Classic heirloom tomato sauce Spaghetti sauce, homemade from scratch. Your ancestors would be proud!

Classic heirloom tomato sauce

What to do with so many tomatoes?!

Having good friends who are farmers is certainly very inspiring when you spend most of your time behind a stove! But it was never as inspiring as when my dear friend Nevia, owner of Bodhi Tree Farm [link], called out of the blue and asked if I could take some heirloom tomatoes that were simply too ripe to sell. She specializes in growing heirloom vegetables, especially tomatoes. My answer was: Yes, I’ll take them!

What I didn’t expect, though, was that 120 lbs of tomatoes would soon show up at my door! My initial excitement began to turn to apprehension. Even if I managed to cook all of them before they rotted in their boxes, how was I going to preserve so much sauce?

I had bought a small canning pressure cooker a few months ago. Although I had very good intentions, with my usual busy schedule I never even took it out of its box. Now I had no choice… Only one problem: I had never canned anything in my life and had to figure out how to do it properly. It took a little investigating, but I ended up finding all the information I needed on the USDA website. Now I just had to roll up my sleeves and get to work.

A simple pasta sauce recipe, made in traditional fashion

It took me two 16-hour days to prep, cook and can my tomatoes and I ended up with only about 40 pints worth of the precious sauce — most of which I ended up giving away! However exhausting the experience was, I found it profoundly satisfying and humbling. I felt connected to my ancestors in a way I never had before… My great-grandmother must have been doing this her whole life!

Although I made several different kinds of sauces that weekend, the classic tomato sauce with basil remains my favorite. You can make it either with red or yellow heirloom tomatoes. It is perfect with pasta and some parmesan shavings. It also makes the most delicious topping for a pizza margherita; I even like to poach eggs in it, which I serve with a slice of crusty sourdough.

Buon Appetito!

Food & wine pairing: Italy, Sangiovese with heirloom tomato sauce

Red wine iconA red wine made with Sangiovese grapes is the obvious choice with this sauce. Of course, a Chianti would not disappoint. But you could also serve a Barbera from northern Italy or a Pinot Noir from either California or Oregon..

Heirloom tomato


Classic heirloom tomato sauce with fresh basil

makes approximately 2 cups
active time: 30 min

  1. 3 lbs (1.4 kg) very ripe red or yellow meaty heirloom tomatoes – peeled and seeded (seeds strained and juices reserved, about 3/4 cup)
  2. 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil (see cook’s note 2)
  3. 6 large garlic cloves – skinned and finely sliced
  4. 1 small bunch basil (3 oz) (85 g) – leaves removed from stems and torn in 1” pieces
  5. 3/4 to 1 teaspoon sea salt to taste
  6. freshly ground black pepper to taste
  7. 1 teaspoon aged balsamic vinegar (preferably 20 to 25 years old)

  1. Step 1: Place the tomatoes in a food processor and process until coarsely chopped.
  2. Step 2: Heat a large heavy-bottomed soup pot at medium-high heat. Add the olive oil and garlic and sauté for 1 minute only. Add the tomatoes and reserved tomato juice and bring to a boil. As soon as the sauce reaches boiling point, reduce heat to medium to medium-low and simmer uncovered for 40 minutes to 1 hour (depending on how watery your heirlooms are) until the sauce has thickened and the tomatoes separate from the olive oil, stirring from time to time. Add the basil, salt, pepper and balsamic. Continue to simmer for 2 to 3 minutes until basil has wilted. Remove from heat and transfer to a bowl to cool, or proceed with your recipe of choice.
  3. Cook’s note 1: Refrigerate up to 3 days or freeze up to 2 months.
  4. Cook’s note 2: If making several batches of the recipe, decrease the olive oil by a third and increase the cooking time to about 30 minutes for each additional portion.
    Example: If you multiply the recipe 3 times, use 9 lbs tomatoes, 2/3 cup oil and simmer the sauce for 1 hour and 40 minutes to 2 hours. All other ingredients in the recipe can be multiplied exactly 3 times. Last but not least, you’ll need to increase the heat as it’ll take more heat to keep a good simmer going with this much sauce.


Classic heirloom tomato sauce

sauces, pasta, tomato

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56 Comments

  • Reply Lee August 11, 2013 at 1:27 pm

    I just had a blast of early heirlooms (Cherokee Purple, Golden Jubilee, and Tomatillos) The recipe listed here works beautifully with all kinds of tomatoes. I, for one, enjoy some color in my sauces so the addition of yellow and green tomatoes, multi-colored fresh peppers, etc..

