Recipe: Roasted Garlic & Basil Pasta Sauce

01 Oct

Last week, the following photo of mine was featured on one of my favorite blogs, Food in Jars:

It goes without saying, I was thrilled. The positive reaction I received was overwhelming and many asked for the recipe. This was a problem since I’m a “that-looks-about-right” type cook and tend to throw things in a pot, disregarding my measuring cups.  However, the food-blogging public has been very kind to me by way of recipe sharing and I set out to write it down.

So, welcome newcomers!  Please note, though I post the occasional recipe, this is not a food blog and I tend to swear a lot.  Hopefully, you’ll come back.

Roasted Garlic & Basil Pasta Sauce
This is a nice small batch for beginners or a good way to use up the last of your garden tomatoes
Yield: Approximately 8 cups (enough for about 2 quarts or 4 pints)


  • 2 large red bell peppers
  • Whole head garlic
  • Olive oil
  • 6lb tomatoes; I prefer to use Roma tomatoes, but use whatever you have on hand.  Tomatoes with thick flesh and low juice are ideal.
  • 1-2 large onions; diced small/medium
  • 3 cloves garlic; minced
  • 1 cup red wine; go for something like a robust Chianti and stay away from anything overtly fruity
  • 1+ tbsp sugar
  • 1/4 cup tbsp dried chopped basil; if this seems excessive, feel free to use less
  • 1 tbsp dried chopped oregano
  • Salt & pepper
  • Bottled lemon juice; this is only to be used if you will be canning the sauce using the water bath method.  If you are freezing the sauce or using a pressure canner, the lemon juice is omitted.  More information will be given below.


  1. Roast peppers: Over a gas flame or under the broiler, roast the peppers until skin has blistered and turned black.  Place in a paper bag and close the top or in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap; the captured steam helps loosen the skin.  Set aside.
  2. Roast garlic: Heat oven to 350°F.  Remove any loose flakes of skin from the head of garlic and slice off the top; revealing most of the cloves.  Rub a scant amount of olive oil on the palms of your hands and then rub your hands over garlic.  Wrap in a piece of foil and roast for 1 hour
  3. Prepare tomatoes: Fill a large non-reactive pot halfway with water, bring to a boil and nearby, fill a large bowl with ice water.  Score an “X” in the bottom of each tomato with a sharp paring knife.  Boil tomatoes for about a minute, remove with a slotted spoon and then plop them into the ice water.  Once they are cool enough to handle, peel and discard (compost!) skins, using the paring knife to loosen stubborn areas.  Add more ice to bowl as needed to keep water cold.  Dump water from the pot and return to stove.  Roughly chop tomatoes (for Romas, I usually chop in half or into thirds) and give a gentle squeeze to remove seeds.  Some people are very diligent about removing the seeds.  Me – not so much.  I try to get as many as I can, but because I’ll be cooking the tomatoes for a long time, the bitterness of the seeds fades. Return chopped tomatoes to pot.
  4. Cook: Remove skins, cores and seeds from peppers.  Roughly chop and add to pot.  Add onion, minced garlic, wine and 1 tbsp sugar.  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat, cover and simmer for 1 hour, stirring occasionally.  During this time the garlic should finish roasting.  Remove it from the foil and when cool enough to handle, squeeze the cloves right into the pot.
  5. Cook some more: Tomatoes will be extremely soft at this point.  I use a potato masher to break up any large pieces, but prefer my sauce on the chunky side, so mash/blend to your desired consistency.  Add the basil and if you are hesitant about using 1/4 cup, start with 1 tbsp, let it cook for a bit and then taste.  Add oregano.  Add salt and pepper to taste and, if needed, additional sugar 1 tsp at a time.  Simmer, uncovered until sauce has thickened.  This can take an hour or more.
  6. Decisions, decisions: Now that you have a pot of sauce, what are you going to do with it?  You have four options:
    1. Eat it now.
    2. Freeze it.
    3. Can it using the water bath method.
    4. Can it using a pressure canner.
  • Eat it now: Self-explanatory.
  • Freeze it: Pour sauce into freezer-safe containers, allowing room for expansion and freeze.  These are my preferred containers when freezing.  You can put mason jars in the freezer, but only choose jars that have straight-sides and are without cracks and chips.  Let the sauce cool before putting into glass jars and then let them come to room temperature before placing in the freezer.  Extreme temperature changes can cause glass to shatter and I’m sure the last thing you want to find in your freezer are frozen shards of glass hidden in frozen chunks of tomato sauce.
  • Water bath method: Add 1 tbsp of bottled lemon juice to each pint jar or 2 tbsp to each quart.  Ladle hot sauce into hot jars leaving a 1/2″ headspace.  Wipe rims clean, place lid and affix screw band.  Process for 40 minutes.  Carefully remove jars and let cool on towel-lined counter for at least 12 hours.  Check seals and label; immediately use or refrigerate jars that failed to seal correctly.
  • Pressure canning: I’m referring you to a professional site as I do not own a pressure canner (scroll down to “Tomato Sauce”) and do want to be responsible if you blow up your kitchen or give your dinner guests food poisoning.

