What’s for Dinner: Jen’s Spaghetti Sauce

Let me first say that my Mom makes the best spaghetti sauce in the world. Anyone on either side of my family would shove aside any other family member to get to it. As is usual with Mom recipes, there are no measurements. I learned to copy this recipe by watching her closely and figuring out what a “half a palmful of thyme” means. The scientist in me does not like this sort of measurement – what if you have tiny hands? Luckily, my hands are carbon copies of my mother’s, so our measurements work out great. I suspect this is also a sneaky way of ensuring that nobody else but us ever gets this recipe exactly right, so everyone has to keep coming to us for the world’s best spaghetti. I can only hope that I have a kid who inherits my hands, or the secret of the sauce dies with me. And in fairness to Mom – I tweaked it and made my own version. I will try to write out a recipe so you can try to make it, but please know that it’s a very “fuzzy” recipe that never comes out the same way twice.

And yeah, I’m bragging about my fabulous sauce because I love it to death, but I know it’s not everyone’s favorite. It’s not made with fresh garden tomatoes or anything, and I know that fancy pro chefs would cringe at it. But it tastes so damn good to me that I frankly don’t care. I could eat this three or four times a week for months and never get sick of it. Provided there was garlic bread available to soak up the extra sauce, of course.

Jen’s Spaghetti Sauce

3-4 sweet italian sausages
1 pound extra lean ground beef (this is really flexible – add more if you like it meatier, less if you don’t, but DO get the extra-lean because you’re getting plenty of fat from the sausages)
5 cloves of garlic
3 28-oz cans of tomato sauce or tomato puree
(have an extra one on hand in case you find the sauce too thick after you add the meat)
Big palmful of oregano
Palmful of basil
Half palmful of thyme
Generous amount fresh ground black pepper

First I snip the sausages into pieces with scissors. I cut them fairly small, ending up with 8 pieces from each sausage. I fry them up until they have a nice brown crust. They don’t need to be cooked all the way through at this point, because you’re going to simmer them in the sauce for a while later. I put them aside to drain on paper towels, then brown the ground beef. I make sure to season the beef well with salt and pepper. Meanwhile, I’ve dumped the cans of sauce into a big pot and added my spices. I use a garlic press for the garlic, but I suppose you could chop it fine if you prefer. Now, the spice measurements are tricky. I basically cup my palm and pour a whole bunch of oregano into my hand from my huge Costco-sized jar. Dump that in, and then do the same with slightly less basil, and then half as much thyme. This is also where you’ll want to pull out your pepper grinder and grind some coarse pepper into the mix. As much as you think you’ll like – it’s never the same twice, which is part of the fun!

I set the heat on low for the sauce and then dump in all the fat-drained meat and stir it all in. That simmers for at least an hour, but I usually leave it for about two on the lowest heat that keeps it gently bubbling. Oh, and keep the lid on unless you want a red-spotted kitchen. A splatter screen works well too. After about an hour I taste it and make adjustments. If it’s too acidic, I am not ashamed to say that I add a little sugar. It doesn’t usually need it, but I found last time that when I used puree instead of sauce, it was more acidic for some reason. Maybe it was a different brand that made the difference, I’m not sure. Let your tastebuds guide you.

When I’m finally starving and going crazy with the super smell of my kitchen and desperate to eat, I check the sausage chunks by pulling one out and cutting it in half. If it’s still pink in the middle, it’s got to keep cooking.

I know it’s “spaghetti” sauce, but I don’t think we’ve ever had it with actual spaghetti noodles. This needs a big noodle. I love it with rigatoni, but penne or rotini do pretty well too. Anything with ridges or spirals to really hold the sauce. You will also need pasta bowls. Big ones. Oh, and some wine.

This recipe obviously makes a ton of sauce, because my mother could only teach me to cook for a vast crowd. So, have some tupperwares handy to freeze the extras. It freezes very well and keeps for at least 4 months in the freezer… we’ve never had it last longer because we eat it before then.

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