    I absolutely love finding recipes that are perfect blueprints. The recipe itself stands alone and needs zero changes, yet it also allows us culinary chemists to change up the base recipe without fear of disaster. Exceptionally good base recipe. Put it in your “Keeper” file, kids. Totally worth it.

    • Reply Viviane August 12, 2013 at 9:25 am

      Lee, thank you so much for your wonderful comment! I am delighted you like this recipe and will put it in your “keeper’s file” – that just made my day! Your early heirlooms sound absolutely fabulous. Mine are just starting to mature… but alas, I have major problems with blight and even with all the precautions I took this year, the disease is starting to spread. My harvest won’t be as big as it could have been, but I’ll still get a few gorgeous tomatoes. Happy sauce making!

  • Reply Ash July 30, 2013 at 1:41 am

    I added some red pepper flakes with the garlic, tastes amazing.

    • Reply Viviane July 30, 2013 at 10:05 am

      Ash, a little bit of spice is delicious in this recipe. I’m so glad you enjoyed it… Here’s to heirloom tomato season!

  • Reply Karen August 19, 2012 at 3:41 pm

    Hi! How would I freeze the sauce? What container would I use?

    • Reply Viviane August 20, 2012 at 10:00 am

      Hi Karen, Plastic containers with strong lids are best for freezing. Make sure you do not fill the containers to the top as the sauce will expand a bit as it freezes. Happy sauce making!

  • Reply Laurie August 9, 2012 at 1:54 pm

    Viviane,
    I have a friend who puts up plum tomatoes every year and uses them to make her sauce throughout the year. You have both inspired me to do the same this year. Can’t wait to try your sauce recipe. Thanks!

    • Reply Viviane August 9, 2012 at 3:31 pm

      Laurie! How marvelous… This recipe works well with San Marzano tomatoes. I wish I had more space in my garden to grown them. Thank you for stopping by and for your lovely comment. Happy sauce making!

  • Reply Lee August 7, 2012 at 4:22 pm

    Oh boy, oh boy! I’m so happy I found your newsletter and this recipe. I planted three heirloom tomato plants this year (my very first) and they’re all thriving in the central Washington sun. I’m going to have a boatload of maters. Your recipe sounds so simple and delicious. I’m assuming the heirlooms will work. One strain is the Cherokee Purple, and the other two escape memory – I’d check the markers I stuck next to each plant but being that they are now utterly enormous I couldn’t begin to locate the little buggers.

    Looking forward to the newsletter!

    • Reply Viviane August 7, 2012 at 5:18 pm

      Lee, thank you so much for your comment and for stopping by. The sauce will be perfect with whatever kind of heirlooms you have. But some varieties are more watery than regular tomatoes so you’ll need to increase the cooking time. The flavor however will be sublime… Good luck and have fun making your sauces!

  • Reply Heather Gaillot September 15, 2011 at 11:48 am

    Thanks very much for the info!

  • Reply Heather Gaillot September 15, 2011 at 8:35 am

    Hi, can you explain the change with the olive oil and canning method? You don’t omit it from the recipe do you?

    • Reply Viviane September 15, 2011 at 9:28 am

      Hi Heather, I was told that if you make tomato sauce with olive oil, you need to can it at a higher temperature than home canners can reach, as well as have the sauce tested by a lab so that you know how long your sauce should be under pressure for. This is far too complicated for home cooks.

      Also, making tomato sauce without the olive oil changes the flavor drastically! And I’m the queen of flavor… So I do make the sauce as written here and simply freeze it now. I recommend my readers do the same. Flavor wins over canning… in my book.

  • Reply Kulsum at JourneyKitchen August 15, 2011 at 2:50 am

    Beautiful! I didn’t know olive oil can be funny for canning. Thanks for update!

  • Reply Kevin (Closet Cooking) August 13, 2011 at 2:18 pm

    Those tomato sauces have such amazing colours!

  • Reply Viviane August 13, 2011 at 11:39 am

    Update (Aug 13, 2011): I’ve just become aware that tomato sauce that has olive oil in it might not be safe for home canning. So I have removed canning instructions from this post. However, the sauce freezes beautifully!

  • Reply Tres Delicious August 12, 2011 at 1:00 am

    Thanks for sharing this, we have lot’s of tomatoes in the farm during harvest season. This makes a perfect way to preserve our favorite tomatoes. We love it anyhow it’s applied as recipe.

  • Reply Julie August 11, 2011 at 10:01 pm

    Beautiful way to preserve the season’s best! thanks for sharing!

  • Reply janet@fromcupcakestocaviar August 11, 2011 at 6:01 pm

    Those tomatoes look gorgeous and the sauce made from them even more so. I love to do home canning so I’ll have to give this a try!

