Friday, December 17, 2010

Meat Sauce

For the last three weeks I have been starving. Exams starve you of nearly everything: time, energy, food, brain space, will-power, and…did I say food? My kitchen table has been piled high with scraps of paper, highlighted text books, and coffee stains. But I am ready to put food back on the table where it belongs. After finally grasping the “meat” of my classes, I have had my fill of “brain food”. Homemade meat sauce was the warm, Italian welcome that I needed.
The sound of sizzling was no longer associated with my brain cells frying. It was the 2 pounds of ground beef and sausage singing “That’s Amore” on the stove top. The extra effort of hand-dicing tomatoes is therapeutic and I believe it makes the sauce taste better. It is also a practical way to make sure you don’t get any skins or pits in your sauce. Cutting up a whole can of tomatoes yielded me only half a can of hand-diced tomatoes. But that is because my mantra for tomatoes is: “One for me, one for the sauce”.
Meat sauce was one of the first secret family recipes I learned. Because it’s based in the “Holy Trinity” of spices: basil, parsley, and oregano, it’s unlikely the flavor will ever go wrong. Plus, I have been formally trained to be a vigilant taste-tester with anything I make. It’s really for the good of all, I say. This batch of meat sauce hit the fresh herbs lottery. A heaping handful of basil, rosemary, and thyme was tossed in along with dried oregano and parsley, courtesy of those who keep plants better than I. Fresh herbs jive well with meat sauce.
The torturous, bold aromas had me pacing the kitchen. “Are we there yet?!” was all I could think. Finally, it was dinner. The meat sauce gently blanketed the al dente angel hair, and parmesan fell soft as snow on top. Meat sauce is a romance food. Light a few candles, turn on some jazz, and you are in love. It has bravado and sexiness without being overbearing. It will keep you warm at night. And it will appeal even to kids. Some call it the “full package”, I call it meat sauce.
Meat Sauce
1 lb ground beef
1 lb ground Italian sausage
1 large onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 cans (28 oz) whole tomatoes, hand-diced (remove pits and skins) *DO NOT DRAIN
2 cans (small) tomato sauce
1 can (small) tomato paste
Basil, Parsley, Oregano, Rosemary, Thyme, Salt and Pepper (to taste)
1 bay leaf
10 mushrooms, sliced
1. In large pot, fry ground meats over medium high heat.
2. As soon as just browned, remove meat and drain off most of the excess grease. RESERVE about 1 tablespoon.
3. In same pot, sauté onions and garlic over medium heat until translucent. Add meat back in.
4. Cut up tomatoes and add to meat and onions, along with the reserved tomato juice, tomato sauce and tomato paste.
5. Add herbs, s&p, bay leaf and mushrooms.
6. Bring sauce to a boil, reduce to simmer. Let simmer, covered, for at least 1 hour – flavors embolden with time. [I let mine simmer for about 4 hours]. Occasionally stir and check liquids.

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