Pardon the navel gazing for a second: you know the post that has, so far, received the most positive feedback? Calzones. That initially struck me as weird. Calzones? It’s so pedestrian! But that’s precisely why, I reckon, that the post got reaction it did: everybody can relate to calzones. Not everybody can relate to Beef Wellington or Duck Breast or Acorn Squash. It would be the same for a whole host of dishes: roast chicken, steak, fajitas, stir fry and spaghetti. Describe yours and people instantly know if it sounds good or not. Cooking those dishes for others can be kinda scary. If everybody can relate to it, and you screw it up, they know you screwed it up. But nail it? Oh man, they’ll rave about it.
A friend of mine recently asked for my advice on a spaghetti sauce she was planning to prepare for last minute dinner guests. I gave her some tips that I thought would help; from what I heard afterwards, it was a success (I’m quite sure I had nothing to do with it). Her version of spaghetti sauce was quite different from what I think of spaghetti sauce. That made me think about my sauce. And thinking about my sauce made me want to make it. Hence this post.
I wasn’t a fan of spaghetti growing up. It was a middle of the road dish, nothing exciting or terrible. My mom gave me huge portions of it; I was a growing boy, after all. Left to my own devices after leaving home, well, I could have dessert for dinner; what was anyone gonna do? After that wore thin, spaghetti popped into my head as something easy (I wasn’t into cooking then), something I knew I could make and tasty enough. So I tried to emulate what I remembered from my mom’s recipe. It was so good!
Now, I consider spaghetti with this sauce, a loaf of garlic bread and some red wine is one of my favourite meals, a comforting dish.
The only difference between mine and my mother’s is basil, fresh basil. I’m mad for the stuff. The sauce described below is what I’d make for guests, but that doesn’t mean it’s a fixed recipe. Sometimes I might add bacon, or prosciutto, or diced tomatoes, or mushrooms. You might want to add your favourite vegetable. Or lots of vegetables. There is no perfect Pepsi, but instead perfect Pepsis.
Spaghetti is the obvious vessel for this sauce, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be. Any pasta will suffice, but so will squash. I spent a little too much time enjoying the spoils of the kitchen late last year; since New Year’s, I’ve been on a diet – low-carb to be precise – so spaghetti is out. But the sauce isn’t. So, and I wish I thought of this, we use spaghetti squash as the noodles.1 It’s not quite the same as pasta: the squash won’t absorb the liquid in the sauce like pasta will. But it’s a decent substitute. Squash is a decent replacement for other pasta dishes; the missus makes a mean lasagna with zucchini as the pasta.
To use spaghetti squash: cut in half, scoop the seeds; oil and season the two halves and bake in a 375F oven until piercing with a knife takes no effort, around 45 minutes. Use a fork to turn the squash into spaghetti by scraping the squash out of the skin.
If you’re going to use real spaghetti, follow the instructions on the package, drain, let steam dry for 30 seconds to a minute. Portion it and pour the sauce over it.
Serves 4 generously
- olive oil
- 5 cloves garlic
- 1 lb ground beef
- salt and pepper
- 1 large onion, diced
- 1/2 cup red wine
- 1 can tomato sauce
- handful of sun-dried tomatoes, finely chopped
- handful basil leaves, finely chopped (small ones reserved)
Get a large pot hot over medium-high heat. Add the oil. Once shimmering, add the garlic until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the beef. Cook until the pink is gone, stirring occasionally. Season with salt and pepper. Add the onion and cook until soft, about 2 minutes.
Deglaze with the red wine.
Stir in the tomato sauce, turn the heat to low, cover and let simmer for as long as possible (at least 30 minutes if you can).
About 10 minutes before serving, add the sun-dried tomatoes.
Right before serving, kill the heat, stir in the basil.
Serve on spaghetti squash, spaghetti, or your favourite pasta. Cover with parmesan cheese and garnish with the small basil leaves.