  • Reply Liz August 11, 2011 at 5:04 pm

    What gorgeous sauce! Love the red AND yellow…so lovely and delicious~ I think I’ll start canning on a much more low key basis…maybe a couple jars of jam :)

  • Reply Liz August 11, 2011 at 5:02 pm

    What gorgeous sauce…and I know it’s delicious, too! I have never canned anything, but may have to try…but I’m starting with a few measly jars of jam :)

  • Reply Peggy August 11, 2011 at 4:27 pm

    Wow – 120 lbs?! You definitely did the right thing with them – wish I had some farmer friends of my own =)

  • Reply Dave at eRecipeCards August 11, 2011 at 3:53 pm

    How do i get on your list to get this as a gift???

    JUST A PERFECT POST!!!

    Beautiful photos… just love the whole look!

    The combination sounds delicious. Thank you for submitting this to eRecipeCards.com. Everything worked perfect. Please consider making us a habit whenever you post anything new and of course, you are welcome to show off some of your earlier favorites as well!

  • Reply Kay Ecker August 11, 2011 at 12:36 pm

    You are so lucky to have friends that give you heirloom tomatoes! Your sauce looks lovely, but your pressure canner looks very intimidating;o)

  • Reply Alexander Roman August 11, 2011 at 11:38 am

    This was a fun post to read..120# of tomatoes!!! Jeez!! your were a brave food soldier for doing this. It’ll make me rethink feeling over loaded next time i do some big batch canning (30#)…ha ha ha.

    • Reply Viviane August 11, 2011 at 11:56 am

      Alexander! Yes indeed, I was a brave food soldier… Loved every minute of it. I’ve been hoping that I’ll end with 120lbs of heirlooms at my door again this summer! Thank you so much for your comment… and happy sauce making!

  • Reply Viviane April 2, 2011 at 10:52 am

    Kelly! I can hardly believe that you can make this heirloom tomato sauce in March! You’re making me long for the summer days (it’ll be August before I can make it in my neck of the woods). I hope the sauce turned out super delicious! Thank you so much for stopping by and dropping me a line.

  • Reply Kelly Clawson March 29, 2011 at 5:48 pm

    I am making the sauce right now! It is simmering as I type this. I hope it turns out good. Some of my tomatoes weren’t as ripe as they should of been. I had a bunch to use and time today, so I had to do it today. Can’t wait to try it tonight!

  • Reply Donna Ford May 10, 2010 at 8:33 am

    Hi Viviane,

    My mom asked me if you can tomatoes. Your blog is perfect for her. She is going to enjoy this so much. She just bought all of her canning jars. I can’t wait to give it a try myself! Your jars full of Tomato Sauce with fresh Basil look so beautiful!

  • Reply maura September 28, 2009 at 12:45 am

    i am wondering if we can keep the seeds in sauce and not omit any of the tomato except skin if we must? i want to make the sauce but don;t like throwing away any of the tomato and in the past have made great sauces using the whole tomato.
    is it just more watery this way?

    • Reply Viviane Bauquet Farre September 28, 2009 at 9:08 am

      Maura, The recipe calls for the tomatoes to be “peeled and seeded (seeds strained and juices reserved, about 3/4 cup)”. I assume that people know how to do all that… but perhaps I should have given the directions for it. The only part of the tomato that should be discarded are the skins (they are very tough) and seeds (they taste a bit bitter).

      – to skin: plunge the tomatoes in boiling water for 15 to 45 seconds until the skin split when picked with a fork. Remove the tomatoes from the boiling water and put in a large bowl of cold water for a few seconds until they have cooled. Remove the skins with the back of a knife, they should slip right off.

      – to seed: cut the tomato in quarters and core them. With your thumb, remove the seeds and place them in a fine sieve. Once done, press the seeds against the sides of the sieve to squeeze out all the juices.

      I think that because of your comment, I will update my recipe and give more direction for preing the tomatoes!

      One more thing: if you find this too time consuming, you can always pass the tomatoes through a food mill as another person suggested in the comments. I personally prefer to do it the other way as I like the tomato sauce to be more on the chunky side, but it works too. If the sauce is a bit more watery to start with, all you have to do is to gently simmer it a bit longer than my recipe calls for.

      If you end up making the sauce do stop by again and tell me how it went… :)

  • Reply r. e.kraushaar September 25, 2009 at 9:05 pm

    Sounds like a v. good tomato sauce. Instead of peeling and seeding, have you tried a food mill to do that?

