matter how homey the label or how many “organic” marketing clichés are thrown at us, will never equal or replace fresh sauce. Period. Just ask a Roman, Neapolitan or Sicilian. They should know since tomato sauce put southern Italy on the culinary map.

Most of us refer to tomato sauce as marinara without really knowing what that word means. It comes from mare meaning sea and a marinaio means seaman. How did tomato sauce wind up being called marinara? Because on long voyages at sea, sailors could make a quick tomato sauce. Naturally, it is simple to make -- especially now when plum tomatoes are in season to make true and wonderful tasting tomato sauce just like southern Italians have been doing for generations. Just remember to start with ripe plum tomatoes; they are meaty and pulpy.

You will notice that the recipe does not call for many ingredients, no carrot, onion or gastly dried herbs. The star is the tomato. Its clean, sweet flavor should shine through. Once you make fresh tomato sauce, you will no doubt sweep away those jars of commercially prepared so-called tomato sauce, full of additives and artificial flavors. You deserve better.

plum tomatoes cooking to make sauceFresh Tomato Sauce

Makes 1 quart

¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
5 cloves garlic peeled and cut in half lengthwise
5 pounds (about 20 medium) ripe plum tomatoes, washed, cored and cut into chunks
1 tablespoon sugar
Fine sea salt to taste
½ teaspoon coarse black pepper
1 small bunch fresh basil, leaves only

Heat the olive oil in a saucepan and add the garlic. Cook over medium heat until it begins to turn golden brown and smell fragrant.

Add the tomatoes, sugar, salt, pepper and basil. Stir the ingredients to blend well.

Cook the sauce over medium heat uncovered for about 20 minutes or until it begins thicken.

Transfer the sauce to a food mill and sieve out the seeds and skins.

Sauce is ready to use or freeze.

marinara tomato sauce in a jar


  1. Rob's avatar


    Can use use the water bath process to preserve this recipe as well Mary Ann? I just picked 28# of roma tomatoes and would like to try it, but haven't the room in my freezer to store them. Thanks for sharing your recipe. It looks awesome!
  2. Linda Rizzo's avatar

    Linda Rizzo

    Hi, Rob,

    I’m not Mary Ann, however, I am Sicilian and every year we can bushels of tomatoes in one form or another! I’m sure Mary Ann will not mind if I help you with your canning question!

    Yes, you can make tomato sauce to “can”. With approximately 25 pounds of tomatoes, the yield will be 9 to 10 pints of sauce. It takes about 5 pounds of tomatoes to make a quart of medium consistency sauce and approximately 6-1/2 pounds of tomatoes to make a thick sauce.

    To can the sauce, follow Mary Ann’s sauce recipe. Boil the tomatoes until the volume is reduced by about 1/3 for a thin sauce or by 1/2 for a thick sauce. You MUST ADD BOTTLED LEMON JUICE OR CITRIC ACID to the jars because acidification IS REQUIRED or the sauce will be no good (spoiled). You can use vinegar for the acid but the vinegar does alter the taste of the sauce, unlike the lemon juice or citric acid would. Add 2 TABLESPOONS of BOTTLED LEMON JUICE – or – 1/2 TEASPOON CITRIC ACID PER QUART JAR of tomatoes. For pint jars, use 1 TABLESPOON BOTTLED LEMON JUICE – or – 1/4 TEASPOON CITRIC ACID PER PINT JAR. You can add the acid directly to the jars before filling them, or after, with the hot tomato sauce. You can also add sugar to offset any acidic taste. If you choose to use vinegar, 4 TABLESPOONS of 5% ACIDITY VINEGAR PER QUART JAR may be used instead of the lemon juice or citric acid, however, vinegar may cause undesirable flavor changes. While not required like the lemon juice is, you can also add 1 teaspoon of salt per quart directly to the jars, if desired.

    Prepare your jars, lids, and rings per canning guidelines. Fill HOT JARS with the bottled lemon juice or citric acid and hot tomato sauce, leaving 1/4 inch headspace. Remove any air bubbles and adjust the headspace if needed. Wipe the rims of the jars with a clean, dampened paper towel. Adjust the lids and process the jars.

    The processing time for the tomato sauce in a boiling water canner is as follows, for the hot packing:

    Pints, 35 minutes for altitude of 0-1,000 feet; 40 minutes for 1,001 to 3,000 feet; 45 minutes for 3,001 to 6,000 feet and 50 minutes for above 6,000 feet.

    Quarts, 40 minutes for altitude of 0 to 1,000 feet; 45 minutes for 1,001 to 3,000 feet; 50 minutes for 3,001 to 6,000 feet; and 55 minutes for above 6,000 feet.

    If you have any doubts or other canning questions in general you can always search the internet. The USDA (government website)has great resources for home canning. In fact, this is the source we use for ALL of our canning guidelines, too!

    Good luck! As Mary Ann said, you’ll never go back to the canned stuff again!!!
  3. Vincent Esposito's avatar

    Vincent Esposito

    Great post - I usually make a huge pot of Gravy - and just refrigerate the leftovers - it never lasts long enough to go bad!

    My mother was a Mary Ann Esposito too by the way- she was the Sicilian side of the family (Dad was Napolitano).
  4. Audrey Schneider's avatar

    Audrey Schneider

    Thank you Mary Ann & Limda for the recipe and canning instructions. I put up sauce today - the only caveat to those working with upwards of 30 pounds of tomatoes is the cooking time is exponential! I used the medium disk on my mill because the fine was painfully slow. The seed level was acceptable to my family. The flavor is exquisite. Again, my thanks for your detailed instructions. Audrey
  5. kathryn lacey's avatar

    kathryn lacey

    is it ok to peel and seed tomatoes before cooking or does that lessen the flavor. family in sicily make a salsa cruda-recipe for that?
    Love this site - so many recipes like my late mother's recipes.
  6. Anita's avatar


    I completely agree about your own homemade freshly canned tomatoes! I am a converted mangia cake and ever since my mother-in-law taught me to make proper sauce, I can't stand the prepared jar sauce anymore!
  7. Jackie Taylor's avatar

    Jackie Taylor

    This website is such a great wealth of information! Does freezing the sauce alter the taste of it? If so, should I can it following Linda Rizzo's instructions?
  8. Jackie Taylor's avatar

    Jackie Taylor

    I just want to say how *amazing* this recipe is! I've made it three times now, and I wouldn't change a thing. I'm using up my last garden harvest with this recipe. It's surprising to me that with such few ingredients that it comes out so fantastic. Nothing like fresh garden tomatoes and basil every time. Thanks Mary Ann!

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