Italian-Style Meat Sauce


I have just recently discovered the wonder that is Cook’s Illustrated.  If you are not familiar with it, you should be, ASAP.  It is a wonderful cooking magazine that really defines the term “tried and true” since the recipes are tested with numerous variations, multiple times to find the absolute best recipe for favorite dishes.  It also has incredibly helpful kitchen tips and pointers, as well as product ratings/reviews, and – no advertisements!   Another reason I enjoy it is that it reminds me of Alton Brown in magazine form because it describes some of the science behind cooking and baking, which I just love.  I have tried a few recipes from it and so far they have all been just as wonderful as I would expect they should be considering all the testing that goes into them.  This simple meat sauce was no exception.  I especially love the use of the food processor in this dish, as it simplifies the recipe, making a fairly quick meal that seems like it should take much longer.  The flavor and texture were both great.  I may try adding a bit of garlic powder and dried basil next time, just because I love to play around with those ingredients.  This is a definite keeper!

Simple Italian-Style Meat Sauce
4 oz. white mushrooms, cleaned, stems trimmed and broken into rough pieces
1 large slice good quality white sandwich bread, torn into quarters
2 tablespoons whole milk
salt and pepper
1 lb. 85% lean ground beef
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 large onion, chopped fine (about 1 ½ cups)
6 medium garlic cloves, minced or pressed (about 2 tbsp.)
¼ tsp. red pepper flakes
1 tbsp. tomato paste
1 (14.5 oz) can diced tomatoes, drained, ¼ cup liquid reserved
1 tbsp. minced fresh oregano or 1 tsp. dried
1 (28 oz) can crushed tomatoes
½ oz. grated Parmesan cheese (about ¼ cup) 

Process mushrooms in food processor until finely chopped, about 8 1-second puleses, scraping down side of bowl as needed; transfer to medium bowl.  Add bread, milk, ½ tsp. salt and ½ tsp. pepper to now-empty food processor and process until paste forms, about 8 1-second pulses.  Add beef and pulse until mixture is well combined, about 6 1-second pulses. 

Heat oil in large saucepan over medium-high heat until just smoking.  Add onion and mushrooms; cook, stirring frequently, until vegetables are browned and dark bits form on pan bottom, 6 to 12 minutes.  Stir in garlic, pepper flakes, and tomato paste; cook until fragrant and tomato paste starts to brown, about 1 minute.  Add ¼ cup reserved tomato liquid and 2 tsp. fresh oregano (or full 1 tsp. dried), scraping bottom of pan with wooden spoon to loosen browned bits.  Add m eat mixture and cook breaking meat into small pieces with wooden spoon, until beef loses its raw color, 2-4 minutes, making sure that meat does not brown. 

Stir in crushed and drained diced tomatoes and bring to simmer; reduce heat to low and gently simmer until sauce has thickened and flavors have blended, about 30 minutes.  Stir in cheese and remaining 1 tsp. fresh oregano; season with salt and pepper to taste.

Source: Cook’s Illustrated, April 2008

11 Responses

  1. How fun! I had forgotten about this recipe, so thanks for the reminder.

  2. It looks wonderful! I had this recipe saved to try, so I’m glad to hear that you loved it!

  3. I have tried a couple of their light recipes this week. One was pretty good, the other so-so for the amount of work involved for a weeknight. I think it all depends on the time you have and what you are hoping for in the end. I do love reading the magazine for all the tips and the background behind what works and what doesn’t. I learn so much from reading it.

  4. This looks great! I love your picture I have this on my list of dinners to try. I have recently become a Cooks Illustrated fan too. A lot of my blog updates and dinners lately have come from there. I think you can always count on them for a quality recipe and I love the way they explain how the recipe works!

  5. Looks like a wonderful recipe. And I love your picture!

  6. Yep, can’t go wrong with a CI recipe! By the time they publish, they’ve messed with it enough to find the perfect combinations. We’re having a meat sauce tonight but since hubby is whipping it up, it likely won’t be from CI!

  7. Good golly, this looks fantastic. I smell the coffee on the side….

  8. […] think next week, on my day off, I am going to make spaghetti with this sauce and some of this yummy looking bread that I ordered.  I’d make it this week, but my […]

  9. i love CI too… can’t wait to try this meat sauce recipe 🙂

  10. How many servings will this sauce make? I’m making spaghetti for 6 adults and 1 child and didn’t know if I need to double the recipe!

    • Caroline,
      That all depends on the serving size, so I can’t give a finite amount. For the number of people you plan to feed, I would probably double it just to be safe.

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