Hands down, this is the best spaghetti sauce I’ve ever made. Chef Michael Smith had a show on the Food channel called “Chef at Home” that we really loved, and he inspired the original recipe (I don’t know if the cookbook I linked to actually contains this recipe or not). I didn’t jot down the instructions and over the months/years, I’ve modified it slightly to adjust for my family (they like it meatier).
It’s a little expensive to gather all the ingredients and make sauce from scratch, but it’s totally worth it. This isn’t a “measure carefully” recipe, so don’t be afraid to play around with it.
1-2 T olive oil
1 pkg pancetta
1 large onion, chopped
fresh garlic cloves, crushed and chopped, to taste
2+ lbs sweet Italian sausage, casings removed
2+ lbs ground beef (Chef Michael used a mix of veal and ground beef)
28 oz can diced tomatoes
1-2 8 oz cans tomato paste (depending on how tomatoey you like it)
1 bottle of your favorite red wine (I used Dancing Bull merlot)
fresh basil, or dried basil/Italian seasoning to taste
Kosher salt to taste
1. Chop up the pancetta. In a large deep pot, heat 1-2 T olive oil and fry the pancetta until browned. This gives the spaghetti a delicious roasted taste, even though none of the other meat is actually browned at all.
2. Add the diced onion and cook until softened. Add the garlic but don’t brown it (it’ll get bitter).
3. Dump in the tomatoes and paste.
4. Add the meats and use a spatula to chop up the sausages a little. (I leave it pretty chunky — the kids think they’re “meatballs”) Do NOT brown.
5. Stirring, pour in red wine until the meats are covered. Don’t worry about incorporating all the ingredients at this time. It looks a little disgusting with all the raw meat, but trust me. Put the lid on the pot, turn the heat down to low or med-low, and let it simmer about an hour.
6. If using fresh basil (YUM) don’t add it until near the end. If you’re using dried herbs, you can add it whenever. After the sauce has cooked about an hour, you can safely taste it and add salt or even a little sugar if needed (sugar will cut the acidic tomato taste, but I don’t usually have to because of the wine).
The alcohol will cook off, leaving a rich, delicious sauce that tastes as though it took hours and hours to make. If the sauce is a little thin, you can take the lid off and let it simmer another 1/2 hour or so to cook down a little.
Serve with your favorite pasta, freshly grated Parmesan cheese, and some crusty rustic Italian bread. This much sauce will easily feed 10 people with leftovers. We usually get at least 2 meals out of the sauce and last time I made it, I still froze some to use for later. You can always halve the meats and wine — bonus, you get to drink the rest! (I admit to opening a second bottle tonight to ensure I added enough liquid.)
Something Chef Michael always said: cook with wine that you like to drink. I love Dancing Bull cabernet or merlot, so that’s what I used today. I’ve also used Black Opal merlot which was delicious.