Just about everyone loves a good pasta dinner. Especially one with a hearty meat sauce. The tomato-based sauce is rich and tangy. and the beef gives it depth.
Spaghetti was one of the first dinners I learned to make. As a high schooler, it was up to me most weeknights to make dinner for my sister and I. Early on, I learned how easy it was to boil some spaghetti noodles and toss them in pasta sauce.
A funny story related to that is that most of the time, we didn’t add meat to our spaghetti sauce. As a newlywed, I made the same dinner for my husband and he was appalled! I don’t think he had ever had spaghetti sauce without the meat.
A few years ago, I read that pasta made in Italy was less likely to cause digestive issues. While I have no idea if that is true or not, the argument they made sounded reasonable. So, I began buying pasta made in Italy (or with Italian flour) since then.
Then, I learned about glyphosate (an active ingredient in Roundup) and wheat-based products. So, I began buying organic pasta several months agi. It’s not always readily available, but ALDI and Wal-Mart have some affordable organic pasta options.
During my stop at The Market, a local grocery store, earlier this week HERE (where I meal planned on the fly) I picked up some pasta. I knew I had ground beef in the freezer and canned tomatoes in the pantry to make a meat sauce.
The night before making this pasta dinner, I looked through my cookbook collection and found Cook’s Illustrated All-Time Best Pasta Recipes. Their Simple Italian-Style Meat Sauce recipe was the inspiration for my Pasta with Meat Sauce recipe.
Since I had a lot of fresh tomatoes on hand, I swap out canned tomatoes in favor of my fresh tomatoes. You might notice in my photos below that the sauce isn’t quite as red as it would have been if I used canned tomatoes.
Making the Meat Sauce
I started early on the tomato portion of the recipe to let them cook down. I quartered the tomatoes and set them on medium heat for about an hour. While they were cooking down, I chopped the onions.
Once the tomatoes softened, I used an immersion blender to break them down. Then put them back on the stove to thicken them up.
Browning the onions.
Mixing the panade (a paste of milk and bread) and ground beef in the food processor.
Adding the ground beef mixture to the onion mixture.
Below is what it looked like after I added the homemade tomato sauce. As you can see, it needs to thicken up some. I set the burner between low and simmer. While it was cooking, I put the water on to boil for the pasta.
Between the above picture and the below one, I removed about 1/3 of the sauce for my daughter to take home, and let the sauce cook down for 30 minutes. I added the parmesan cheese and reserved oregano.
For a rich sauce like this, I like using bigger pasta than traditional spaghetti. I often choose rigatoni or pappardelle pasta. The top photo shows the sauce with pappardelle and the one below with rigatoni. Always go with your personal preference!
COOKING TIP: When cooking pasta, always reserve about 1 cup of pasta water before draining. If you choose to mix the pasta and meat sauce together before serving, add about 1/4-1/2 cup of the pasta water with 1-2 cups of sauce. This helps the sauce bind with the pasta.
And your Pasta Dinner is ready!
Pasta with Meat Sauce
To sub fresh tomatoes instead of canned, use 3.5 pounds of tomatoes and roughly chop them.
- 4 ounces white mushrooms washed and finely chopped
- 1 slice sandwich bread torn into pieces
- 2 Tbsp. whole milk
- 1 tsp. kosher salt
- ½ tsp. black pepper
- 1 pound 85 percent lean ground beef
- 1 Tbsp. olive oil
- 1 large finely chopped onion
- 6 minced garlic cloves
- 1 Tbsp. tomato paste
- ¼ tsp. red pepper flakes
- 1 14.5 ounce can diced tomatoes, drained with 1/4 cup juice reserved
- 1 tsp dried oregano
- 1 28 ounce can crushed tomatoes
- ¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
Add bread, milk, salt, and pepper to a large bowl and stir until thickened OR use a food processor, pulsing several times to combine. Add beef and gently fold until well combined (by hand) or pulse until mixed.
If you are using fresh tomatoes instead of canned, follow the instructions at the end of this recipe.
Heat oil in large saucepan over medium-high heat until oil shimmers. Add onion and mushrooms, stirring frequently, until vegetables browned and dark bits form on pan bottom (about 6 to 12 minutes). Stir in garlic, tomato paste, and pepper flakes; cook until fragrant and tomato paste starts to brown, about 1 minute. Add reserved tomato juice and oregano), scraping up any browned bits. Add meat mixture and cook, breaking meat into small pieces with spoon, until beef loses its raw color, 2 to 4 minutes, making sure that meat does not brown.
Stir in crushed tomatoes and 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 Parmesan, season with salt and pepper to taste.
Quarter the tomatoes, place in a large sauce pan and cook on low-medium heat for about an hour. Use an immersion blender (in the sauce pan) to break them down or allow to cool and use a blender.
Add to 1 pound of pasta. Reserve about 1 cup of pasta water before draining. If you choose to mix the pasta and meat sauce together before serving, add about 1/4-1/2 cup of the pasta water with 1-2 cups of sauce. This helps the sauce bind with the pasta.
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Check out some of my other pasta meals:
Here’s a pasta recipe roundup:
And here is my easy french bread recipe, which is perfect for this meal: