Simple Italian-Style Meat Sauce

Published March 2008

Why This Recipe Works

For a quick meat sauce recipe that tasted as if it had simmered for a good portion of the day, we discovered a few tricks: Instead of browning the meat, we browned mushrooms to give the sauce browned flavor without drying it out; we used a panade, a mixture of bread and milk, blended into the meat before cooking, to keep it tender; and for good tomato flavor, we added tomato paste to the browned vegetables in our meat sauce recipe and deglazed the pan with a little tomato juice before adding canned tomatoes.


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4 ounces white mushrooms, trimmed and broken into rough pieces
1 slice hearty white sandwich bread, torn into quarters
2 tablespoons whole milk
Salt and pepper
1 pound 85 percent lean ground beef
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large onion, chopped fine
6 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon tomato paste
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes, drained with 1/4 cup juice reserved
1 tablespoon minced fresh oregano or 1 teaspoon dried
1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese

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Makes about 6 cups sauce, enough for 2 pounds pasta

Except for ground round (which tasters found spongy and bland), this recipe will work with most types of ground beef, as long as it is 85 percent lean. (Eighty percent lean beef will turn the sauce greasy; 90 percent will make it fibrous.) If using dried oregano, add the entire amount with the reserved tomato juice in step 2. Leftover sauce can be refrigerated for up to three days or frozen for up to one month.

1. Process mushrooms in food processor until finely chopped, about 8 pulses, scraping down sides of bowl as needed; transfer to bowl. Add bread, milk, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper to now-empty processor and process until paste forms, about 8 pulses. Add beef and pulse until mixture is well combined, about 6 pulses.

2. Heat oil in large saucepan over medium-high heat until just smoking. Add onion and mushrooms and cook, stirring frequently, until vegetables are browned and dark bits form on pan bottom, 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 2 teaspoons oregano (if using dried, add full amount), 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.

3. 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 and remaining 1 teaspoon oregano; season with salt and pepper to taste.


Keys to Great Flavor

Minced mushrooms browned in oil boost the sauce's meaty taste. A spoonful of tomato paste and a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese add complexity.


Amore Tomato Paste

Parmesan Cheese


Ground Beef

Ground beef can be made from a variety of cuts, and fat levels vary from 70 to 95 percent lean. Our meat sauce recipe calls for any 85 percent lean ground beef other than ground round. But when a recipe doesn't specify, how do you know what to buy? Here's a guide:

Ground Chuck: Cut from the shoulder, ground chuck is distinguished by its rich, beefy flavor and tender texture.

Ground Sirloin: This cut from the cow's midsection near the hip offers good beefy flavor, but it can be on the dry side. Generally fairly lean.

Ground Beef: A mystery meat of sorts, ground beef can be any cut of combination of cuts, which means flavor and texture are rarely consistent.

Ground Round: Lean, tough, and often gristly, ground round comes from the rear upper leg and rump of the cow.