The Recipe: Homey comfort food, it's the favorite for kids and grown-ups alike. This is my recipe for homemade meat sauce for spaghetti with all the flavor for a fraction of the calories. I make it ahead of time in the slow cooker for convenience and with a pantry's worth of spices for a low-fat and low-calorie healthy supper. Kid friendly!
The Conversation: Remembering Italian suppers hosted by my parents, such exotic world cuisine through my child's eyes!
When I was a girl, my parents hosted a party for friends, fussing over the food and the table. The theme must have been "Italy" because the menu was classic Italian, at least "Eye-talian" as interpreted by Prairie Canadians and Midwesterners who’d no more seen Naples than New York. [A side note: Thank you to my 80-something father for his gentle reminder that during World War II, Canadian and Midwestern soldiers were in Italy by the thousands and that Italian military cemeteries hold thousands of those thousands.]
The kitchen table sagged with big platters of spaghetti topped with meat sauce, baskets of garlic bread and a festive (plastic) bowl of (iceberg) lettuce and tomato salad with – no doubt – (bottled) Italian dressing.
To widened young eyes, this party was somehow "grown-up entertaining" not just the familiar "company for Sunday dinner" or "having people over for supper". Oh, it looked so worldly! so chic! oh-so-grown-up! What disappointment when the babysitter corralled all the kids and took us next door for the night.
Nowadays, ha, when just-add-hamburger spaghetti sauce comes cheap in jars, there’s nothing so exotic about spaghetti with a meaty tomato sauce. It’s everyday food, inexpensive to make, easy to serve, a household staple.
So many recipes for homemade spaghetti sauce take their flavor from Italian sausage – it works, every time. But Italian sausage adds much fat and many calories, more than is healthful for an everyday meal.
So when I adapted this recipe from Taste of Home, I skipped the Italian sausage itself but kept its spices. Then I let the spaghetti sauce simmer at low temperature for a loooong time, concentrating the flavors. The result is assertive flavor that’s good for you and good to eat. Let’s have a party!
HOMEMADE SPAGHETTI MEAT SAUCE
Time to table: 9 hours
Makes 8 cups
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 2 large onions, chopped
- 2 tablespoons chopped garlic
- 2 pounds lean ground beef (see TIPS)
- 28 ounces canned diced tomatoes
- 15 ounces tomato sauce
- 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt
- 2 tablespoons ground fennel (see TIPS)
- 2 teaspoons rosemary
- 2 teaspoons thyme
- 1 teaspoon basil
- 1 teaspoon oregano
- 1 teaspoon marjoram
- 1/2 teaspoon sage
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- Cooked spaghetti
- Giant meatballs, optional
- Chopped parsley, optional
In a large skillet, heat the oil on medium high until shimmery. Add the onions and garlic as prepped, stirring to coat with fat. Stir in the meat, breaking it apart but still leaving in chunks. Cook, stirring often, until the meat is well-browned, in fact, don't hesitate to let a little "burn" collect on the edges, it's flavor!
While the meat cooks, collect the remaining ingredients in a slow cooker. Add the meat. Cover and set on low for 8 hours. If possible, remove the lid for the last hour or so, cooking down the liquid.
To serve, remove the bay leaves. To serve, toss some of the tomato-y liquid with the cooked spaghetti. Arrange spaghetti on serving plates and top with spaghetti sauce. If using, sprinkle with chopped parsley.
Can be made ahead of time, it reheats beautifully.
GIANT MEATBALLS! We're fiends for tender giant meatballs in tomato sauce at Mia Sorella, our favorite neighborhood hangout. So I adapted my recipe for Finnish Meatballs to make giant meatballs. So good!
Just substitute Italian-friendly ground fennel for the Scandinavian-typical allspice, then form large meatballs (about 4 ounces each). I cook the meatballs right in the Homemade Spaghetti Meat Sauce, made the day before, uncovered at 300F/150C until the meatballs reach 180F/80C, about 2 hours, drizzling the meatballs with sauce occasionally.
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