Know what’s weird? If you go to a restaurant and order spaghetti with meat sauce, the sauce is red. Buy it in a store? Red. I’ll even wager a guess that if your mom made meat sauce at home back in the day, it was red too. The meat sauce we all love (well, that I love, anyway) is red and tomato-y and comforting and the epitome of what Americanized Italian food is all about.
But. If you go online or to a cookbook and look up “meat sauce,” you’ll get a recipe for something that’s brown. Something that tastes more like seasoned beef than what we all know as spaghetti sauce. Bolognese, they say. It’s lovely, if what you’re looking for is a rich sauce that’s mostly meat. But in my house, we call that “smashed hamburger,” and it does not belong atop pasta.
We’re sophisticated like that.
So the other night, I cannibalized a few brown meat sauce recipes and came up with a red one that tastes like it should. It’s full of tomato and garlic and oregano and meat, and makes my Americanized palate very happy.
This is not a fast recipe, but it is mostly hands-off. Make it on a day you have a few hours it can simmer on a very low burner. Totally worth it. This also makes a lot of sauce–the four of us had it for dinner twice, and I still have another dinner’s worth stashed in my freezer. It’s long, but it’s very simple. And it’s red. Which is good.
1 small onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 pound ground beef (use ground chicken if you don’t eat beef–it mimics the texture of beef much better than turkey does)
2 tbsp oregano
1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup evaporated milk (I used low-fat. You could also use cream or half and half)
1 28 oz can or box crushed tomatoes
1 8 oz can tomato sauce
3 tbsp tomato paste
1/2 cup red wine
1/2 cup basil leaves, pretty finely chopped (you don’t want big chunks o’ leaf in your sauce)
Heat a large pan or pot over medium heat. Coat the bottom with olive oil, throw in your onions, and cook them until they’re soft and golden (not brown). Once that happens, stir in your garlic and let it cook about 1 minute, keeping it moving in the pan so it doesn’t brown.
Crumble in the ground beef and cook until it’s browned. Add the oregano and hot pepper flakes. Stir in the evaporated milk and let that cook for about 15 minutes, stirring every so often, until the milk has mostly evaporated.
When you don’t see the milk in the pan anymore, add in the tomatoes, sauce, tomato paste, and wine. Stir everything together, reduce the heat to low, put a cover on your pan, and let the sauce simmer gently for a long time–I let mine go four hours–giving it a stir every once in awhile so the meat doesn’t start to stick to the pan.
About a half-hour before you want to eat, uncover the pan and let it keep simmering. Just before serving, stir in the basil and adjust your seasoning. Serve over pasta with grated Parmesan cheese.