The secret to making a great spaghetti and meat sauce is to build layers of flavor (beyond the meat and tomatoes), and to allow them to meld together in a balanced way. It’s a fairly simple thing to do when you’re including dozens of ingredients and simmering them together for hours, but I wanted to make a sauce that anyone can throw together on a weeknight using less than a dozen basic ingredients.
By using a few flavor-enhancing time-saving techniques, this spaghetti sauce takes less than thirty minutes from start to finish without skimping on flavor. What you get is a well balanced pasta sauce that’s neither too tart nor too sweet, with a complex savory flavor that belies the quick preparation. If you’re new to the kitchen, save this page, because I’m going to show you some techniques that can be used in almost any dish to speed it up and make it taste better.
Unlike what most jarred sauce manufacturers would have you believe, this dish is called spaghetti and MEAT sauce, not “spaghetti with tomatoes and a few crumbs of meat”. That’s why I add about as much meat as there is tomato into the sauce. That way, you’ll never be left wondering “Where’s the beef?”.
To create the meaty foundation for the sauce, I use two kinds of meat: bacon and beef. By browning them both, we take advantage of the Maillard reaction, creating new flavor compounds that give the dish depth. If you don’t eat pork, you can just increase the amount of ground beef by 100 grams, and then add a few salted anchovy fillets to make up for the flavor you lose by leaving out the bacon.
The next layer of flavor comes from a mirepoix of onions, garlic and carrots that is caramelized in the rendered fat form the meat. This not only brings out the natural sweetness of the aromatics, it creates a host of additional flavor compounds that makes the sauce taste far more complex than it is. It’s important to chop the onions small, and grate the carrot finely, as this not only speeds up the caramelization process, it hastens the release of the flavors into the sauce once the liquids are added.
For the next layer of flavor, I added some white wine. This not only introduces some fruit flavors, the liquid helps release the brown fond (caramelized meat and vegetable flavor) that forms on the bottom of the pan. By boiling the mixture until there’s almost no liquid remaining, you ensure that all the alcohol has evaporated, leaving a wonderful slurry of meat, vegetable and fruit flavors behind.
Since tomatoes used for canning are usually picked before they’re fully ripe, they tend to lack the sweetness of fresh vine ripened tomatoes. Adding a little ketchup to the sauce is a quick way to bolster the tomato flavor while balancing the acidity of the canned tomatoes with a hint of sweetness.
Left to stew together while the pasta is boiling, you’ll have a delicious homemade spaghetti sauce in less time than it would have taken to order take-out. But it’s not just about saving time. With a complex flavor profile that comes together in perfect harmony, this meat sauce will put most restaurant sauces to shame.