Quick Yummy Meat Sauce for Pasta

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This is the kind of recipe I do without thinking. It has been so much  part of my whole life that I can probably spin a few other plates at the same time and not worry about how this sauce will come out.

And you don’t have to worry either because it is so easy. And so right on. And so dependable, reliable, and quick, too.

Nothing is more comforting than some pasta with a saucy meat sauce. Usually made with ground beef — or maybe a mixture of ground beef, pork and/or veal — this one uses ground beef with chunks of sausage. It’s pretty amazing how much that sausage spikes the chart with flavor. You’re not even sure what that umami is — but it’s the sausage, accompanied by all the usual wonderfully flavorful suspects. 

This sauce cooks in 30 minutes. Not like the many-hour ragu’s where the meat needs to braise to break down into tenderness. Here we have ground beef and chunky sausage pieces— meat that cooks fast.

The tomatoes? I use canned crushed tomatoes and I love a lot of different brands. Crushed are a little more thick than puree…which Italians call “passata.” Add a little tomato paste, if you like, for a thicker consistency.

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And the aromatics? Onion, diced. Garlic cloves, peeled and crushed.

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Choose your favorite pasta for this. But Italians will invariably go for the cut pasta for a sauce like this, rather than long straws of spaghetti or linguine. Yes, there is some logic to which pasta goes with which sauce. Logic, and then the perfect answer for any pasta choice: “this is the pasta shape I really like the most.”

Today I’m using a ziti shape. But I’m getting my ziti from these long-strand ziti’s that you break into the lengths you desire. Just some added fun to pasta cooking.

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You can find these long-strand pastas in some Italian specialty food stores — or — dare I say — occasionally at TJ MAXX or Home Goods, which is where I got mine. Imported from Italy, they are so blissfully authentic.

Cook this. You’ll be so happy. 🙂

Quick Tasty Meat Sauce for Pasta

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 medium onion, small dice

2 garlic cloves, peeled & smashed

1/2 lb. ground beef

2 Italian sausages, meat removed from casings

1/3 cup dry white wine

1 28-oz can crushed tomatoes

salt & pepper to taste

12-16 ounces of your favorite pasta

grated parmigiano for individual servings

Heat the oil in a medium saucepan. Add the onion and garlic. Cook on medium heat until onion softens, about 3-4 minutes. Add the meats. Brown meat, breaking up into smaller pieces, with some larger chunks (making for a rustic mixture of meat pieces). When the meat is not longer pink, add the wine. Let it sizzle and mostly evaporate. Add the can of tomatoes. Season with salt & pepper. Stir to combine. Simmer for 20 minutes, cover askew.

Place a pasta pot of water on the heat. When boiling, salt water. Add pasta. Cook until al dente (not to soft, but tender to the bite). When done, drain. Add to a large serving bowl. Spoon some sauce and gently coat. Remember that Italians like some sauce with their pasta — not some pasta with their sauce. So don’t “drown” the pasta in sauce. You can add extra sauce on top of individual servings. And dust with some grated parmigiano.

Braciole – Recipe & Lore

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Braciole – before and after

When I was around 6 years old, my best friend, Franny Toubail, from across the street (in the Bensonhurst neighborhood of Brooklyn), would sometimes come for dinner. She wasn’t always familiar with the food my mom cooked. I remember one dinner where veal cutlets were a revelation for her. And that was a revelation for me. Not everyone eats veal cutlets?

No. Not everyone does. A lot of Italians in Brooklyn do.

Same with braciole (pronounced: brah-szhol). For the early part of my life I assumed braciole was simmering in all kitchens on the block. Not so. Not everyone knows braciole. Maybe you don’t either. May I introduce you?

It seems its name is more of an Italian-American concoction. The same dish is called involtini in Italy. But there’s some connection. Braciola in Italy is often thin slices of sautéed beef. And thin slices of beef is where braciole starts.

Thin slices of beef are rolled up like a jelly roll with stuffing inside, tied together, or toothpick-ed closed, browned and then braised in tomato sauce.

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braciole assembly line in one of my classes

What’s the filling? Varies widely with each family. What kind of beef? This changes, too. With some cuts, the braciole needs to braised 2-3 hours, with others, the braciole becomes tender enough within an hour.

My mom’s stuffing was always, simply, breadcrumb, grated cheese, parsley, salt, pepper, a drizzle of olive oil. They are delicious this way. Other people add meats, more cheeses, raisins, nuts, even hard-boiled egg slices.