    • Reply Viviane Bauquet Farre September 26, 2009 at 10:37 am

      I haven’t tried a food mill because I love the chunkiness of the sauce… Even when face with so many tomatoes, I still did it all by hand.

      I know I sound like a crazy person, but I’ll do anything for flavor!

  • Reply RG August 10, 2009 at 10:44 am

    I thought the beauty of canning tomatos was that, due to their acidity, you didn’t need the lengthy pressure cooking? Clean bottles, hot sauce, short water bath?

    • Reply Viviane Bauquet Farre August 10, 2009 at 1:15 pm

      After studying the FDA website for canning tomatoes, I decided that it was safer to pressure-can the sauce for two reasons: I wasn’t willing to add citric acid to it and I add a large amount of fresh basil to the sauce at the end of the cooking.
      I wanted the sauce to be stable and most importantly safe! I have found that pressure canning is actually not that hard to do and once you get into the groove, it happens fairly quickly… Last but not least, it also gives me peace of mind.

  • Reply Mary Lynn August 9, 2009 at 5:41 pm

    I made this sauce today–it is absolutely amazing! So fresh and pure. Peeling/seeding the tomatoes takes time, but it’s absolutely worth it. Will definitely do this one again.

  • Reply My Food and Life Encounters August 5, 2009 at 9:56 pm

    absolutely beautiful sauce.
    There is nothing better then homemade tomato sauce.

    Thank you for sharing.

  • Reply wasabi prime August 4, 2009 at 5:34 pm

    Oh my, I just want to longingly stare at those dreamy tomatoes and the amazing sauce you bottled. I had a bumper crop of tomatoes a couple of years ago, but didn’t have canning supplies, so I roasted them in the oven, threw them into the food processor and froze them. Nowhere near as lovely as what you did!!

  • Reply Mary Lynn August 4, 2009 at 11:14 am

    The tomato sauce recipe looks amazing–fresh, pure, delicious. I have one question, though: If you are doubling or–gulp!–tripling this recipe, would you double all the ingredients, including the amount of olive oil at the beginning and the balsamimc vinegar at the end? Just wondering.

    • Reply Viviane Bauquet Farre August 4, 2009 at 12:06 pm

      Mary Lynn, Thank you so much for your comment… If you look all the way at the bottom of the recipe, Cook’s Note #2 gives you the directions for making larger batches… I hope you get your sleeves rolled up and give it a try… :)

  • Reply Lili (Elisabeth) Jacobs July 31, 2009 at 12:23 pm

    I can’t deal with canning- I’d need to be with you and watch you do it a couple of times, but boy, the recipe looks and sounds great! I get all my vegetables from our local CSA, (Community Supported Agriculture) the Vermont Valley Community Farm, in rural Wisconsin, outside of Madison. The Perkins Family grow an enormous variety of heirloom and exotic tomatoes, and they’re starting now to come in! I am a ‘worker share’ and help pack the vegetables once a week for over 500 families. It’s intense and so satisfying. I can relate to what you say about feeling connected to generations before who worked so hard with the fruit of the earth. The tomatoes are so incredibly beautiful. I can not wait to have enough to make your sauce. Your recipes are awesome and i love the photography! Thank you! :)

  • Reply Jen July 31, 2009 at 8:55 am

    A much better option that trying to cram all of them in the freezer, which is probably what I’d do…
    This looks like an awesome task but boy, will you be glad you have them in February when you’re craving it. I agree that it gives you a real appreciation of what our ancestors went through!

  • Reply Allison Lemons July 30, 2009 at 1:04 pm

    I am going to have a huge amount of tomatoes in about 2 weeks, so I’m very excited to see this post. It will also be my first experience with canning, but I’m really excited about it for the same reasons you are – doing something my ancestors did years ago. Thanks for the post!

  • Reply Becky July 30, 2009 at 7:41 am

    That’s a lot of tomatoes, thinking about how much work went in to doing the sauce and canning makes me want to take a nap. lol

    I once canned salsa but I only did about ten jars. It was a lot of work even for those ten jars.

    The recipe sounds good very simple and fresh tasting, if I come into a surplus of tomatoes I might try to can myself a few jars using your recipes.

    • Reply Viviane Bauquet Farre July 30, 2009 at 8:02 am

      Becky! I hear you… I actually inherited more tomatoes towards the end of the season and ended up making sauce with over 300lbs of tomatoes. My shoulders and back were sore for a month! But the experience was truly awesome…
      I can’t wait to do it all over again this year. These sauces were my Christmas presents to family and friends and they are still talking about it – and I think hoping for more this year!

  • Reply Divina July 30, 2009 at 2:00 am

    Those tomatoes are really gorgeous.

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