Time machine cooking: Freeze your tomato sauce

Guest post by Maniacal Giggler

Freezer Sauce 2When I got married in July, I was armed with a small arsenal of recipes I couldn’t wait to start making now that I’d be cooking for two, and not my measly ol’ Grad Student one. I’d been “nesting” since way back when I got my first apartment at the start of grad school, so I was pretty much gung-ho to COOK ALL THE FOODS.

However, it was a surprisingly tough lesson to learn that I wasn’t actually going to have all my mom’s mad cooking skillz on my first try, but needed to go through my own Culinary Scientific Method and do my own experiments. I then figured I should keep a record of the successful results, and present them in a sort of culinary self-exploratory series.

So I present to you, Experimental Italian Cooking Part 1: Freezer Sauce…


  • Saucepan with lid
  • 1 large chopped onion
  • Olive oil (a turn of the pan’s worth)
  • 5 cloves chopped garlic
  • handful of basil leaves
  • Massive (Godzilla-sized!) can of peeled (or crushed) tomatoes
  • Quart size, freezer-quality zippy bags

Optional additional ingredients (Throw in when you add the basil leaves, or instead of them):

  • Crushed red pepper flakes
  • Rosemary
  • Thyme
  • Crushed black pepper

(We avoid adding any salt to the sauce because the tomatoes have their own sodium, and if the sauce is too salty it tends to mess up whatever recipe for which we eventually use it once all the ingredients are together.)

My parents have a magnificent garden, from which they cull vast quantities of vegetables and especially tomatoes, which are so abundant that the sauce they make in September lasts them until the next year’s harvest. My own garden is still very much a work in progress, and so until my own little plants can produce enough for even one jar of deliciousness, canned tomatoes from the supermarket work just fine.

The amount of onion or garlic you put in the sauce can depend on your love, or lack thereof, for these flavors. This recipe is just a scaled-up version of what I do when I make tomato sauce fresh for that night’s dinner, but as with all cooking, add or subtract as you see fit.


1. Sauté the onion and garlic in the olive oil over medium heat until onions just start to get translucent and smell awesome.
2. Lower the heat to medium-low, and add in the tomatoes.
2a. If using crushed tomatoes, just stir a bit: these yield a nice, smooth sauce.
2b. If you prefer your sauce a bit chunkier, choose peeled tomatoes and use a potato masher to gently crush them into submission in the pan. But be careful: They can splatter if you get too zealous with your shmooshings, and tomato stains are notoriously difficult to get out of clothing!
3. Throw in the basil leaves, and stir them in. Keeping the heat at a low simmer, cover the pan and let sit for about an hour, stirring occasionally. (The thicker you want your sauce the longer you can leave it to simmer, just be sure to give it an occasional stir so nothing sticks to the bottom of the pan and starts burning.)
4. Once you’ve got it to the desire consistency, pull the pan off the heat, uncover, and let it rest to cool completely. Since this step takes a while, I tend to make these huge batches of sauce on a Sunday or a day when I haven’t got too much else going on.
5. Once cooled, use a ladle to fill your zippy bags about halfway when standing up, then get as much air out as possible before zipping shut. Lay these flat in your freezer stacked perhaps only two high, at most. (I found when I tried to stack more than two or three, they slid off each other and got all funky-shaped, taking up more space than they needed to in our not-huge freezer).

Freezer Sauce 2

The result is a stack of Sauce Bricks you can pull out to use whenever you need ’em, thus sparing the time (and tears! accursed onions!) required to make it from scratch. We’ve successfully used (defrosted) frozen sauce not just for pasta, but also lasagna, manicotti, and pizza. Just yoink a bag from the freezer and leave it in the fridge or even on your countertop to defrost, and BEHOLD: Sauce.

Thus, a bit of effort on the part of your Past Self can help make your Future Self happy and well fed!

Comments on Time machine cooking: Freeze your tomato sauce

  1. We do this with my homemade crock pot sauce. It makes any where from 5 to 7 meals, depending on what we use it for. My family loves it; especially my nearly 3 year old, she refuses any other kind of tomato sauce on her pasta.

    If anyone wants the recipe, just ask. We put tons of veggies in it, and it can easily be made vegan.

  2. I love experimental cooking, except when I forget what I did!

    What do you do about the tomato seeds? I don’t think there are too many with canned tomatoes, but what does your family do to remove them from garden tomatoes?

    I’ve been quartering and freezing my garden tomatoes, but you’ve inspired me to plan to make and freeze sauce right away this year!

    • Honestly, I’ve never even noticed the seeds and never attempted to remove them either from can-based sauce or the home-grown variety.

