skins-on easy tomato sauce to freeze

Tomato sauce in freezer jarsI USED TO SPEND RAINY DAYS in harvest season writing, and reading, and streaming a bounty of BBC and other British television series such as “Broadchurch” and “Silk”–oh, what would I do without public TV from both sides of the Atlantic? All the while I’d set consecutive small batches of tomato sauce to bubbling on the stove…destined for the freezer. Even if it doesn’t rain much, or in years when my TV viewing leans to the Australian, the cooking process is the same. Keeping things really simple, my basic freezer red sauce goes like this:

fast red sauce for the freezer


  • olive oil for sautéing
  • 1 large head of garlic, whole cloves peeled
  • 3 chopped quarts of plum tomatoes
  • fresh basil, chiffonaded (as much or little as you like)
  • generous handful of fresh parsley, chopped
  • (salt and pepper to taste, if desired)


Sauté all the peeled whole cloves from one head of garlic slowly in olive oil till they are really soft and almost caramelized. I leave the cover on the pan, and use low heat so they don’t get crispy (later, the cloves will sort of melt into the sauce).

chopped tomatoes for making sauceTo the soft garlic, add a mixing bowl full of chopped whole paste tomatoes (above). By mixing bowl I mean 8-inch diameter, holding about 3 liquid quarts.

Yes, I leave on the skins, and leave in the seeds, terrible person that I am! Hey, more fiber and vitamins for me, right? (If you really hated the skins, you could use a food mill to strain them out of the cooked mixture, but I love chunky sauce.)

I do remove any dings or occasionally the cores if they are really substantial – just that greenish-brown spot where the stem attached, I mean, not the innards. But the small, very reliable and productive paste tomato I grow for sauce, the hybrid called ‘Juliet’ (below) or the newer variety ‘Verona,’ really don’t have much core to fuss over. Note: even cherry tomatoes make their own distinctive sauce, so if you have a late-season glut of them, why not?

Juliet small paste tomatoesCover, and after things start to soften slightly, add chopped basil to taste.  Cover again, and let the ingredients really get thoroughly soft–then remove the cover to let steam escape and the sauce thicken.

I chop some of my favorite parsley, the Italian-style giant flat-leaf type, and add it in after I remove the sauce from the heat, so the leaves just wilt but stay bright green.

The whole process for each small batch might take half an hour, prep to finish. When the sauce is cool, I ladle it into straight-sided canning jars, leaving some headspace for expansion, and freeze. (I say straight-sided because jars with “shoulders” can crack more easily when liquidy ingredients push up while freezing to solid. Wide-mouth straight-sided are best of all.)

One more tip: Vary the size of jars you stash with sauce. Sometimes you just need enough for one serving, like a half-pint jelly jar, or even half that, perhaps to use as the “liquid” in some sautéed vegetables or to enrich another sauce. Other times, company’s coming: Make sure there are some quarts on hand.

or: try herbed-roasted tomatoes to freeze

TIP: I FREEZE WHOLE TOMATOES in freezer bags, to use instead of canned whole tomatoes in soups and stews and sauces all year. And lately I also follow the inspiration of my friend Alana Chernila, a cookbook author and neighbor, and freeze herbed roasted tomatoes, too. As a future sauce or soup, they are unrivaled. Here’s the “recipe.”

  1. brenna pappert says:

    perfect recipe-only difference is I add basil now, just because that was my grandmother’s recipe from Sicily.

  2. Nell says:

    I take it a couple steps further. I put the sauce through a food mill (I too don’t remove skin or seeds) and then dehydrate the whole thing. When completely dry I whirl it in my food processor and then throw it into a spice jar. Have dried tomato sauce all year, which goes into soups, chili, etc. (I also saute onions with the garlic and add extra herbs (depending on what I have in the garden)

    1. Chris Baswell says:

      Neil, hello, can you tell a little more about how you dehydrate? Slow oven? Dehydrator? If the latter, in shallow containers, or what? Thanks!

  3. Boy, the house must smell good when you make this! I’m going to try it – what do you think of the addition of some fresh oregano? First time this year i am growing some, and it is delicious.

    1. Jen says:

      I make my spaghetti sauce with oregano in it and separately a tomato basil similar to above. It just depends on what you want to do with the sauce. Not every tomato based dish uses oregano so making separate batches (labeled properly) gives you options.

  4. Margit Van Schaick says:

    Just one comment—why use plastic when glass with safe lids is so much safer, especially with tomatoes, which are usually quite acidic.

    1. Jen says:

      Why use a container that can break/shatter (plastic and glass) when you can easily use a plastic freezer bag (if you are worried you can double bag)? Freezer bags take up less space (again leave room for expansion). You can lay them flat, stack them up, and when you take out of the freezer they thaw out a lot faster than in a jar.

