Using pre-made marinara, or meatsauce, has always been a big no-no in my family. Not to say I've NEVER done it, but we grew up eating mom's homemade sauce and nothing else quite measures up. As I grew up and moved out, I started making my own version of mom's sauce. I remember trying to call my mom for the recipe once and she told me she didn't have one. I guess I really knew she didn't, she made it by taste, so I have attempted to do the same thing (trying my best to remember the details from when I was a little girl standing on a chair so I could reach the counter and "help" mom make it).
Making the sauce is time consuming no doubt, but I enjoy every bit of it. As the sauce simmers all day in our small apartment, it reminds me of being a kid and having the aroma fill every nook and cranny of the house. We kids never had the patience to wait for dinner time; so we'd take turns slicing off a chunk of cheese and sneaking a big dip into the sauce. If we got caught, we claimed we were just "taste testing" you know, just trying to help out. Although we knew mom didn't really mind as long as we didn't spoil our dinner.
For the past several years I've been making batches of sauce for my husband and me and portioning off the sauce in meal-sized portions and throwing them in the freezer to use for later dinners. The problem with freezing homemade sauce is that the flavors can diminish over time and I get really disappointed if ice-crystals build up on my sauce. It makes it feel....just not the same. And after hours of simmering on the stove (with me taste testing in between like mom did, fiddling with the herbs and spices along the way) I want it to taste the same as it did the first day I made it. How to solve the problem? Enter in, the pressure canner.
Now I know my family is no exception, many families have their own special variety of marinara, so if you want to can sauce, I recommend you stick with what you love and just slightly over season the recipe, because the flavors will slightly diminish in the canning process. So without forcing you to use any particular recipe, here are my steps to canning your own marinara:
1) Fresh ingredients. For me, making sauce is all about fresh ingredients. I use as many fresh ingredients as possible (as shown above). Now of course, the more fresh ingredients, the more time consuming the process. So if you aren't up to chopping your own tomatoes, herbs, garlic, onions, shallots, etc...then by all means use as many pre-diced methods as you wish.
2) Adjust simmer time. When canning your own marinara, you don't need as much simmer time as normal (the pressure cooker will do the bulk of that work for you). Instead of mixing my sauce and letting it sit all day, I only let it simmer for 30 or 40 minutes (after getting all the ingredients up to a normal simmer temperature).
3) Funnel time. Use clean jars (here I used 12 oz. jars, because they are the perfect size for a meal for two). I use a funnel to help me pour the sauce without making a mess.
4) Under pressure. Follow the directions from your pressure cooker to determine how much boiling water you should use for canning. My pressure cooker calls for approximately 3 quarts of boiling water so that is what I use. The goal is to cook the cans at 15 psi for 30 minutes. I start my 30 minute timer as the pressure is rising around 12 psi and after it reaches 15 psi I turn down the heat on my stove and monitor it every few minutes or so to make sure it is staying within the 13-17 range.
5) Cool and label. Allow plenty of time to cool before you even consider opening your pressure cooker (I let mine sit for an hour or so). Then throw on your labels and voila! You have your own homemade sauce, that will not be subject to freezer burn!