It may take some time, but homemade sauce is always worth it.  Serve this over your favorite pasta or even use as a base for pizza.  While I’m heating this sauce, I like to add a heaping scoop of chèvre as it adds a richness and mild tang that I find irresistible.

To answer a few questions:

  • Why dried herbs?  I do not think there is a scientific reason behind this.  Most favor using dried herbs in canning recipes for the simple reason that herbs are best consumed when fresh and why waste fresh herbs in a sauce that is going to be cooked for hours and then stored?  Make fresh pesto with your basil and use the dried stuff in sauce that is going to be saved for winter.  Though, some people swear by adding a fresh basil leaf or two to each jar.  I know this recipe calls for an obscene amount of dried basil, so please experiment: add fresh herbs, play with different herbs (I do love rosemary in a hearty tomato sauce).  This is your sauce now.  Own it.
  • What’s up with bottled lemon juice?  The pH levels of tomatoes need to be adjusted when using the water bath method.  Though fresh lemon juice is always preferred when cooking, the acid levels vary from lemon to lemon, where as the acid level in bottled lemon juice is constant and known.  The amount is large enough to adjust pH, but small enough not to alter the flavor.

Please let me know if you make this.  I would love to hear what you thought and if you made any changes.  Enjoy!


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30 responses to “Recipe: Roasted Garlic & Basil Pasta Sauce

  1. mymatejoechip

    2 October 2011 at 04:19

    mmmm …. with bacon

    • Smedette

      2 October 2011 at 08:43

      An appropriate answer to just about anything!

  2. frugalfeeding

    2 October 2011 at 06:44

    This looks great. Glad to see you’ve cooked them for plenty of time! A real must in the world of pasta sauces.

    • Smedette

      2 October 2011 at 08:43

      Depending on the juiciness of the tomatoes, I will let them cook even longer. I really don’t like any raw tomato flavor in my sauce and slow cooked sauces always taste better!

  3. ohkeeka

    2 October 2011 at 20:49

    Oh, this sounds fabulous! I have to confess, I’ve never made my own pasta sauce. (Also, I’m terrified of canning–don’t really want to be serving up botulism sauce for dinner. Not that canning is unsafe, I’m just that inept.)

    • Smedette

      3 October 2011 at 08:57

      I’d be lying if I didn’t tell you that I still have moments of panic every time I give away a jar of homemade jam to friends. So far, so good.

      I’d say start with some berry preserves or jam and you can always freeze what you make. Warning, once you start, it’s very addicting!

  4. JustMe

    2 October 2011 at 21:43

    Garlic! Tomatoes! Be still my heart.

    I made apple sauce today from apples stolen from a random tree. It was so easy and delicious I almost didn’t believe it actually happened.

    • Smedette

      3 October 2011 at 08:53

      Yum! I was thinking about doing an applesauce post since they are coming in season right now.

  5. magnolia

    2 October 2011 at 22:50

    yum. that is all.

