This recipe is the one I use all the time and often refer to here on InsomniMom. It is partly my mom's, who first mined it from the 1960 edition of Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook. But it's also my friend Celia's, who lived in France and Italy for many years and Knows Things about cooking that I will probably never figure out, even if I sleep with Julia's books under my pillow for the rest of my life.
This is an easy sauce to make, makes the house smell wonderful and homey, and makes enough for two meals plus a couple of lunch portions for our family of four. It goes over any kind of pasta, although our pasta of choice is always thin whole-wheat spaghetti. You can also use half of the recipe in lasagna, and the other half in baked spaghetti or even maybe the Red Sauce and Rice casserole I've been working on (recipe coming, you lucky things!)
In Italy, "ragù" describes a red sauce made with meat, which is just what this is. I've also added the word "Americana" to the title because this is a sweet sauce; Americans tend to like a hit of sugar in their tomato-based sauces. Think of things like barbecue sauce and ketchup and you'll understand what I mean. If you want a sauce that is more authentically Italiano, just don't put the sugar in, although I'd still recommend a teaspoon or so to cut the acidity of the tomatoes.
This sauce is a super-sneaky way to add some vegetables into your kids' dinner. Process them a bunch to make them invisible, or just grate them if your peeps don't mind seeing carrots.
1 pound ground beef
1 pound sausage (we use spicy sausage, but Italian sausage is also very good)
2 cloves garlic, diced (or one teaspoon of garlic powder)
1 large onion, diced
1 large can tomato juice
2 small cans tomato sauce
2 small cans tomato paste
2 carrots, grated or puréed
2 celery stalks, ditto
1 cup spinach leaves, cut chiffonade or puréed
about ten fresh mushrooms, thinly slice or puréed
1 1/2 tablespoons dried oregano leaves
1 1/2 teaspoons dried thyme leaves
1 1/2 teaspoons dried basil leaves
1 tablespoon salt
4 tablespoons brown sugar
1 bay leaf
1 cup of hot water
1/4 cup red wine (optional)
Brown the beef and the sausage in a large Dutch oven with the garlic and onion; drain and return to the stove. Over a medium heat, add all the remaining ingredients. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to a slow simmer, stirring every twenty minutes or so. Allow to cook on stove for about two hours. Serve immediately over pasta. If there is sauce left over, allow to cool and then put in a refrigerator container. Store for up to one week.
If you'd like to prepare this in your slow-cooker, simply omit the cup of hot water. Brown the meat ahead of time and put everything in the cooker all at once; stir to combine and cook for four hours on low heat.
One thing I like to do is make up small snack-sized plastic bags of the herbs and other dry ingredients ahead of time. That way, when I'm preparing the sauce, all I have to do is empty out a pre-measured bag into my Dutch oven, even though I've made this so many times, I just measure everything out in my palm anyway.
If you don't want to add the fresh vegetables, you don't have to. The sauce is much richer and more complex in flavor if you do add them, though. I made this for years and no one knew that all those vegetables were in it. It was my little veggie secret.
This sauce freezes very well. If I intend to freeze it, I pour it carefully into gallon-sized freezer bags, remove as much of the air as possible from the bag, and then freeze it flat on a baking sheet. If you divide the sauce in half, it will fill two gallon-sized freezer bags about half full.
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