Spaghetti Sauce

I’ll start off with one of my favorite dishes to make (and one of my son’s favorite to eat): spaghetti. I made this last night, but forgot to take a picture, so I’ll add one the next time I brew it up.

This spaghetti sauce is based on my mother’s recipe; I’m not sure where she got it. It’s easy to make both on the stovetop or in a slow cooker; I tend toward the latter since at the moment I only have one pot and I need to devote it to the noodles. I’m doing my best to keep this low-salt and low-fat, which means that the natural flavors of the ingredients really come out.

Ingredients

  • 1 lb ground beef, as lean as you can get it
  • 1 medium onion, white or Spanish
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 8 oz button or baby portobello mushrooms
  • Either:
    • 6 large tomatoes

    or

    • 13 oz canned diced tomatoes
    • 26 oz tomato puree
  • 1 large jalapeño pepper
  • 2 tsp cumin, either roasted seeds or pre-powdered
  • 1 Tbsp oregano
  • up to 2 Tbsp olive oil

(Plus noodles of your choice; I like thin spaghetti, but we’ve eaten this with traditional spaghetti noodles, spaghetti rigati, linguini, and rotini.)

Tools

  • One sauté pan, 12″ or larger
  • Either:
    • One medium soup pot

    or

    • One 4qt crockpot (a 3qt will work, but it’ll be tight)
  • One slotted metal spatula
  • One stirring spoon
  • One cutting board
  • One sharp knife
  • One collander
  • One set of metal tongs
  • If you’re using cumin seeds, a grinder or mortar and pestle
  • If you’re using fresh tomatoes, a food processor or blender
  • Optional: one garlic press

(Plus a pot for the noodles. If you only have one pot, you can move the sauce to a chafing dish or bowl while you make the noodles; if you can, keep it in an oven at the very lowest temperature until it’s ready to be served.)

Directions

Preparation

  • If you’re using cumin seeds, grind them using the grinder or mortar and pestle until they’re a fine powder.
  • If you’re using fresh tomatoes, dice two of them.
  • If you’re using fresh tomatoes, purée the remaining tomatoes.
  • Dice the onion.
  • Either mince or press the garlic.
  • Wash the mushrooms and cut them into 1/4″ slices. Include or discard the stems as you see fit.
  • Cut the end off the jalapeño pepper, and slice one side of it from stem to tip, leaving the seeds intact. You don’t want to cut it entirely in half; just open one side up.

Cooking
(A note: when I say “pot”, I mean whichever of the soup pot or slow cooker you’re using.)

  1. If you’re using a slow cooker, set it to low heat. If you’re using a soup pot, set it over a medium-low heat – a high simmer.
  2. Add the tomatoes (diced and puréed) to the pot.
  3. Put the sauté pan over medium heat and add the beef. While it’s browning, stir and agitate so that it breaks into small chunks.
  4. Once the meat is thoroughly browned, lift it out of the pan with the slotted spatula and transfer it to the collander, leaving as much of the grease as possible in the pan. Rinse the beef briefly under warm water; then transfer it to the pot.
  5. Remove the beef grease from the pan as well as you can and add olive oil until the mixture coats the pan.
  6. Sauté the onions and garlic together, stirring frequently so that the garlic does not stick to the bottom of the pan. When the onions are light and translucent, use the slotted spatula to transfer them to the pot, again leaving as much grease as possible in the pan.
  7. If there isn’t enough oil left in the pan to coat the bottom, add olive oil until the mixture coats the pan.
  8. Sauté as many of the mushrooms as will fit in the pan face-down without touching. Do not stir or agitate the mushrooms; leave them alone. When you see beads of moisture start to appear on the tops of the mushrooms, transfer them to the pot with the slotted spatula, add enough olive oil to coat the bottom of the pan, and repeat this step until all the mushrooms are sautéed.
  9. Add the oregano and cumin to the pot. Stir vigorously.
  10. Place the jalapeño pepper cut side down on top of the sauce.
  11. Either:
    • Close the crockpot and let it cook on low heat for 4-6 hours.

    or

    • Cover the soup pot and let it simmer for about an hour.
    • Every 5-10 minutes, carefully remove the pepper with the tongs, stir the sauce vigorously, and return the pepper to the top of the sauce.
  12. At the end of the cooking time, remove and discard the pepper.

(Cook the noodles according to the directions on the package or, if you’ve made your own, according to the recipe.)

That looks like a lot of steps, but it’s actually quite easy in practice – the key is setting everything up ahead of time. Rinsing the beef removes a huge amount of the grease that would otherwise be going into the sauce, which helps keep the sauce more unified (the grease tends to separate from the tomato purée during cooking). Placing the jalapeño on top, rather than mincing it and adding it to the mix, gives the sauce a more subtle heat and jalapeño flavor without the heat becoming overwhelming.

You can use turkey in place of the beef, but I find that the flavor is quite different and, frankly, I don’t like it as much.

Questions or thoughts? Leave a comment!

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