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Friday, September 18, 2009

Tomato Meat Sauce

It remains a mystery how the same ingredients can be used to make a traditional tomato sauce yet result in such a distinctive taste difference when made by individual cooks.

I learned to make a traditional meat sauce from my mother who no doubt learned to make it from her mother. Our sauces, though both very tasty have never tasted the same.

Perhaps it’s because again there’s no exact measurement of ingredients. The main ingredients are basic in each individual recipe but the addition of spices, oils, garlic, onion and various meats are at the cook’s discretion. Cooking time and method of preparation could also be a contributing factor.

Recipes that have been passed down through the generations have a tendency to evolve into an individual’s signature recipe.

In the Italian culture Sunday pasta with a good meat sauce also known as ragu, has been traditional fare for generations.

No one ever had to ask what was for dinner on a Sunday. There was never a worry on what to prepare and no one ever complained that it was pasta and sauce…again.

Since Sunday mornings were always a busy time getting ready for church the meat sauce was prepared the day before.

Upon returning home, we warmed up the sauce, cooked the pasta, tossed the salad and sat down to a good family dinner.

I naturally adopted this tradition for my own family and we have enjoyed many years of Sunday pasta and sauce.

Even though most of the kids have moved away this tradition lives on as they return each week for Sunday dinner. It remains to be seen if this tradition will last another generation or become history.

I’m passing my basic recipe for Tomato Meat Sauce on to you but am positive that it won’t taste like mine!

Tomato Meat Sauce

8 to 10 cups tomato sauce (puree)
favourite cut of meat (pork back ribs, veal roll ups, meatballs, Italian sausage etc.) plus small amount of oil for browning
6 tablespoons vegetable oil (for sauce)
salt and pepper to taste
½ teaspoon dried basil (optional)
(if using fresh basil add to pot in the last few minutes of cooking)
1 medium finely chopped cooking onion
  1. Heat a small amount of oil in a skillet, add meat and evenly brown then set aside.
  2. In a large saucepan sauté onion in the 6 tablespoons of oil until softened, add tomato sauce, salt and pepper and bring up to a boil.
  3. Add the browned meat, bring up to a boil again then reduce heat and simmer for approximately 45 to 55 minutes until meat is cooked and sauce thickens.

Notes, Tips and Suggestions

  • This recipe serves about 8 people but it can be halved or doubled.
  • If adding meatballs to the sauce browning is optional. I add them without browning.
  • For those who dislike finding pieces of onion in the sauce (like my kids) coarsely grating the onion instead of chopping will ensure it blends right into the sauce.
  • Some traditional sauce recipes instruct you to cook the sauce to death (hours and hours). I believe that once the meat is cooked it’s ready and the sauce retains a fresh tomato taste.
  • In my opinion overcooking destroys a lot of taste and leaves you with more of a tomato paste than a sauce.
  • If the sauce is not to be used the same day cool it down quickly by placing the pot in a sink filled with cold water then refrigerate. This helps preserve the flavour and keeps the food safe for eating.

A Special “Meating” of Ingredients

Almost everyone likes meatballs. The right combination of meat and a few other flavourful ingredients makes for a tender, tasty addition to any tomato sauce.

The mystery continues concerning meatballs as with recipes for tomato sauce.
Somehow each traditional recipe is as unique as the person making them.

I’ve included the recipe that I use although up to this point I have never made them with exact measurements. Measurements have been added as a guideline only so feel free to experiment and come up with your own recipe


1 pound each of medium ground veal and pork or 2 pounds of either meat
( a combination of any favourite ground meat can be used)
½ cup finely grated Parmigiano, Romano or Crotonese cheese
2 eggs (well beaten)
1/3 cup dry bread crumbs
salt and pepper to taste
3 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley
  1. Place all ingredients in a large bowl and with hands mix them together thoroughly.
  2. Don’t handle too much or meatballs will be tough.
  3. Spoon or scoop out enough mixture to make a medium size meatball.
  4. Roll mixture with palms of hands to form a round ball.
  5. Makes approximately 25 meatballs depending on size made.
  6. If fresh not previously frozen meat is used these freeze very well.
  7. Place them on a baking sheet lined with plastic wrap, cover with another sheet of wrap and freeze until solid.
  8. Transfer into a zip lock bag and store in freezer until ready to use.
  9. These can be thawed, browned and added to the sauce as above or added directly to the sauce in the frozen state without browning.
Meatballs accompany many pasta dishes but they do make some good meatball submarine sandwiches.
A bowl of meatballs in a pool of rich tomato sauce accompanied by a fresh ciabatta loaf or garlic bread makes for a great dipping experience!

Veal or Beef Braciole
(Roulades or Roll Ups)

thin slices of beef round or veal scaloppini
thinly sliced prosciutto cotto or pancetta
fresh finely chopped parsley
grated Parmigiano or Romano cheese
finely minced garlic (optional)
salt and pepper to taste
  1. Lay meat on a flat surface, fill with remaining ingredients and roll up tightly.
  2. Place meat onto a piece of plastic wrap and roll up tightly.
  3. Take both ends of the plastic wrap and in a forward motion spin until meat roll takes n a cylindrical shape.
  4. Unroll plastic wrap and insert 2 to 3 toothpicks to secure.
  5. Brown in a small amount of vegetable oil and add to the sauce.
  6. Remove toothpicks before serving.

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