The recent craze for braciole in my family was inspired by a new cut of meat we found. My mom was the experimenter and whoa! what great results.

I’m gonna tell you where to get this cut of meat, but you have to promise me you won’t tell anyone else because I don’t want to get to the store and find it’s all sold out! First off, you have to shop at Aldi. In general they have very reliable meats, but look for the package that says: “thin sliced sirloin tip” and the sign on the shelf says” “for carne asada.” Yes, it’s for carne asada, but what they don’t say: IT’S PERFECT FOR BRACIOLE!

The package looks like a long thick piece of beef, maybe like a London broil, but there are 4 long thin slices piled in there. (If you can’t get Aldi’s perfect-for-braciole meat, then try thin sliced sirloin tip from someone else, or top round, or sirloin, all thin-sliced, but know that it’s this Aldi cut that cooks faster.)

Lay a slice on your work surface so that the length is parallel to your table edge.  Cut it right in half down the middle. You’re gonna layer each half with filling and roll it up away from you– you want the grain of the meat to be parallel to the table edge, too, so that when you cut across later, you’re cutting across the grain.

I’ve upped the ante with my “family” stuffing by ripping or cutting salami and/or prosciutto into small pieces. In addition to the grated parmigiano, I add some shredded asiago. Fresh parsley leaves, sprinkling of breadcrumb (I prefer panko), salt & pepper, a drizzle of olive oil and that’s it. That’s enough — it’s great.

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Roll them as tightly as possible. Tie them tightly in 4-5 places with kitchen string.

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Sauté in hot oil until browned on all sides.

 

Make a simple tomato sauce and when braciole is browned, add it to sauce and simmer for about an hour (or two hours with the non-Aldi cuts of meat) until the meat cuts easily and is tender.

 

Snip off the strings, cut into pinwheel slices, serve with some sauce spooned on top. Use rest of sauce for pasta!

Let me know how it goes. I’m open to questions. It seems tricky but it’s not. It’s easy and packs so much flavor. YUUUUUUUUM.

Beef Braciole – Rolled Stuffed Beef in Tomato Sauce (serves 4-5)

1 1/2 lbs. beef sirloin tip (cut into about 4 long thin slices) (or thin round steak)

1/2 lb. sliced salami, cut into small pieces

1 cup shredded asiago cheese

1 cup grated parmigiano

1 cup panko

1/2 cup fresh parsley leaves, rough chopped

salt & pepper to taste

olive oil for drizzling & sautéing

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If the slices are very long, cut the slices so they are about 4-6 inches wide. Lay a slice on a work surface. Season with salt & pepper. Sprinkle a few salami pieces. Sprinkle some panko breadcrumbs to lightly cover. Drizzle lightly with olive oil. Sprinkle with shredded asiago, grated parmigiano, and a few parsley leaves. Start at one end and roll as tightly as possible in a jelly-roll style. Make sure the grain of the meat is lined up with the length of the roll and not “across it.” (i.e. parallel to the rolled direction.)

Cut several 6-7-inch lengths of string. Tie strings around the roll, each about an inch apart, making a knot at each tie and cutting off most of the excess (leave some of the excess knot for grabbing later to cut string off).

Heat 2-3 tablespoons of oil in a medium sauté pan. When hot, season the rolls with salt and place in the oil. Brown until golden brown on at least 2 sides or more. Add to tomato sauce and simmer at a low bubble for about 45 minutes – 1 hour. Remove from sauce. When cooled a little, cut off string. Slice across into thick “pinwheels” about an inch wide. Spoon on some tomato sauce. Serve.

Quick Tomato Sauce

2-3 tablespoons of olive oil

1 small onion, peeled and diced

1/4 dry white wine

1 28-oz can of crushed tomatoes

1 15-oz can of crushed tomatoes

salt & pepper to taste

Heat the oil in a medium saucepan. Add the onion and cook until softened. Add the wine, let evaporate. Add tomatoes. Stir and season with salt & pepper. Simmer for about 15-20 minutes.

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finished braciole

How to Make a Quick Simple Tomato Sauce

quick tomato sauce

quick tomato sauce

Maybe when I was 17, away at college, and wanting to feel like a cook…maybe…I bought a jar of Ragu. I know I can imagine what it tastes like, so I must have bought one once.

But never again. What’s the point? When you can outdo that taste so easily. When you can make your own tomato sauce in 15 minutes.

I had so much fun making this short video of how-to make your own simple quick (and delicious) tomato sauce.

