Thursday, February 26, 2009

Ragin' Ragu & Rigatoni - Pasta with Paula Night

Do any of you remember the old, old, old pasta commercial from the early 70’s where an Italian mama opens a window, leans out, and hollers her son’s name, “Anthony” (pronounced just as my relatives would do it: An-toe-knee)? Then the narrator tells us that Anthony lives in the Italian section of Boston, home of Prince spaghetti, and that Wednesday’s are Prince Spaghetti Days. All the while, we see a young boy racing warp speed through crowded streets to get home in time for dinner. The advertising campaign was enormously successful for the makers of Prince spaghetti; obviously so as I still remember it and I was just a little kid myself at the time!

Growing up in an Italian influenced home, spaghetti often graced my plate in my formative years. We feasted on all different types and shapes of that semolina wonder food, and I particularly enjoyed every bite. I still do. It’s humble, economical, tasty, and downright easy to make. To be honest, we don’t eat fancy feasts in my house. I try to go for healthy and wholesome. And although there are as many recipes for “spaghetti” as there are Italian grandmas, I tend to default my preparations to be like that of my mom, and her mom before her, and so on. In fact, I bet if we compared recipes, all of you visiting this post probably have different sauce recipes. On the chance that there’s someone who hasn’t made their own sauce, I thought I’d share today’s recipe. When I first met my husband, he had NEVER once had pasta at home ... not spaghetti, not lasagna, nothing! Luckily for him (and me!) he loves Italian food. Hmmm ... perhaps those professions of love early on in the relationship were really based on food! Now that I think about it, he did eat over at our house often. Especially on pasta nights. Hmmm.

I’m of Southern Italian decent, so this sauce may be different than the bolognese sauces that grace many restaurant menus. First of all, in my household, pasta was always served with the sauce already tossed in, with an additional dollop of sauce on top. Additional sauce was passed around at the table. Meatballs prepared in the sauce were always served on the side. In addition, it was common to prepare the sauce not only with ground beef, but to also include chuck steak cut up as you would for stew. The cooked steak pieces would be spooned out and served on the side. Ground beef was ALWAYS part of the sauce, and we never added sausage. The sauce cooked for a long time, a couple hours at least. Contrary to what you might hear, you cook sauce a long time not only to thicken the tomato products, but also because the beef breaks down after a couple hours providing great texture as well as flavor. Otherwise, it just tastes like hamburger plopped in tomato sauce.See how the meat has broken down? My point in all of this is that if you prepare your sauce with ground beef, next time, allow it cook to for at least 2 hours. I promise you’ll love how the meat transforms. The longer you cook it, the thicker it becomes, so feel free to add a bit more water around the 1 hour mark if you don't want a thick sauce. I like it just medium thick, so 2 hours works great (I do add more water around the 1 hour mark). Oh, and if you make it a day in advance, all the better. The sauce improves with age.

Tonight was pasta night, specifically Rigatoni night. I love how the sauce gets trapped on the inside of the tube.See that meat tucked away in there? Hello Mr. Meat. You belong to me! Paired with a lovely plain salad and some garlic cheese toasts, it was a completely satisfying experience. Fancy? No. Wonderful? You bet! It’s ragin’ good. Again, nothing fancy here. Mostly it’s comprised of common pantry ingredients. Just a typical Pasta with Paula night. We always call the sauce, “spaghetti sauce” not ragu, no matter what type of pasta it’s served on. It’s really, really good. Hmmm. Hubbyman came home from work, ate his pasta dinner, and then went back to work. It must be love.

Here is the recipe for my all purpose sauce. As my go-to sauce, I use it for pasta as well as lasagna, polenta, and other recipes.

