The first time I made this sauce, I followed the directions rigidly. I’ve been making pasta sauce as long as I could stand at a stove, so that would be give or take, about 60 years. The sauces were always good, but they weren’t great. There was always something missing.
Finally, I decided to make an official sauce — the kind of sauce that comes with a title you can look up in a book.
The first time I made it, it took me hours of chopping and measuring and then, after all that work, the spices I like in any tomato-based sauce weren’t in the recipe. Not even garlic.
So this is the Marilyn version. I am not Italian. Garry is not Italian. Owen is not Italian. Nonetheless, this sauce IS Italian. Okay, not really Italian as in European Italian. More like New England American with pretensions of Bologna.
I can now make this sauce in about an hour and that includes all the chopping, measuring, browning, seasoning, and setting it on slow cook.
First, allow me to suggest you get an electric mini-chopper. In April 2020, for the grand total of $15.27 (not counting some other small discounts), I bought (Amazon) a Toastmaster 1.5 Cup One-Touch Mini Food Chopper. The same item is now $28, but Black & Decker makes a nearly identical version for $18. Shop around!
I had been using a manual chopper, but I kept breaking or bending the blades. I realized I needed something that didn’t involve pounding it with a fist. However you acquire one, the important thing is get something easy to use and clean. If it’s complicated or seems likely to remove a piece of you, don’t buy it. The whole point of this is simplicity.
Now, let’s get on with the actual recipe:
1 small carrot
1 stalk celery
1/2 sweet pepper (any color)
1 small or medium onion
1/2 tablespoon minced garlic or equivalent amount ground (dry) garlic
Clean the pepper. Cut everything into pieces that will fit into the chopper. Pulse the chopper . If it doesn’t all fit, (and it probably won’t), empty it out and put in the rest of the stuff. Chop chop. Put it in a bowl.
Heat as much olive oil as you think you’ll need in a 3 or 4 quart pot. Add the chopped vegetables and cook until softened — a few minutes. Add garlic.
1/2 to 1 pound chopped (minced) beef
Add meat. Break up into small pieces with wooden spoon or spatula. Cook until browned (or grayed).
2 cans tomato sauce
2 small or one large can tomato paste
1 cup milk
1 cup chicken broth
1/2 to 3/4 cup cooking wine
To meat and vegetable mixture, add the milk, broth, wine, and tomato sauce. Stir and bring to a high simmer. Stir. Add tomato paste. Stir more. Lower temperature. Milk, wine, and broth will disappear into all the tomato stuff.
Time to add spices!
Optional: 1/2 to 1 teaspoon Cayenne Pepper
Sometimes, a teaspoon of sugar and often, another teaspoon of salt at the end of the cooking cycle.
How much salt you will need depends on if the broth you use is salty. You may not need any salt. Generally, though, you will need 1 teaspoon at the start of cooking and another teaspoon before serving.
I do not necessarily measure the other spices, but if you aren’t sure, a tablespoon of each (except sage) is a good start. How much you like of each is taste. Don’t get carried away with the sage — a big pinch goes a long way.
Stir, bring to a near boil, then set on simmer. Cover with a screen to keep it from splattering. I pride myself on not only being a good cook, but a tidy cook.
Let it simmer for about an hour to an hour and a half. Taste before serving. Sometimes the salt disappears during simmering, so add more if you need it. I may also add a teaspoon of sugar depending on the sweetness of the tomatoes.
This is really great sauce. What didn’t I do? I didn’t hand chop all those vegetables. I don’t brown meat in one pan and then move it to another. If I need two pans, I use two pans. Usually, I get it all done in one cookpot.
This is usually enough for at least two meals. Top with grated cheese. The sauce freezes well.
The biggest trick I use is the mini-chopper. It will save you hours of laborious cutting up of vegetables. Also I do not use bacon. Most recipes suggest using it and using the fat to brown the vegetables. Personally, I don’t need the extra animal fat and I also don’t like bacon in a sauce. It tastes blubbery. There are a lot of things you can add to this sauce including finely sliced prosciutto or other Italian ham. I have not found adding ham improves the sauce, so I don’t use it. But if you like it, use it.
There’s a lot of freedom in making sauces and a lot of decisions are personal. Just don’t over-salt it — and until you have tried it, go easy on the spices. You can always add more, but it’s hard to remove them.
And best of all? Garry learned how to cook it too. YAY!