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!
~recipe updated 2017 for a little weekend cooking inspiration~
~more recently updated recipes~
When I was a girl, my parents hosted a dinner party for friends, fussing over the food and the table. The theme must have been "Italy" because the menu was classic Italian aka "Eye-talian" as interpreted by Prairie Canadians and Midwesterners who’d no more seen Naples than New York.
(Side note: After this story first went live back in 2010, a note arrived from my 80-something father, a 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 – little doubt – bottled Italian dressing.
To my widened young eyes, this party was somehow "grown-up entertaining" – a far remove from 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 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!
KID FRIENDLY! And there's no reason to send the kids next door for this party. In fact, Homemade Spaghetti Meat Sauce is one of my go-to kid-friendly recipes. We rarely make separate food for the kids but for Christmas dinner last year, the grown-ups feasted on seafood-thick Lazy Man's Ciopinno while the kids chowed down on spaghetti and meatballs. Everybody was happy!
HOMEMADE SPAGHETTI MEAT SAUCE
Time to table: 9 hours
Makes 8 cups sauce
- 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 (recipe adaptation below), optional
- Chopped parsley, optional
MEAT 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!
SLOW COOKER 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, THEN toss some of the tomato-y liquid from the sauce with the cooked spaghetti. Arrange spaghetti on serving plates and top with Meat Sauce. If using, top with Giant Meatball and sprinkle with chopped parsley.
MAKE-AHEAD TIPS This sauce can definitely be made ahead of time, it reheats beautifully. It freezes well too!
ALANNA’s TIPS I make this sauce with either ground beef and ground elk. If using ground beef, you may want to drain off any fat that accumulates in the skillet during cooking. Another way to remove fat is to make this a day before serving, refrigerate overnight, then scrape the fat off the top before re-warming to serve. The list of spices is long, for sure. Italian seasoning is a close approximation, but don’t hesitate to keep doctoring until it tastes good. To my taste, the ground fennel is essential, please don't skip it!
ADD 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!
Here's how I adapted that recipe. First, substitute Italian-friendly ground fennel for the Scandinavian-typical allspice. Then form large meatballs, about 4 ounces each. Then I heat up the already-cooked Homemade Spaghetti Meat Sauce and cook the meatballs right there in the sauce in the oven, uncovered at 300F/150C until the meatballs reach 180F/80C, about 2 hours, drizzling the meatballs with sauce occasionally. Soooo good!
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