I am not doctrinaire about my meat sauce. There are four essential ingredients: ground meat, garlic, onions, tomatoes. But what kind of meat? I've used it all and have liked every version. What kind of tomatoes? Again, I've tried everything from puree to whole tomatoes to bottled sauce (and yes, I still consider the dish "from scratch" if you use bottled sauce - so sue me). It all works.
My two sauce "secrets" came to me quite recently, actually. Last winter I was ill, and when I finally felt well enough to cook and eat, what I wanted most was this sauce. I wanted it thick, and I wanted it flavorful. And thus came the addition of a touch of flour (thick) and a sprinkling of chopped bacon (flavorful). Now the recipe is done and ready to share with you.
Sometimes I add more vegetables - grated carrot, which melts into the background; grated zucchini, ditto - but mostly it's just like this. The kids eat it over pasta. My husband and I are just as likely to eat it alone, cold, with a spoon, out of the container (well, that's me - he's more civilized).
= = = = = = = = = = =
Erika's ultimate spaghetti sauce with meat
- 3 lbs ground beef or turkey (or a combination)
- 4 slices bacon, diced (or 1/4 cup cooked bacon, crumbled)
- 2 large onions, chopped
- 4 cloves garlic, chopped
- 3 Tbsp flour
- 1/2 cup red wine
- 1 small can tomato paste
- 2 large cans tomatoes with juice or puree (whole, or diced, or even good store-bought sauce)
- salt and pepper to taste
- 1 tsp Italian seasoning or dried basil
At this point, if you're feeling virtuous, drain some of the fat from the pan. Normally I don't, but I do use lean ground beef and usually mix it with turkey. It's up to you. But don't drain it all, because you'll need some for the next steps.
Add the garlic and stir one minute - the garlic should not brown. Now sprinkle the flour over the meat mixture in the pot and stir it for a minute, until the meat is coated with the flour and everything looks a little less wet and a little more sticky. You are essentially making a roux with the fat in the pan (see, I told you you'd need it) and the flour, to thicken the sauce.
Add the red wine and stir. Now add the tomato paste, tomatoes, and dried herbs. If you're using whole tomatoes, try to break them up with the back of a wooden spoon against the side of the pot, although admittedly this will be easier when they have cooked a bit.
Now bring the whole pot to a boil, turn it down to a simmer over very low heat, cover it, and walk away. For an hour. Or two. Or eight. Come back once in a while to stir things around if you like, but it's not necessary. The sauce will melt and meld and become luscious without your having to do a thing.
Serve over pasta. If you're watching your waistline, use my mother's trick and serve it over shredded iceberg lettuce, which is surprisingly satisfying. It will keep in the refrigerator - and will improve substantially in flavor - for the next five days at least.