Family Favorites–A Mean Spaghetti Dinner

My daughter Christine was in all the plays and musicals at her high school and in one play she had the lead role, a character named Nicole, who was, like Christine herself, a high school student.  In one scene “Nicole” is talking to a friend who mentions that Nicole’s mom “makes a mean spaghetti dinner.”  Later, Nicole’s mom turns up, in an apron, and if memory serves, with a spoon in her hand.  I have a feeling my daughter offered some advice on wardrobe and props for her “mom” on stage.  It’s either that, or you can call me a home cook right out of central casting.

Here is the spaghetti sauce recipe Christine’s real mom makes in the “Family Favorites” episode of Indiana Home Cooks. It comes from an old, old issue of Taste of Home magazine.  And, as usual, I’ve given it a few adjustments. This recipe can be doubled or tripled to serve a crowd.

Also, be careful not to add too much salt.  Keep in mind the salt in the soup base and in the canned tomatoes.  I know from experience it is easy to make spaghetti sauce that is too salty. I have a small covered dish on the counter next to my stove filled with kosher (coarse) salt.  That’s what I use to season the dishes I’m cooking.  It is easy to SEE how much salt I am putting on the food. And I measured it–my “pinch” of salt (between the thumb and first three fingers) is no more than 1/4-teaspoon. When I add salt a pinch at a time, and taste the dish as I go, I can more easily regulate how much is going in the dish I’m cooking. Try it. You may find you don’t need as much salt as you think you do.

Susan’s Savory Spaghetti Sauce (4-6 servings, about 1 quart)
Extra virgin olive oil
1 lb ground beef
1 medium sized onion, diced
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp low sodium beef soup base (our 1 tsp low sodium beef bouillon)
1/2 C. liquid (combination of water and dry red wine, or all water)
2 cans tomato sauce (or combination of sauce, crushed, or diced tomatoes–2 cans total)
1 tsp dried oregano*
1 tsp dried basil*
1/2 tsp dried thyme*
2 T sugar
Kosher salt and ground pepper

Heat a large saucepan or dutch oven on medium high heat.  When pot is hot, drizzle in just enough oil to coat the bottom of the pot. Put in ground beef and cook until thoroughly browned.  Allow it to sit and cook and get a bit crusty on the bottom of the pan. But don’t burn it!  Add the onions and garlic and cook for 2-3 minutes or until fragrant. Drain fat from the meat if there is an excess amount (note: if ground beef was 20% fat, or more, you should drain it off).

At this point, your pot should have some bits of meat stuck to the bottom.  That’s fine.  If you drained the meat mixture, then return it to the pot and add the soup base or bouillon.  Return pot to medium heat and add the liquid.  Allow mixture to simmer so as to loosen the bits stuck to the bottom.  Cook for about 5 minutes while scraping the bits off the bottom.

Add tomato sauce and the rest of the ingredients (salt and pepper to taste).  Cook at a simmer for at least one hour.  Can be cooked low and slow for 2-3 hours if you prefer.  Stir occasionally.  Before serving taste for seasoning and adjust if necessary.  Drizzle 1-2 tablespoons olive oil into sauce, stir in, and serve over cooked pasta.  Top with grated parmesan cheese if desired.

*Note–if using fresh herbs, TRIPLE the amount given for dried.  Stir in a little more of the fresh herbs just before serving if desired.  But taste and adjust herbs and seasonings to your preference.

Author: Susan Mintert

I'm an Indiana cook and host of the Indiana Home Cooks podcast, where we share the stories of people who cook, eat, and drink in the Hoosier State.

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