Spaghetti Sauce (aka Ragin’ Ragu)

2 lbs ground beef, 15% fat
generous amounts of onion salt, garlic salt, and black pepper
scant teaspoon of fennel seeds
1 mild onion – diced
1 garlic clove – minced (my cloves are large)
1 green pepper, cut into very large pieces. (It completely disintegrates in the sauce)
2 cans diced tomatoes (now behave; don’t judge me ... I like canned toms! If you can your own, use a quart of the red beauties.)
1 small can tomato paste
8 oz tomato sauce
3 tomato cans worth of water
1-1/2 teaspoons dried basil
1 generous teaspoon dried oregano
healthy dash of fennel (again)
Olive Oil – lots
Cooked pasta of your choice*

In a large skillet, season the ground beef with the onion salt, garlic salt, black pepper, and fennel seeds. Cook the ground beef, all the while breaking up the beef with a spoon, until just done. In a large dutch oven or large pot, heat a couple tablespoons of olive oil over medium high heat. Add the onions and garlic, and sauté for about 2 minutes or until just getting soft. Add the ground beef mixture, and stir. Add all the remaining ingredients, including another couple tablespoons of olive oil. Bring to a low boil, turn heat to simmer, cover, and simmer for at least 2 hours, stirring often. Add more water, about a cup, around the 1 hour mark if your sauce is too thick. Cool and refrigerate, or toss immediately with your favorite pasta.This is enough sauce for 1 lb. of pasta or a tray of lasagna. I’m sure it freezes great, but I never freeze it. I should embrace my freezer more. Do you freeze a lot?See the ridges in the pasta? Mmm, mmm, mmm! This sauce is gluten free, all the way, baby. *(Oh, in case you were wondering, I made a separate serving of gluten free rice pasta for my gluten free girl. Results: Awesome!)Here, you go. Have a bite. So, how do you make your sauce? Do you mix it in or ladle it on top? Either way, it’s all gouda!


dp said...

I've been trying to eat less carbs lately and I haven't had a good spaghetti in what seems like forever. Your picture is making me delerious!

I'm totally like you--I always cook my sauce for a long time to break down the meat. Texture is everything. And who would judge using canned tomatoes? What else would people use? Fresh tomatoes are not in season, so anything you get in the grocery stores are going to be bland. When tomatoes are in season and tasty, then I can see using fresh tomatoes. Better to use canned tomatoes now.

Mediterranean kiwi said...

i often keep old commercials in my mind - when you grew up with them, you can never forget them

i love the consistency of your ragu - when we make macaroni and mince in a tomato sauce, it looks much more meaty, which is why i don't really like it, since i'm more of a dry meats person. this one looks like a creamy sauce - love the way it seeps into the macaroni holes!

(ps if you make the cabbage rolls, i hope you will find it easy to follow my instructions - i seem to be reusing many of my older recipes, and simply refer to them in my newer posts!)

The Blonde Duck said...

I love pasta. It's so healthy and comforting!

Aggie said...

OHHHHH....Paula, I am coming over. That pasta looks PERFECT!! I grew up with lots of spaghetti, really, pasta of all shapes and sizes. Your sauce is making me's only 8am.

Cheryl said...

Wow thanks for the education, I appreciate it. I had no idea you had to cook the sauce so long.

Katherine Aucoin said...

Oh Paula! I look at your Raug and say "Come here gorgeous!" I could eat Italian every night!

Pam said...

I can't wait to make this! The pictures are making me drool.

Mari at Once Upon a Plate said...

Oh YES! Now THAT is what I call comfort food!

GREAT photos, especially that last one ~ it's such a TEASE. :)

Thank you for sharing another "I-know-it's-going-to-be-a-KEEPER" recipe. xo~m.

Bridgett said...

You and I are both from Southern Italian descent. I love hearing all the different ways Italian families make their sauce, just to compare (and even get a few ideas!). Your rigatoni looks wonderful and reminds me of being younger at the holidays where the big plate of pasta ruled the table.

Bellini Valli said...

Tomatoes are canned at their peak so perfect for this time of year when tomatoes are less than perfect on our grocery shelves.I don't remember that particulat commercial but one similar for Chef Boyardee:D

noble pig said...

You are so hilarious with your title. I totally remember that commercial!

And your rigatoni looks absolutely delicious! Wow...just amazing!

Marjie said...