    • Smedette

      3 October 2011 at 08:53

      Thank you. Tomato sauce is like soup: you can really throw anything into the pot and it should turn out ok.

  6. John

    3 October 2011 at 08:18

    Looks so yummy.

    I still find it weird that you don’t like raw tomato – I just ate some from the local CSA as if they were apples.

    • Smedette

      3 October 2011 at 08:52

      Bleh. That is one of the reasons I cook the sauce for so long: I do not want any trace of a raw tomato flavor.

  7. MenopauseDiaries

    3 October 2011 at 13:51

    Mmmmmm. My mouth is watering and suddenly I’m hungry for pasta. :)

    • Smedette

      4 October 2011 at 12:26

      I just need to work on my fresh pasta making skills, then die from carb-related happiness.

  8. kim

    4 October 2011 at 11:41

    Must.Have.Sauce. I absolutely ADORE basil. I think it’s the most amazing herb. And guess what? The Mister hates the smell of it. Which means I usually only get to have it when we go out. So I soak it up when I can.

    • Smedette

      4 October 2011 at 12:27

      I LOVE BASIL! This sauce freezes well if you’re leery about canning. That way you can have a supply on hand for when The Mister is gone.

      Pesto freezes well, too.

  9. Anne L. Fashauer

    7 October 2011 at 23:05

    Just made my first batch – OMG delicious and so beautiful. Thank you for sharing!!!

  10. Joli

    21 October 2011 at 01:24

    Looks delish :) As i’ve heard it, though, about the fresh herbs…it can have bacterial on it that will spoil the whole batch, unless you sterilize the herbs in a bleach/water bath. Dry herbs do not have those issues. As i said, i have simply read this, but it seems to make sense.


    • Smedette

      21 October 2011 at 09:42

      Ah, Joli, that makes perfect sense! Thank you for sharing.

  11. robertlfulton

    28 February 2012 at 10:27

    The link to the pressure canning instructions is broken…

  12. Ashley Vogt

    19 August 2012 at 13:16

    I’m totally making this today! I’m exited! I’ll let you know how it goes! I’m also canning for the first time ^_^ yay!

    • Smedette

      19 August 2012 at 14:34

      Excellent! Good luck with everything; please let me know how it went and the adjustments you made. I love hearing how everyone personalizes their sauces.

  13. Paste Importer

    27 December 2013 at 22:19

    Just curious, why do you prefer Roma Tomatoes over other kinds? Does it have to do with texture?

    • Smedette

      9 February 2014 at 14:01

      I am so sorry for this late reply! I refer Romas because of their availability in my area and texture. You want a “paste” type tomato (versus a beefsteak or other variety) because they have low moisture, lots of flesh and few seeds.

  14. soniacevenlac

    2 October 2014 at 13:43

    I am making this for yet again – double batch! I have my method down – cut any nasty parts off tomatoes, cut them in half lengthwise, and throw them in the crockpot (no peeling off skins, coring… none of that!). Let them cook down overnight and then run the resulting sauce through a food mill. After that, I put the sauce back in the crockpot with the rest of the ingredients (minus the basil) and let them cook down some more (usually overnight again, or longer). Then I add the basil (sometimes fresh, sometimes dried), cook while I prepare the canner, and then process in the boiling water bath as you described. It is so good, and so easy when you let the crockpot do the work. Depending on the variety of tomato I use, there are usually some seeds in the resulting sauce but I don’t mind them. I also don’t worry about any supposed bacterial contamination from fresh herbs – I have SO many canning recipes that specifically call for fresh herbs. After all, tomatoes and peppers have bacteria on them as well… that’s why you’re processing them in a boiling water bath and adding lemon juice.

    Thanks for this recipe! It has been a staple now for three seasons.

    • Smedette

      3 October 2014 at 18:35

      What a lovely comment – thank you!

      I love your changes and additions to the recipe. And that is what cooking and recipe sharing is all about: not being afraid to experiment and then catering it to make it your own.

      Happy eating!


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