      1. margaret says:

        Hi, Jen. Many people are concerned about the leaching of plastics into food it touches, so limiting plastics in food storage is often considered a safer way. That was the thinking.

  5. James says:

    Hi Margaret! We have an unreasonable amount of beautiful tomatoes this season and decided to give your recipe a try. Amazing and loved being a “terrible person” and keeping the skins on. :)

    We added fresh basil (also from our garden) and doubled the garlic. (never not double the garlic…hehe)

    Colleen is still talking about how good our sauce was last night and we have plenty in the freezer now. Perfecto!

  6. Ardelle says:

    Great way to save every wonderful taste of summer! We have been freezing our tomatoes rather than canning for many years – they are so much more flavorful. Last fall when Jack Frost was watching us from across the fence my daughter and I picked everything left in the garden which included baskets of cherry tomatoes of every shape and color. Yellow pear, golden and red cherry tomatoes – we de-stemmed, washed and drained them very well. We then mixed them together and bagged them in Ziploc freezer bags not sure how we would use them. I have since taken a handful out of a bag, and while making eggs for breakfast allowed them to thaw briefly, sliced them in half and tossed them along with wilted spinach, feta cheese and pine nuts onto my either fried or scrambled eggs. We’ve given them to friends who have thawed and put them through their Foley food mill and the calls keep coming – they are so impressed with the flavor – like fresh picked. We also used all the green tomatoes making Mock Mincemeat – yum, and Salsa Verde. There is no reason to leave anything in the garden in the fall. Swiss Chard can be helped along just by covering with an old down comforter until almost Christmas time in Wisconsin. Often if heavily mulched they will regrow in spring time as well.

    1. margaret says:

      I agree, Ardelle, and the more I experiment the more ways to keep things for later use I come up with, too. Love your ideas. Thank you!

  7. Julie says:

    This worked very well, I did use my immersion blender at the end a bit, and the house smells amazing! thanks for all the tips!

    1. margaret says:

      Hi, Julie. Thanks for the immersion-blender thought — good idea. And yes, the house smells so good this time of year when the harvest is bubbling away. A great season.

      1. lynne says:

        I think the confusion here is from the picture–it looks like plastic–I notice another comment mentioning plastic. I believe these are jars you have removed from the freezer and they are covered with frost–thus, they look to be plastic!

  8. Howard Van Lenten says:

    Great recipe! Another approach is to blanch the tomatoes in boiling water to remove the skins (or not, up to you–I’m fussy). Then as Margaret suggests, remove any dings or tough cores, and chop the tomatoes into half inch pieces. I bag them in heavy-duty freezer bags, each bag holding about 28 ounces of tomatoes (the equivalent of a large can of plum tomatoes). The beauty of this is that I can then take a bag of these frozen-fresh tomatoes, and make any kind of sauce I like. But the very first one I make every year is Marcella Hazan’s simplest: Put a bag of the frozen tomatoes in a sauce pan; add 5 tablespoons of butter and a medium onion, peeled and halved (salt if you like); cook uncovered on very low heat, holding a steady simmer for approx. 45 minutes, stirring from time to time and breaking up the largest pieces with a wooden spoon. Discard the onion before serving. As Marcella says, this sauce has the purest, most irresistibly sweet tomato taste, and is unsurpassed on gnocchi, or even factory-made penne or spaghetti. OMG, just writing this had made me hungry!

  9. Louise says:

    Seeing this makes me wonder, why are my tomatoes not ripening by now?

    I know we’ve had lots of rainy cooler days, but this year I can likely count all the cherry tomatoes I’ve had on the fingers of both hands. I do hope that over the next two weeks I’ll begin to get enough tomatoes to consider a sauce!

    1. Jacquie says:

      Louise, I can sympathize with you. My tomatoes are having a miserable year. Sickly plants (and I do mean sickly), with very few tomatoes. Leaves are turning brown, and yellow and they are literally dying right before my eyes. It’s really sad. I’ll be lucky to get a few more tomatoes before they are completely dead. I would probably understand if it was maybe one or two plants but it’s ALL of them :(

      Last year I had enough tomatoes for all my neighbors! I’m in northeast Ohio so I guess our weather this summer isn’t what tomatoes like.

    2. Jen says:

      My tomatoes are just starting to ripen in VA. I’ve gotten less than 10 red tomatoes so far and my branches are dying from the bottom up. I didn’t rotate though and I think that’s why. I need to build a new 4’x8′ frame and start tomatoes in that next year with fresh soil. On top of that one of my plants heavy with green tomatoes collapsed some and broke a lot of branches so now I have a lot of green tomatoes. Too bad I don’t like fried, green tomatoes! So I will wait for them to ripen too….

