Tim’s Spaghetti Sauce
I never gave my ’S’ghetti Sauce’ much thought. It certainly has evolved over the years and since I make it to suit my taste it goes without saying that I like it. Paul likes it. He even told me he thought it was the best he ever had (blush). When I make lasagna with it (which is what I use it for nine times out of ten) I get rave reviews. If you are thinking they are just saying that because they are my friends you obviously haven’t met my friends. Since I have wanted to post my Lasagna recipe for a long time and since I couldn’t do that without posting the sauce recipe first, I decided to break it down into two posts. Here is my two cents about spaghetti sauce.
Spaghetti sauce is about as American as apple pie. Most of us know that a heavy meat-laden tomato sauce with some pasta drowning in it is about as far as you can get from real Italian food. I don’t care. I’ve been to Italy and I know what a plate of real Italian spaghetti looks like (and for the record I love that too). But I’m talking about the spaghetti that you find in a dark American ‘Italian’ eatery, the kind with red-checkered tablecloths, lots of garlic bread and a candle burning in an empty Chianti bottle. That’s my idea of a spaghetti dinner! It’s the kind of comfort food that always takes me back to my childhood, the one that I’m serving up here.
Before we get browning our beef let me give you a little background on Timmy’s S’ghetti sauce. I remember making spaghetti dinner for the family in my teens. Mom worked so making dinner was my job. ‘Chef Boyardee Complete Spaghetti Dinner’ was a staple. If it just occurred to you that my family might not be Italian, then you would be correct. ‘Chef Boyardee Complete Spaghetti Dinner’ consisted of a can of sauce and box of dry spaghetti plus a can of Kraft cheese. All that you needed was a pound of ground beef and you were on your way. As my weekly s’ghetti dinners progressed, I began adding various things to kick it up a notch. Some of it worked and some of it didn’t, but no one complained (much). Fast forward to adulthood and I am still making s’ghetti dinners, only now no one is complaining. I’ve picked up a few tips and techniques from friends that I’ve met along the way and made up a few of my own. It was difficult writing it all down since I have never measured or made it exactly the same, but over the years it has gotten fairly consistent. This basic recipe is a great starting point and will provide you with great results, but feel free to veer off course all you want. Mine is seldom the same every time either.
The key to great sauce is browning the meat thoroughly. I start my sauce by browning the meat (ground beef and mild Italian pork sausage) along with the onions. I carry out this step in my wok. I seem to get the best results in my iron wok and I like that there is plenty of room, but any heavy skillet will do. Now when I say brown, I mean brown! You want some real good sizzle and color, and it’s ok if it sticks to the bottom (that is the goal). You don’t want it to burn, but sauté it until you have a rich deep color. That crusty brown layer (AKA fond) is where a lot of that great flavor for your sauce is going to come from. All you need to do is add some red wine (deglaze) to loosen all that up, and you have a flavorful base component for your sauce. I add the garlic at the end of this step so I get some browning on the garlic without burning it and ruining the sauce. The other thing I do that is out of the ordinary is that I finish and simmer the sauce in a crock-pot. The reason I use the crockpot is so that I can simmer it for a long time without getting up to stir. A more traditional approach is to simmer for a long time in a pot with no lid in order to reduce and thicken the sauce. I used to do this until I burned the bottom of the pot and ruined a large pot of sauce. This recipe makes a sauce that is very thick without the need to reduce. I use canned chopped or stewed tomatoes, tomato sauce, and tomato paste. I might use fresh tomatoes in the summer, but I never dream of it any other time of the year because they have no flavor. I also never use a green bell pepper but instead prefer roasted green chilies because I like the flavor better. Dry porcini mushrooms reconstituted in red wine add some extra mushroom flavor. If I have a ‘secret ingredient’ at all, it has to be ‘Better Than Bouillon” beef bouillon paste. I love this product! For the record they did not pay me or even give me a free jar to say this…I just love the stuff! Since I am making a meat sauce, I want it to be meaty and this bouillon kicks it up a notch.
This recipe makes about 6 quarts of sauce, enough to feed an army (as my grandmother would say) and easily enough for a lasagna and a large plate of pasta. I usually use half of the sauce and freeze the rest. The seasoning is conservative and you may want to add more. I use dried herbs as they are available all the time, but using some or all fresh herbs dramatically improves the sauce. The general rule of thumb is to use 2-3 times the portion that is called for when substituting fresh herbs for dried. Listening to Italian opera and drinking a nice red while preparing this sauce will greatly improve your results. Prego!
- 1 29 oz. can tomato sauce
- 1 14 oz. can tomato sauce
- 1 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes
- 1 12 oz. can tomato paste
- 2 teaspoons olive oil
- 1½ lbs. ground beef
- ¾ lbs. mild Italian sausage
- 2 medium onions, chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, chopped
- 8 oz. white or brown mushrooms, sliced
- ½ oz. dried porcini mushrooms
- 2-3 cups red wine
- 4 oz. can green chilies, chopped
- 2 bay leaves
- ½ teaspoon dried thyme
- ½ teaspoon dried oregano
- ½ teaspoon dried rosemary
- ½ teaspoon dried basil
- ⅛ teaspoon red chili flakes
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- ½ teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
- 1 rounded tablespoon beef bouillon paste
- Because the crock-pot takes a while to heat up, begin by plugging it in and setting it to the highest setting. Add all the tomatoes, sauce, and paste and cover while you brown the meat. In a large skillet, add a couple teaspoons olive oil and when it is hot add the beef, sausage, and onions. Use a wooden spoon to stir and break up the ground meat as you brown off the meat and onions. Continue cooking until the meat has started to brown well. Add the chopped garlic and continue to brown. It should start sticking to the bottom of the pan which is good, just do not let it burn. After you have browned the meat, add the two cups of wine to deglaze the pan and loosen all the tasty brown bits that have stuck to the bottom of the pan. Add the meat and onions to the crock-pot. Remove the reconstituted porcini from the wine and give them a rough chop, reserving the wine that they soaked in. If necessary, add a little olive oil to the skillet and sauté the fresh mushrooms and porcini. Sauté until cooked soft and browned, using the reserved wine to deglaze and loosen any stuck-on bits. When finished with the mushrooms, add them to the crock-pot. Add all remaining ingredients and stir. The sauce will be ready in about two hours from the time it starts to boil. Do not lift the lid unless necessary and allow the sauce to simmer.
- After a couple hours, taste and adjust the seasoning to suit your taste. This recipe makes about 6 quarts.