I remember those Prince Spaghetti commercials, too! Friday night is pasta night here in my little corner of the world. I created what seemed to me to be a reasonable sauce, and my dearly beloved likes it (he grew up in New Haven, and likes to claim to be Italian - you know his name, so you assess the claim). I saute 2 pounds of ground beef, use pretty much the same ingredients as you, minus the peppers, which I can't eat, and I don't make meatballs. Everyone likes what my oldest son, at the age of 3, dubbed "Noodle Night". My daughter's friend recently told me that her Italian family (off the boat via Brooklyn) puts shredded mozzarella on top of their pasta. What do you think?

Marjie said...

Oh, and I think canned tomatoes are one of the best creations ever, too! said...

This looks warm and comforting and delicious!! Can't wait to try it!! :)

Lynda said...

I remember those commercials too!This sauce is calling to me!I can't pass up pasta anytime. Thanks for the great hints, very helpful.

Grace said...

there aren't many things i like more than alliteration, but pasta and red sauce is one of 'em. that last shot is just about to inspire me to have spaghetti for breakfast. :)

Cathy said...

Wow, Paula, your sauce looks out of this world. Slow simmering is one of the most important parts. I love this kind of dish, winter or summer.

nottryingforaboy said...

I totally remember that commercial! You pasta looks wonderful.

OhioMom said...

We eat a lot (and I mean a lot:) of pasta also, as you said economical and tasty :)

I really want that last bite...

Robynn's Ravings said...

Paula! That looks SO delicious! Might have to make that this week. This is one thing I love about this blogging world. I rarely have to figure out what to cook! Love talented people like you.

THANK YOU for stopping by my blog and for your kind comments. Welcome and I hope to see you again! :)

Kevin said...

Great looking ragu!

Paula said...

Hi everyone, Hope you had a great weekend!

Darlene: We tend to eat a lot of rice and potatoes; this pasta was a great treat!

Med Kiwi: Oh Maria, I miss you already. I'm selfish that way. Out of habit, I've already checked your blog today. I'll definitely be making your cabbage rolls. Your recipes are always easy for me to follow. We Italians and Greeks aren't so far apart! :-)

Duckie: It's definitely comforting!

Aggie: Come on over any time!

Cheryl: When meat is involved, I always cook at least 2 hours. For tomato sauce, sometimes it's only two minutes!

Katherine: Thanks! It tastes as good as it looks.

Pam: It's really good!

Mari: Thanks! It's a keeper in my kitchen!

Bridgett: Yeah! A fellow Southern Italian girl. I knew I liked you!

Bellini Valli: I really do enjoy my canned tomatoes!

Noble Pig: Thanks! I love my pasta!

Marjie: Ha! Your hubby is a hoot! I love the phrase noodle night! I sometimes leave out the pepper; in fact, I think about you whenever I see a recipe that calls for one and wonder to myself if it really needs it. This sauce doesn't. Regarding the mozz cheese, the only time I've seen that is on top of baked mostaccioli. I prefer pecorino myself.

Chef Bliss: Thanks!

Lynda: Your welcome!

Grace: I've been known to eat reheated leftover pasta for breakfast!

Cathy: Thanks!

Not trying: It was a fun commercial!

Ohio Mom: I gobbled down that bite as soon as I took the picture!

Robynn: I totally agree about how helpful all the great food blogs are! Thanks for stopping by!

Kevin: Thanks!

Peter M said...

Your sauce looks so good...meat sauce inside the rigatoni... and the pics turned out really well.

Terri said...

Finally! Someone of Italian decent states unequivocally that simmering your bolognese sauce for a long time DOES NOT make the tomatoes bitter, it makes the sauce better! Thank you. I love your addition of fennel. I add it to mine, too. Yours look wonderful!

Jan said...

I thought we cooked our sauce for too long at 1 hour, obviously I was wrong. This looks magnifico. BTW, I always mix the pasta with the sauce.

Anonymous said...

Hi Paula

I was wondering did you use plain olive oil or extra-virgin olive oil. Also what size cans of diced tomatoes did you use two 14oz cans or two 28oz cans. HEALTHY DASH of FENNEL, is that fennel seeds or ground fennel? Thank You.

Anonymous said...


Paula said...

Hi Susan,

I used the 15 oz size cans of tomatoes. I used those same cans for water. Let me know if you have other questions! Enjoy!