    1. Jen says:

      Use them! Unless you see freezer burn they should be fine. Maybe slightly less quality than freshly frozen, but most people probably wouldn’t know the difference.

  10. Arleen says:

    I make homemade sauce like this all the time (but definitely process through a food mill) and then pour the resulting puree into ice cube trays. Once frozen, you can pop them into a ziploc bag — when you need tomato sauce, just open the bag and take out what you need.

  11. Teddy markloff says:

    I love all these wonder tomato ideas! I have a lot but they are various “cherry like” adn heirlooms. Can I still make a good sauce without the plum tomatoes?

    1. margaret says:

      Hi, Teddy, and yes — just plan to let the sauce thicken a little longer with the lid off if the tomatoes are more liquidy than paste types.

  12. Jen says:

    My neighbor made us spaghetti and I noticed her sauce is richer, thicker than mine. Any ideas? I use tomato paste in mine, but maybe not enough? It gets too strong so I try to use a minimal amount. Maybe I just need to add more ingredients. She’s been tight lipped about how she got hers so thick. LOL

    1. margaret says:

      The way I thicken is not with tomato paste — which as you point out changes the flavor. I simply cook it in a lower-sided pan, not a soup pot like you’d boil spaghetti in (like a big sautee pan, maybe 4 quart), and then I leave the lid off the last half hour or even hour on low to steam off the liquid and thicken the remaining sauce. Easy. Just keep en eye on it.

    1. margaret says:

      Hi, Katrina. I have not, but you can refer to tomato-canning instructions on the USDA canning site (which are at this link) and see if the ingredients meet the standard. I think they will recommend adding acid (in case the tomatoes are not acidic enough) and tell you to chop up the garlic and so on, and maybe even remove the skins. At any rate: I haven’t done it, and since food safety is involved, I think they are the authority to refer to (which as I say may just mean adding lemon juice or ascorbic acid).

    1. margaret says:

      Hi, Renee. I’d leave out the basil. I think I might still use garlic (and/or onion) and olive oil, but yes, up to you completely.

  13. mdg says:

    I cannot Thank YOU enough for these instructions. Canning terrified me with all the boiling and what not. This was so easy and simple. I have just now put my jars in the freezer!!! I hate Minnesota winters but this makes me look forward to retrieving my summer bounty in a few months.

    1. margaret says:

      I used to can it all, mdg, but I came to dread it…such a big process by comparison to this. I love my little “extra” energy-Smart freezer in the cellar, and having a big stash of my favorite foods the easier way.

  14. Lois says:

    Loved this recipe. Next day added crisp fried bacon, sautéed onion and pepper flakes to one container that I did not freeze. Out of this world! will try other additions. Thank you!

    1. margaret says:

      Hi, Barb. I wash them thoroughly, but because I am freezing, there is no need to seal in a sterile environment as with canning, no.

  15. pansy says:

    I cooked up this recipe with all of my abundance of Juliets. It made the best-tasting spaghetti sauce I have ever had. I used my immersion blender to get a really nice consistency. Delicious!

  16. Kitty says:

    We do not grow tomatoes in our small, shady yard, but I love to have an excuse to load up on the fabulous farmer’s market offerings in August.

  17. Kathy says:

    I make a similar sauce (but certainly will enjoy trying yours this year!) I freeze it in mini-bread pans and once frozen, thaw just enough to take out of the pans and put into plastic freezer bags…sauce bricks for the winter. I’m one of those who doesn’t really like plastic, so I never put the hot sauce directly into it and when ready to use, I thaw just enough to get the “brick” out of the plastic. Also make a couple of ice cube trays – again to put cubes into plastic freezer bag for just a “wee” bit of summer tomato in things like scram
    bled eggs.

  18. Dianne says:

    This is a hand me down from my husbands family recipe for many generations. Don’t know the orgin…but its been in his generation for 74 years! …ENJOY!

    Cream of Tomato Soup
    1/2 bushel tomatoes
    10 large onions
    14 celery stalks
    14 large bay leaves
    30 whole cloves
    1/2 cup salt
    4 red peppers
    14 sprigs parsley
    1 1/4 to 2 cups of brown sugar
    1 to 2 cups of butter
    2 cups flour

    Wash tomato, cut, do not peel, cook, strain, or put in blender. Add cut up celery, onion, pepper. Add bay leaves, cloves, salt, parsley. Boil till tender. Put through blender. Melt butter, mix sugar & flour add to melted butter. Add a small amount of the tomato sauce & mix well. Add to soup slowly. boil 5 more minutes.

    Can or freeze. Makes 20 pints

    1. margaret says:

      Hi, Natalie. I leave it out in the morning on the counter and it’s ready by suppertime, or you can do it for a longer period in the fridge, I expect.

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