My basic meat sauce for pasta….

I know. It makes you want to tuck in to a big bowl of pasta all covered with cheese…

This sauce has evolved from watching and helping my mom make it when I was young, to making various versions, myself, over the last twenty-some years. Some elements are the same, some have changed. She used cinnamon and sugar to sweeten it, which was influenced by my Grandma McCallum, who rarely made savory dishes without a bit of sweetness. Fitting, as she was, truly, the sweetest woman that ever lived. I find the cinnamon sweetens enough on it’s own, plus I use much sweeter onions than she did, so I don’t add any sugar. I began to add the red pepper flakes when, after cooking him dinner for the very first time, Bob had the audacity to tell me it was a bit bland  (I can’t believe I married him, anyway).  I’m also quite certain she didn’t add any bell peppers but I like to incorporate extra veggies whenever I can, so they’re here to stay. She didn’t add stock or wine but I do remember her buying a jar of Ragu now and then as a shortcut, so the jarred sauce is not simply my own laziness. Oh, and the ground turkey would never have happened back then! 

I certainly won’t try to pass this off as an authentic Italian Bolognese sauce. It’s more aptly described as a truly American adaptation but I think it’s great and, although it’s not exactly how mom used to make it, it’s still comfort food to me. 

Meat Sauce for Pasta

1 lb ground beef or turkey 
1/2 tsp ground oregano
1/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1 tsp dried basil leaves
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1-2 TB olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 cup celery, chopped  (don’t be afraid to use the leaves, they have lots of flavor)
1 cup bell pepper (red/yellow/orange), chopped
2 cloves garlic, grated or finely chopped
1 25oz jar prepared marinara sauce (I use Trader Joe’s Organic Tomato Basil Sauce)  OR 1 15oz can diced tomatoes and 12oz can tomato sauce
1 cup beef/chicken stock or wine
2-4oz tomato paste

In a large pot or skillet, brown the meat with all the spices then transfer to a strainer to drain the excess fat and set aside. I sometimes use a potato masher at the suggestion of Rachael Ray to break up the meat. Works pretty well…

Add olive oil to the pan then add onions, celery and bell pepper and saute until the onions are translucent and the celery is tender. 


Add garlic and saute a couple more minutes then add meat and marinara/tomato sauce. 

It’s certainly not necessary to use jarred sauce. I use it simply because I like it. This particular kind has wholesome ingredients and adds really good basil flavor in the event I don’t have fresh basil.

Be sure and taste the sauce as you go to make sure the seasonings are to your liking.

 Pour stock or wine in the empty marinara jar and shake to get the remaining sauce out then add to the meat sauce mixture. Add tomato paste for a little more color and richness.  Allow to simmer until some of the liquid reduces and you’re ready to serve.

Serve tossed in or over your favorite pasta and top with freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or Romano cheese….

“I cook with wine. Sometimes I even add it to the food.”

W.C. Fields

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