Christa Crawford, M.A.
Before we got really serious about eating real food, Craig and I used to go out for spaghetti and meatballs once in a while. Who doesn’t love some hearty meatballs with a deep red sauce? Of course, spaghetti and meatballs includes spaghetti, and that’s no longer on my menu.
Now that spaghetti’s out, spaghetti squash is in. To avoid getting angry emails from disappointed readers, I’m going to be completely honest here. As much as Trader Joes tries to advertise spaghetti squash as a convincing substitute for real spaghetti, the truth is that it really doesn’t even resemble pasta. Sure, it’s stringy like pasta; but that’s where the similarities end. Nonetheless, it still works as a safe-starchy bed for a really good meat sauce.
If I have so many nostalgic memories of spaghetti and meatballs, why did I make a bolognese instead of meatballs? Laziness, mostly. It’s a lot quicker and easier to brown the meat than it is to make meatballs. Also, the ground meat adds a depth to the sauce that’s hard to get otherwise. Of course, there’s no getting around the fact that to make a really rich sauce, you gotta give it time. I let my sauce simmer for about two hours. I checked on it once in a while to make sure it wasn’t getting too thick; other than that, it’s pretty low maintenance.
- 2 pounds grass-fed ground beef
- 1 28-oz. can diced tomatoes
- 1 16-oz. can tomato sauce
- 1.5 oz. (half of a small can) tomato paste
- 2 large onions
- 4 ribs celery
- 4 carrots
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 3-4 cups dry red wine
- 1-2 cups chicken or beef stock
- 3 dried bay leaves
- 2 tsp. dried oregano or marjoram
- 3-4 sprigs fresh thyme
- 1 large handful fresh basil
- olive oil
- 1 tbsp. salt
- 1/2 tbsp. pepper
Dice the onions, celery, and carrots. Heat some olive oil in an enameled cast iron dutch oven over medium heat. Do not overheat the oil unless you want oxidized fat for dinner. Brown the ground beef. It takes time for it to really caramelize. Once the water cooks off, the fat will be left in the pan; that’s what browns the meat. If there’s not even enough fat in your meat to get a nice caramelization, consider buying fattier meat next time. But in the meantime, add a little olive oil or bacon fat to the pan to help it along. Don’t rush it. The brown is where the flavor is! Remove the meat from the pot and set aside.
Cook the onions, celery, carrots, and garlic for 10 minutes or so, until they are semi-soft. You don’t have to brown the vegetables.
Add the tomato paste to the vegetables. Cook for a few minutes to allow the flavors to concentrate. Deglaze the pot with 2 cups of red wine. Add the meat back to the pot. Add the diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, dried herbs, and thyme. (Save the basil for later.) Season the sauce. Start with 1 tsp. of salt and 1/2 tsp. of pepper. You can add more later if you need.
Leave the pot uncovered and bring the sauce to a simmer. Periodically check the consistency of the sauce. If it looks like it’s getting too thick, add a little more wine. Do this every half hour or so. This is what makes a really rich sauce; it reduces and concentrates, and then you add more flavor. You don’t want to dump in all the wine at once, or you’ll get a weaker, less savory meat sauce. If you run out of wine, (like I did) you can add some chicken broth. Simmer the sauce for two hours or longer.
Taste the sauce and add more salt and pepper if needed. Finish the sauce with a drizzle of olive oil and a handful of fresh basil.
Our microwave broke over a year ago, and we never replaced it. I don’t usually miss it, but it sure does help to have one when you’re trying to cook a spaghetti squash. If you have a microwave, you can just cut it in half lengthwise, put it face down in a shallow dish with a little water, and microwave it for 12-15 minutes. Otherwise, here’s how it’s done:
- 1 spaghetti squash
- olive oil
Preheat the oven to 375°. Cut the squash in half lengthwise. Scoop out the seeds and discard. Place the squash face down in a baking dish. Add 1/2 inch of water to the pan. Bake for 45-60 minutes or until it’s soft. Use a fork to pull apart the strands of spaghetti squash.