      My parents use a food mill when they process their garden tomatoes, and that does the best job of removing the skins. It must keep back a fair bit of the seeds, as well, but I’ve never particularly minded seeds in my sauce, so it never occurred to me to find a way to remove them.

      Ergo, I suppose you could try using a food mill when processing your own home-grown tomatoes.

    • Growing Roma tomatoes might work better for you, if you are using them mostly for sauce. Fewer seeds and more “meat” (as opposed to juice).

      • Absolutely! I totally forgot to mention, but there are definitely varieties of tomatoes that are better suited for a Saucy Destiny than others, and Roma are pretty much the best along with San Marzano.

        The Gaffer and I have planted Roma (from seeds culled from my mom’s stock), and San Marzano (purchased from GrowItalian.com) as investments in Sauce Futures. The beefsteak, yellow, and black krim varieties we’ve got sprouted will be reserved for salads and other needs.

        • Ah, good point. My mind is always “FRESH TOMATOES” until it’s August, and then it’s like “What the hell do I do with all these tomatoes?!?” I should reserve some garden space for one of those varieties in the first place!

  3. I once bought a gallon can of tomato sauce for 38 cents, and froze it this way. (Because who uses tomato sauce a gallon at a time?!) That can lasted the better part of 6 months for delicious pasta. Om nom nom nom!

  4. bonus vegie points:

    add celery and carrots when you saute the onions/garlic. at then end, blend the sauce with a stick blender and you will have added extra veggies (that you will have NO IDEA are in the sauce) and extra flavor!

  5. I second the food mill! My mom used to make her own red sauce all the time, and the food mill gets out the skins and seeds. Also, the food mill is great for creamy mashed potatoes and home-made applesauce! We had an ancient mortar and pestle style when I was growing up that I called (and still call) the “Tomato Smoosher”.

    • I’m waiting to see if our tomato harvest will be bountiful enough for a big sauce-making party before I go out to buy ALL THE SUPPLIES for sauce production: mason jars and food mill, etc. But I may use the possibility for apple sauce and other lovely concoctions as my motivation to get the darn food mill anyway. Extra bonus: Resistance Training for Arm Muscles!

    • I do have a food mill that I’ve used to make applesauce, but I’ve never heard of making mashed potatoes with it!

      Side track, but any other ideas for how to use the food mill? Mine has inter-changable grates of different sizes. I like to make sure everything in my tiny kitchen earns it’s space!

  6. This is essentially what I did last year, our first year with a garden. I washed chopped the tomatoes, added spices to taste and cooked them in a large pot on the stove. You know they’re ready when the skin of the tomatoes start to come off and get kinda curly. Remove for heat and you can use a foley mill if you have one or a blender on purée mode (that’s what I did). I used a medium size mixing bowl to hold the freezer bag upright and open and pour the sauce in. You definitely want to get out as much air as humanly possible and try to avoid crinkling the bag when you stack them in the freezer–if it’s frozen in a wrinkly bag it makes it harder to remove without thawing first. This process works great when you put it in the crockpot on low for like six hours. I find the consistency of the sauce is a little watery when using the fresh tomatoes (never tried doing this with canned ones) so I add in a can or two or tomato paste to thicken things up. The whole bit turns out magically! If you like your sauce a little less acidic, add a little sugar to it while cooking them down. Also, while you can use gallon size bags, the don’t fit frozen in the crock pot; the quart size bags are definitely the way to go.

  7. Looks yummy! I do this with all sorts of recipes — gravy, borscht, pizza sauce, and pureed veggie soups. Run the bag under hot water to quickly thaw it. If you do defrost on the counter or in the fridge or micro, put the bag in a bowl — you don’t want to deal with an invisible hole leaking all over!

  8. I am curious, when this is frozen, how long will it be good for? 6 months to a year..or more like a couple of weeks?

    I’ve been getting into buying bulk and am wanting to freeze more. My family is more carnivorous so when its deer season, turkey season, etc…EVERYONE gets a bag of random meat to take home. My husband is also an avid fisherman (we live on the gulf of Alabama) so we always have some sort of protein on our plates.

    I love posts like these! I wish you guys would feature more!! I just got a shredder/slicer attachment for my mixer and have been shredding/slicing zucchini and yellow squash to freeze and use in stir-frys and bake with!

    Yay Food!!

    • We’ve had luck keeping stuff like this frozen for a few months, but I haven’t even lived here a year, yet, so I haven’t got hard data on longer than, say, 3-4 months. I think you may need to experiment with how your particular freezer handles things, or just start with relatively small batches until you’re sure you won’t be losing half your stockpile to freezer burn!

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