I can’t believe the blog has gone on this long without posting this recipe, the very first savory meal I ever made by myself. I don’t actually remember when that would have been but somewhere around age 12, possibly a little later and definitely before I was 14. And this is a dish I have made ever since. It was my mother’s specialty but now when we have this meal as a family (and I am at home) I am always the one who makes it (which isn’t usually the case for other family favourites I now make myself). This is likely a dish most home cooks make with at least some regularity, especially if they are cooking for children (what kid doesn’t like spaghetti?). But I really think mine is better. Like many of my dishes it does take some time to make but, like many of the dishes I post here, it is not all that difficult or particularly time consuming.
3lbs ground beef
1 head of garlic (you can use a little bit less)
1 green pepper (optional)
Carrots (very optional)
2-3 cups tomato sauce (or 1 can San Marzano tomatoes)
3 tablespoons tomato paste
2 tbsp rosemary
2 tbsp thyme
2 tbsp oregano
2 tbsp basil
1 tsp cayenne (or to taste)
1 tsp salt
½ tsp allspice
½ tsp cinnamon
1 piece parmesan rind (or about ½ cup grated parmesan)
½ cup red wine
Spaghettini or Spaghetti
There are many options possible for this recipe. One thing I have done at times is to add some bacon to this. When I do, I add about ¼ cup of chopped bacon to the pot at the very beginning and cook until the fat is rendered out, then use the bacon fat in place of some of the olive oil and proceed with the recipe. Also, there are many vegetable options that you can use, just keep in mind this is not a vegetable-based sauce, so the vegetables should only be an accent. Aside from the onions, none of the vegetables are actually required and others could be used instead. If I happen to have mushrooms and green pepper in the house I will usually use them in this. I know that carrots are very frequently used in Bolognese style sauces, but they would need to be diced very fine or grated in, and I don’t think it’s worth the trouble. Zucchini might be another good option here.
Dice the onions and mince the garlic. Saute the onions on medium heat in olive oil, along with the green peppers, if using. When the onions have softened, add the mushrooms and continue to cook until mushrooms have cooked. Then add garlic and cook for 1-2 minutes, until the garlic is fragrant. Then add the beef and brown/cook it (in most pans, with the quantities in this recipe, the meat won’t really brown – too crowded – but that doesn’t really matter here, you just need to get the meat cooked). When all the meat is cooked, add the tomato sauce and paste, mix well. Then add salt and all the herbs and spices (I typically use dried herbs for all the herbs called for here. Yes, I realize many, if not most, chefs consider the use of dried basil to be completely unacceptable, but in this case I disagree. It does have enough flavour. If you have fresh basil absolutely use it, the sauce will be even better, but dried works fine. The same goes for all the herbs with the possible exception of oregano – even with fresh you should still use some dried). Make sure to taste for seasoning and balance here. Herbs and spices vary in strength and they can lose their strength over time. Next add a piece of parmesan rind. The way to get this is, once you have finished grating all the usable cheese off a piece of parmesan, keep the rind – in the fridge or the freezer – until needed. If you don’t have a piece of rind available, just use grated parmesan. Then add the wine and simmer on low with the lid on for at least ½ hour – if you have more time even better.
Meanwhile prepare a large pot of water for the pasta. Make sure the water is salted generously, as this is the only opportunity to actually season the pasta. In my view, there is no real benefit to putting oil in the water – if you use a pot that is large enough, the water will not boil over, and the oil will definitely not transfer to the noodles on draining. When the water is at a full boil add the pasta, making sure to stir it occasionally so it does not stick. Cook to al dente, most package directions are actually not too far off so if you start checking it maybe 2 minutes before the package says, it should be done. Drain the pasta right away but DO NOT WASH IT. Many chefs now tell you to save some pasta water and mix it with the sauce. While this is generally good advice, this is in no way an authentic Italian pasta sauce. The proportion of sauce to noodles will likely be way off and a chunky sauce like this is actually not the best type of sauce for spaghetti anyway. This is really a recipe for meat sauce with pasta. For that reason, adding pasta water won’t help you much in this instance. Anyway, put the drained pasta back in the pot and toss with olive oil. Serve the sauce with the pasta, and garlic bread if you like.
While there is some halfway decent garlic butter available in stores, I think it is still worth the effort to make your own.
Fresh herbs (I suggest parsley & thyme)
Chop the garlic and mix it with melted butter. Cook in the microwave for a minute or so, then add salt, herbs and wine. Don’t add too much wine, but it is there to add some acid and some water to soak into the bread and help infuse the garlic. Use a crusty Italian-style bread – Ciabatta works very well as it bakes wide and flat. When split, it is perfect to hold plenty of garlic butter. Brush the garlic butter onto the bread, top with the cheese, and broil with the broiler set to low. Watch the bread carefully and you may have to rotate the pan, move pieces around, and remove some pieces earlier, to make sure everything crisps nicely but does not burn. Serve immediately.