One of the skills I picked up in college was that of cooking actual food, a practice I've kept up since. I've occasionally posted here as both a break from all-politics and because it's one of the things, along with gaming, that I love. For past posts see:
- Putting together your essential cooking tools.
- More cooking tools.
- Why I like my cast iron pan.
- Posts on bread and sourdough. Including starter. And my baseline sourdough recipe (I should post my current one)
On to the meat of the post. This one benefits from more simmering time but can be done, start to finish, in under an hour. For people who are trying to avoid carbs - I only minimize them - spaghetti squash is a tasty and easy to prepare substitute.
One thing going for this recipe is that it's only a baseline - it can be modified to taste, with some ingredients utterly left out or modified to taste or availability. I'll give you my basic ingredients list and discuss why I use them, and substitutions in the instructions.
This is scaled to a fairly large family pot - I've got a 5-quart Lodge enameled dutch oven - and can easily accommodate 8 servings with leftovers.
- 2-3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1/2 large onion, diced small
- 5 cloves of garlic
- 1-1.5 Lbs ground beef or ground sausage (optional)
- 2-4 tablespoons salt
- 1-2 tablespoons Oregano
- 1-2 tablespoons dry basil
- 1-2 teaspoons paprika (optional)
- 1-2 teaspoons rosemary (optional)
- 2 approx 28-oz can crushed tomatoes
While nearly everything is to taste except the olive oil and tomatoes, you can make a decent sauce without the meat, rosemary, paprika, or even basil.
For the measured seasonings - start at the lower end. You can add them once meat is browned, and then give at least five minutes for everything to simmer with the tomatoes before adding more. Add less than you think you need and give it five minutes - the flavor of whatever you added in the sauce will strengthen as it cooks out and has a chance to mix. This is especially true of salt, which, while it dissolves fairly fast and adds its own taste, also brings out all the other flavors.
My preferences in meat run towards Jimmy Deans Sage/Italian/Hot (or equivalent) ground sausage, uncased italian sausage, or ground beef, in roughly that order. I've used up to 2 Lbs but that results in a very meaty sauce for most people.
More simmering time means a thicker consistency and less separation / runniness when served.
Powdered garlic will work - go easy on it as it's stronger than the equivalent amount of fresh garlic.
I put crushed tomatoes because it's nearly broken up to a sauce consistency but has more texture. Given enough time the consistency will break down so that you don't have runny sauce which separates out, even if you started with whole tomatoes you chopped up yourself. A couple cheats are to:
- Use tomato sauce
- Swap in tomato paste and 1-2 cups water.
I'll usually use paste instead of a second 28-oz can since it is already very finely ground. As the water cooks off it acts as a better binder keeping the sauce from separating as much when poured over noodles. I also often mix in 1-2 Tbsp of flour to the (cold) water before I add it to the pot.
Warm up olive oil in a dutch oven or pot. Toss in onions and cook on medium-low for 3-5 minutes until they start getting translucent. Add garlic, and cook another 3-5 minutes.
Add the meat, break up, and brown.
Once the meat is browned, add the seasonings as desired. Start at the low end (forex: 1 tablespoon of oregano) because you can always add more later as it simmers. Then add the tomatoes. Mix in will, let simmer a few (5) minutes. Once the mixture is bubbling turn down the heat to low and leave it there.
This is a good point to take a taste. Figure out which flavors you want a bit more of (salt, oregano, basil being the most likely ones), add, mix in, simmer five minutes, and taste again.
The cooking should take 30-40 minutes for a decent result - though a longer simmer is always better if you have the time to check it every 5-10 minutes to mix it and keep it from burning. For the last 10-15 or so heat up your water for noodles and cook them. If you're doing spaghetti squash you'll need to start 30 minutes before serving to adequately steam it.