I’ve probably bubbled this up thousands of times. Not only for pasta, but to slip in a few fillets of fish. Or spoon on an eggplant parmigiano. Or to top a pizza. It goes everywhere!

Simple Tomato Sauce

2-3 tablespoon olive oil

1 small onion, cunt into small dice

1 garlic clove, minced

1/4 cup dry white wine

1 28-oz can crushed tomatoes

3-4 sprigs fresh herbs, i.e. basil, sage or oregano (optional)

salt & pepper to taste (pinch hot pepper, optional)

Heat the oil in a medium saucepan. Add the diced onion. Cook until softened, about 3-4 minutes. Add the minced garlic. Cook for about a minute until fragrant (but not browned). Add the wine. Let it almost completely evaporate. Then add the tomatoes. Stir to combine. Season with salt & pepper. Simmer for about 10-15 minutes. Add  fresh herbs before serving.

Aleppo Pepper…right next to the salt

Aleppo Pepper

Aleppo Pepper

Aleppo pepper has crept into my cooking over the years and has become as much a staple as salt (overstatement — close to salt) (salt is THE most necessary seasoning condiment).

But consider: aleppo can be thought of as a hot pepper, but it’s not that hot. For me, it spikes the food not heats it. It gives it a LIFT. Wakes it up. Use more and you can get heat. But it’s a subtle heat…it’s a sleepy heat…it’s a heat that feels tame and feisty, too. The flavor is smoky and deep. Dare I say: perfect?

What do I use it on? Aleppo can jump into almost anything except the most delicate and I leave it out of desserts.

Making a ricotta filling for ravioli? A little aleppo gives it some pep. (You know how ricotta can be. Creamy, but needs salt…and aleppo).

ravioli

ravioli

Roasting some asparagus? A little aleppo wakes them up.

roasting asparagus

roasting asparagus

Aleppo turns meats into soulful mouthfuls…

roasted lamb with fennel

roasted lamb with fennel

Tomato Sauce loves a little aleppo…

sun-dried tom sauce

Seafood and aleppo go out on dates all the time…

clams oreganata

clams oreganata

Savory Breads just love that little punch of aleppo…

tomato & olive baguette

tomato & olive baguette

Lasagna embraces a small shake of aleppo…

lasagna

lasagna

Frittata’s say yippee when aleppo visits….

peppers frittata

peppers frittata

And don’t forget pizza! What more can I say?

pizza

pizza

Get some! You’ll soon figure out how much you’d like for whatever dish you want to give a little nudge to – or a lot. I always find it at Penzeys Spices, or if you have a Savory Spice Shop near you, I know they carry it.

Enjoy the heat this winter! 🙂

 

Got Eggplant? Here’s a very quick parmigiano!

eggplant

eggplant

Okay I’ll admit it. I’m not a big fan of eggplant. (Please don’t boo so loudly.) I’m Italian-American and 3 quarters of my background is Sicilian and Sicilians love eggplant. But I’m not one of them.

However. There are times when an eggplant dish just hits the spot. I try hard to make that happen so that even I like eggplant.

Here’s one of those dishes/times.

It all came about because an eggplant in the refrigerator was going to turn from good to bad. I had to cook it quickly and didn’t want to take too much time doing it.

I sliced the eggplant thinly (peel and all). Placed the slices in one layer on a sheet pan (foil-lined), drizzled olive oil, sprinkled salt & pepper. Baked it till soft and a bit golden. (400 degrees, about 20 minutes)

sliced eggplant ready for the oven

sliced eggplant ready for the oven

I made a quick tomato sauce. Sautéed minced onion in olive oil and I had a few mushrooms, so I broke them into small pieces and added them to the sauté. (As well as a few minced sage leaves-happened to have some.)

onion & mushrooms

onion & mushrooms

A splash of white wine, let it evaporate, then a 15-oz can of crushed toms.

crushed tomatoes

crushed tomatoes

quick tomato sauce

quick tomato sauce

In a casserole dish I spread some sauce. Layered the eggplant. Sprinkled some shredded mozzarella and some grated parmigiano, more sauce, and repeat. (I also happened to have some cooked broccoli rabe in the fridge, so I put that in! Totally optional.)

building the eggplant parm

building the eggplant parm

 

eggplant w cheese

eggplant w cheese

Bake for 25-30 minutes. It’s GOOD. This eggplant I like. Tastes rustic, earthy, old world. My kind of eggplant.

baked eggplant parmigiano

baked eggplant parmigiano