Not Your Mom’s Spaghetti and Meat Sauce

6 Jan

I told you the other day that I’m re-introducing beef into my diet after 13 years. I made cheeseburgers for New Year’s Day and couldn’t think of a better way to use an extra pound of ground beef (I bought one of those big value packs at the grocery store and froze the leftover) than spaghetti and meat sauce. There are days I have the palate of a five-year-old, and what five-year-old doesn’t love pasketti?

That said, this recipe for meat sauce has some grown-up flair. I’ve added some balsamic vinegar to it, which gives it a little sophisticated oomph. This isn’t the sweet sauce you’ll find at your local Italian chain restaurant. It’s a bit cacciatore-ish, and I think that’s a very good thing.

There are a few tricks to this. First, if you have one, use your food processor to pulverize your onions. I learned that trick when I complained to a friend that my husband hated anything with chunks of onion. She had the same issue, and taught me that giving them a spin in the Cuisinart turns them into bits so small that the most onion-hating hater out there won’t know the veggies are in the recipe, but you still get their flavor. In this case, softening them for a few minutes makes them wonderfully sweet.

You’ll see that once the onions and spices and garlic are yummy and soft, you remove them from the pan, crank the heat, salt it a little, and put the meat in. You want the meat really brown. Caramelized. It gives the sauce a wonderful texture–far from mushy or boring–and a heartier taste. Don’t mess with the meat too much. Lay it in the pan, let it brown up, and then simply flip it over and brown the second side. Then break it up and stir.

I made this sauce at lunchtime, sealed it up in a Rubbermaid container, and let it sit in the fridge until dinnertime, and then I made the pasta and combined our servings together. That few hours makes a remarkable difference in the flavor–it mellows and matures in the cold box. Just don’t mix everything together in one shot if you want leftovers–the spaghetti will get mushy by day 2. Put the pasta on plates, top with sauce, and mix together each serving individually, and then store the pasta and sauce separately for the second meal.

Now, just because I’m eating beef again doesn’t mean you have to. If you’re not a cow-ivore, use ground chicken in this recipe. It mimics the texture of beef better than ground turkey and absorbs whatever flavor you cook it with. It’ll taste just about the same as the beef version.

This is both young and mature, comforting and intriguing, and really delicious. My son loved it and had two servings. My daughter doesn’t like spaghetti (freak) so doesn’t count. DH liked it but probably would have preferred a sweeter, more traditional red sauce–that may be my fault for not warning him about the difference before he started eating. I thought it was really good. I hope you’ll try. You’ll need:

2 tbsp olive oil

1 medium or 1/2 large sweet onion, chopped very fine

1/4 tsp red pepper flakes

2 tsp Italian seasoning, divided

3 cloves of garlic, minced


1 pound ground beef

28 oz canned crushed tomatoes

2 tsp sugar

1 1/2 tsp balsamic vinegar

salt and pepper to taste

In a large saute pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add onion, 1 tsp Italian seasoning and the red pepper flakes. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is soft and translucent. Add garlic and cook about 1 more minute, stirring constantly.

Remove onion mixture from pan into a bowl. Set aside. Raise heat to medium-high to high, depending on your stove’s power.

Sprinkle the pan with salt. Crumble ground beef into the pan in a single layer and leave it alone for about 4 to 5 minutes, until the bottom side is a deep golden brown. Carefully use a spatula to flip the beef over (you’re not stirring), and let the second side brown.

Break up the beef with your spatula. Stir in onion mixture and second teaspoon of Italian seasoning. Stir in tomatoes, sugar, and balsamic. Lower heat to low and simmer about a half-hour, stirring occasionally. Salt and pepper to taste. Put in a glass or plastic container and refrigerate until dinner. Serve over hot cooked pasta with grated Parmesan cheese.

I marked this as gluten-free because the sauce itself is–you’d obviously have to use GF pasta to get the whole recipe that way. đŸ™‚

One Response to “Not Your Mom’s Spaghetti and Meat Sauce”

  1. Geena January 6, 2011 at 10:30 am #

    I thought I had the only freaky kid that didn’t like spaghetti! Juleigha hates it, actually any pasta in sauce

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