Bid farewell to our garden harvest!
The last herbs have been dried and are living happily ever after (until I cook with them) in the spice drawer. The squash and cucumber vines are long dead, the (very few) chili peppers blended into a hot sauce. Our fat green tomatoes, harvested before the first snowstorm early last month, we wrapped lovingly in newspaper and left in a corner to hopefully ripen…and they did! We had an unexpected bounty of homegrown tomatoes, late into October.
Last week, I turned those beauties into a chunky and delicious meat sauce.
Everyone has his or her version of THE BEST meat sauce, right? Confession: I often describe myself as an Italian girl, but I’m actually only something like one-sixteenth Italian. I’m really a mutt– Italian, Spanish, Mexican, German, I think even Slavic- so I’m no expert on Italian cuisine. But I consulted my (actually Italian) friend and made a few tweaks to my usual meat sauce recipe. The result was scrumptious!
First, I had to prep the fresh tomatoes. Peeling tomatoes is easier than it sounds. I started a pot of water boiling, set up a bowl of ice water next to it, and scored the bottom of each tomato with a little “X.” In batches, dropped the tomatoes in the boiling water for about 15 seconds, then moved them to the ice bath to chill out. When they’d cooled slightly, the peels came right off. I chopped the naked tomatoes into chunks and set them aside. Tommers prepped!
Next, I chopped all of the veggies: celery, carrot, plenty of onion, and garlic. Rainbow cutting boards are my favorite.
I got the veggies started in a pot with a little olive oil. I dropped in a bit of butter, as my Italian friend suggested. Butter is never a bad addition.
Next, I added the meat. I always use spicy Italian sausage and ground beef (some recipes call for veal or pork, too). I added the garlic and broke up the meat with my spoon, letting it brown up.
Time for some seasoning. I used dried oregano and crushed red pepper (for spice!). I let the meat and veggies get acquainted with the seasonings before adding the bowl of lovely tomatoes. I also added a couple of spoonfuls of tomato paste and gave the whole thing a big stir.
More herbs, please! This time, I added fresh thyme and basil (along with some dried basil). I poured in some organic beef broth and tossed in a couple of fat bay leaves before heeding another suggestion from my Italian friend: a heaping spoonful of brown sugar.
If I have one saved, I’ll usually toss a Parmesan rind into the sauce while it simmers. It adds a subtle nutty/saltiness. I brought the sauce to a boil, then reduced the heat and let it simmer away on the stove for over an hour. I drizzled in some good balsamic vinegar before serving heaping ladlefuls over fettuccine. (I kept the sauce simmering for another hour while we ate dinner!)
Can we talk about this?
The sauce was just how it should be. Chunky. Meaty. A freshness from the garden tomatoes. A hint of spice. Depth of flavor from all of the little tweaks, from giving them time to develop on the stove.
We ate our pasta with plenty of fresh grated Parmesan cheese and a little bit of fresh basil on top. Garlic bread, good red wine, and candles completed a pretty perfect Italian meal.
Not bad for a mutt like me.
Meat Sauce with Garden Tomatoes
- Olive oil
- 3 cups peeled and chopped fresh tomatoes (or 28 oz. can of San Marzano tomatoes)
- ¾ lb. hot Italian sausage (ground)
- ½ lb. ground beef
- 2+ cups chopped onion
- 1 cup chopped celery
- 1 cup chopped carrot
- 3-4 chopped garlic cloves
- Small can of tomato paste
- 3-4 cups organic beef broth
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
- 1 tablespoon dried oregano
- 1 teaspoon dried basil
- 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper (more for more heat)
- 2 bay leaves
- Heaping tablespoon brown sugar
- Drizzle of balsamic vinegar
- Garlic salt and cracked black pepper
- Fresh Parmesan cheese
- Optional: Parmesan cheese rind
Over medium heat, heat two tablespoons of olive oil and a generous pat of butter. Add the onion, celery, and carrot and cook for 5-7 minutes, until the onion is slightly translucent. Add the sausage, ground beef, and garlic. Break up the meat with your spoon and allow the meat to brown. Add the oregano and crushed red pepper. Season with garlic salt and black pepper. Add the tomatoes and the tomato paste, stirring to combine. Add most of the fresh basil, the dried basil, and thyme. Add beef broth, bay leaves, and brown sugar. Pop in the Parmesan rind, if you have one. Bring the sauce to a boil, then reduce the heat and let simmer for 2 hours. Stir in a drizzle of balsamic vinegar and adjust seasonings. Serve over pasta of your choice, topped with plenty of fresh Parmesan cheese and more fresh basil. Drink plenty of good red wine and say, “Buon appetito!” like a true Italian. YUM!
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