Years ago, I wrote a lengthy blog post about how I make my red sauce. It was a relatively complicated recipe from a time when I simply had more time. Over the years, I’ve simplified the recipe into a reliably good sauce that takes very little effort. I don’t know if I ever make it the exact same way twice—neglected items in the crisper often get thrown in the pot—but this is the gist of it.
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 green bell pepper, diced
- 1 sweet onion, diced
- 5 cloves garlic, minced
- Big pinch red pepper (1/4 teaspoon?)
- Big pinch dried oregano (1/8–1/4 teaspoon?)
- 1/2 cup red wine
- 2 cans Allessi whole peeled San Marzano tomatoes, crushed or pureed (I sometimes use one can tomatoes and 1 jar Classico Four Cheese spaghetti sauce)
- 1 beef bouillon cube (I omit this if I want a brighter tasting sauce)
- salt and pepper to taste
In a six quart dutch oven, melt the oil and butter over medium-high heat. Add the diced pepper and onions and sauté until sweated through. Add the oregano, crushed red pepper, and a little kosher salt and cook until the onion starts browning around the edges, stirring occasionally. Add the garlic and cook until it just starts to brown. Deglaze the pan with the red wine and allow it to cook down.
While the vegetables are cooking, hand-crush or use a processor/blender to puree the canned tomatoes. When most of the wine has evaporated in the pot, add the tomatoes and incorporate well. When the sauce starts to simmer, turn the heat to low. Add the bouillon cube and stir well. The bouillon cube is just an umami bomb. You could substitute mashed anchovies or a little Worcestershire sauce, but this is easier.
Let the pot simmer with the lid cracked for as little as an hour or however long you want. I usually let it go for around three hours to break down the tomatoes and vegetables. Just stir it every now and then to make sure it’s not sticking to the bottom. There’s no reason to season the sauce at this point. The meatballs will add a lot of flavor.
If I wasn’t adding meatballs, I would have started the sauce off by browning a couple of boneless pork ribs in the pot. Then I would have added them back as the sauce summers to make a ragú.
If I have other vegetables like carrots, celery, zucchini, and squash in the crisper, I’ll sauté them along with the onions and peppers. If I do that, I almost always puree the sauce before eating it to get a smooth consistency.
When I make meatballs, I make a lot and freeze them. That way, I can whip up batches of spaghetti and meatballs on impulse. Plus, I like to slice up the meatballs and incorporate them into my lasagna. Here’s how I generally make them, although I usually change it up a bit based on what I have on hand.
- 3 pounds 80/20 ground beef
- 2 pounds ground pork (the fattier, the better)
- 4 cups home-ground breadcrumbs, untoasted
- 1/2 cup milk
- 2 cups pre-ground parmesan cheese
- 2 eggs, beaten
- 5 cloves garlic, minced
- big handful of chopped, curly leaf parsley
- big handful of chopped, fresh basil
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
I keep a large ziplock bag in my freezer. Whenever bread is getting stale, or I end up with an extra hot dog or hamburger bun, I toss it in the bag. When the bag is full, it’s time to make meatballs and/or weiner schnitzel. I just process the bread into crumbs, then I use the cream to make a panade. I do this first so that the bread can absorb the milk. I have a ridiculously large bowl I use to make meatballs. Seriously, you could sled down a hill in it. After making the panade in the huge bowl, I toss everything besides the meat into it and mix with my hands.
Add the meat to the bowl and mix gently to break up the grind and incorporate the panade and cheese. Just form your hands into claws and use your fingers like little pitchforks to till the mixture. You want to mix it pretty thoroughly, but not overwork it into a dense paste. That will make the meatballs tough.
Sometimes I bake the meatballs at 300° until they’re cooked through. Other times I just add them straight to the pot. That’s how my mother’s family does it. Either way, you want to give the meatballs at least an hour in the sauce. The fat will render and flavor the sauce even further. Don’t overcook them or they will dry out and have a grainy texture. If a lot of grease rises to the surface, spoon it off.
30 minutes before serving, add any fresh herbs you have on hand (parsley, basil, oregano, sage). Sprinkle some parmesan cheese (a couple of tablespoons?) into the sauce and stir to incorporate. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve with bread, salad, and the noodles of your choice.