by Eric Wharton
My Recipe Book, constantly being added to
When you really want to show some love, keep the flowers and say it with spaghetti.
— Rachel Ray
Let's settle something first. The spaghetti dishes eaten by most Americans are not considered to be part of Italian cuisine. Sure, they taste Italian and are popular outside of Italy, but I wouldn't suggest offering them as substitutes for the dishes actually eaten in Italy. They are generally perceived as inauthentic. All of which is okay—calling it American spaghetti is just fine. It suits my distinctly American pallet and that's what's important.
Spaghetti with meat sauce is a perfect example. It's sometimes called spaghetti à la bolognese, but it should really never be associated with the Italian bolognese version. It does consist of pasta served with a sauce made from tomatoes, minced beef, garlic, and herbs. In that sense, however, the sauce is actually more similar to Neapolitan ragù from the south of Italy than the northern bolognese version of ragù.
It probably evolved from the authentic Italian dishes brought to the Americas by southern Italian emigration in the twentieth century. The fusion of tomato-rich dishes with local flavorings and styles produced what we know in America today. In countries where it's common, the sauce is often used for lasagna in place of ragù à la bolognese as in Bologna and elsewhere in Italy.
A generous portion of the sauce is usually served on top of the pasta (in this case, spaghetti) or served separately, along with Parmesan cheese. This separates it from genuine Italian dishes, which usually have a smaller sauce to pasta ratio with the sauce mixed in.
I usually cook the sauce in a crock pot for convenience, but it can be simmered on top of the stove.
2 lbs ground chuck
1 28-oz can crushed tomatoes
2 15-oz cans tomato sauce
1 6-oz can tomato paste
1/4 cup dark brown sugar
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp soy sauce
2 tsp of salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
Spices: 1/2 tsp basil and parsley flakes, 1/4 tsp thyme, 2 bay leaves
Brown meat, drain, and place in a crock pot. Add tomato ingredients, olive oil, soy sauce, brown sugar. Cook on high 4 hours. With an hour to go, add salt, pepper, and spices (cooking spices too long can cook out the flavor).
About 30 minutes before the sauce cooking time ends, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add about a teaspoon of salt to water and then add spaghetti. Boil for 20 minutes— shorter for al dente noodles. Reserve about 1/4 cup of water, then drain pasta.
Remove bay leaves from the sauce. They provide a rich, woodsy flavor and aroma, but they have rigid, leathery leaves with sharp edges that don’t soften with cooking. That can present a choking hazard if swallowed. That's the sole reason for removing them because, contrary to popular belief, they are not toxic.
Mix pasta and sauce, adding the reserved water (the boiled-out starches helps the sauce stick to the pasta). Only use what's needed, based on the amount of pasta. Serve with Parmesan cheese.
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