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!