She was on her best behavior during her stay, so I was treated to intelligent and witty conversation, introductions to books I'd never read and glimpses of the southern belle who'd been married to several men from all walks of life. It was during that "dry" week that her talents in the kitchen were revealed. Besides showing me how to make spaghetti, she gave me An Early Lesson in Mise en Place.
My friend Jo was recently lamenting the fact that she had no recipe for a really good spaghetti sauce that didn't call for Italian sausage or ground pork or anything else the average home cook isn't likely to just have on hand all the time.
So I went to work on that, and I think I've come up with a nice little meat sauce that captures some of those flavors without anyone having to run out to the shops to buy anything special. Most of us omnivores keep some ground beef in the freezer at all times. I always buy extra lean so there's no need to drain off the fat.
All the herbs called for are dried herbs because most of us don't have a ready supply of affordable fresh herbs all year round. It calls for a little wine (which you can skip if you don't use alcohol) because I almost always have about half a cup of leftover wine in the refrigerator.
You can make it from start to finish in about an hour and a half, including the simmering time. Since I was just cooking for one today, I measured 2 cups (enough for 2 people) of sauce into each of 3 freezer containers for future meals and just ate the remaining cup myself over spaghetti.
Update 08/30/16: Here's how to make Shepherd's Pie Freezer Meals.
If you are out of marjoram (or never had any to begin with!), this is the time to get some. I taste as I go when I'm developing a recipe; and when I had everything in this sauce but the marjoram, there was just a little something not quite right. I thought, I bet a little marjoram would mellow this out just right. And it did!
Of course, with Mr. Delightful's aversion to "messy" foods, we'll be having this sauce on penne or rigatoni rather than spaghetti. How about you? Do you like long pasta or shapes?
(Makes about 6 servings)
1 1/2 teaspoons fennel seed
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup chopped green bell pepper
1/2 cup chopped carrot
1 pound (454 grams) extra lean ground beef
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon basil
1 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon parsley flakes
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon marjoram
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 14.5-ounce (411 grams) can crushed tomatoes
1 14.5-ounce (411 grams) can diced tomatoes
1 8-ounce (227 grams) can tomato sauce
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 cup water
1/2 cup dry red or white wine, optional
1 In large skillet or wide pan (I use a Le Creuset 3.5-quart stainless steel saucier), toast the fennel seed over low heat; pour toasted seeds onto chopping board or into grinder.
2 Heat olive oil in the now empty pan. Add chopped onion, green pepper and carrot; cook until softened, about 10 minutes. While the vegetables are cooking, chop or grind the fennel seed; stir it in.
3 Add ground beef to pan and cook, breaking up into fairly fine pieces. As it browns, sprinkle on the Worcestershire sauce and salt.
4 Add the remaining ingredients, and bring to a simmer. Simmer, loosely covered, for about 45 minutes. Of course, you can add more liquid and simmer longer with great results, if you have the time!