Today we had our first real snow. It was nothing like the few powdery flakes we saw this fall, nor could it possible compare to the -50 degree temperatures we “enjoyed” last winter in Kazakhstan… Still, the sidewalks were covered, the roads were a mess, and at 4 p.m. it still hadn’t melted. So, yeah. First snow.
On a day like today, there is only one thing better than a piping hot plate of perfectly cooked pasta smothered in a classic tomato meat sauce and generously topped with parmesan cheese. And that, my friends, is not having to make it yourself. Don’t get me wrong, I love my time in the kitchen, but there is something about coming home to a hot meal (especially one that is actually worth eating) that just makes me feel loved and pampered. Lucky for me, Aleks is a fantastic cook, and this is a pretty common occurrence. You may remember his favorite recipe for shashuka or his classic recipe for tavche gravche (Macedonian Baked Beans), but this easy tomato meat pasta sauce just might be my favorite.
This mouthwatering sauce is indescribably easy (don’t worry, I’ll describe it) to make and worthy of even the most discriminating guest. One of the secrets, which lends an extra little savory oompf (oomph?), is nutritional yeast. Nutritional yeast is a whole different beast from the yeast you might use in a loaf of bread, and I usually find it in the bulk foods section of the supermarket. If you can’t find any just linger a little longer when it’s your turn with the parmesan cheese. This should go without saying, but the tomatoes and beef are the real stars of the show here, so buy the good stuff.
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 1 large onion, cut small
- 1 pound of ground beef
- 4-5 cloves of garlic
- 1 cup of white or red wine (or, some days, a cup of nice, malty ale)
- 1 teaspoon beef or vegetable “better than bullion”
- 4-5 cloves of garlic, minced
- 1/2-1 tablespoon of ground fennel seeds (fennel seeds can vary in flavor, try as you go)
- 2 teaspoon ground pepper
- 2 teaspoon paprika
- 2 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes (I usually put more in)
- 2 tablespoon nutritional yeast (optional)
- 1 28 oz can of whole, peeled tomatoes
- 1 tablespoon sugar, or honey
- 2-3 chopped peperoncini (optional)
- 1 package of your choice of pasta, preferably something flat and wide to grip on to the meat, cooked, and 1 tsp of salt for the water
- salt to taste
- Melt the butter and fry the onions on medium heat, 8-10 minutes. Salt them to taste.
- Once the onions begin to brown, move them to the edges of the pan and put in the meat. Spread the meat out in a layer, maximizing the area of browning.
- Once both sides of the meat are browned, add the wine or beer and deglaze the pan. Mix the meat and onions back into the sauce and add the garlic, spices, and nutritional yeast, if using.
- Once the sauce is up to a simmer, add the can of tomatoes. Sometimes, the tomatoes are hard to crush in the pan, so I blend them shortly to get rid of the largest chunks of tomato.
- Add the sugar and peperoncini. Let the sauce simmer until the flavors are blended, about 20 minutes. Taste periodically, adding salt and more spices.
- In the meantime, cook the pasta in salted water to just before al dente.
- Once the pasta is almost ready, drain the water and add the pasta to the sauce. Let the pasta cook just the smallest smidge past al dente and blend with the sauce.
- Serve with shaved parmesan, and/or more nutritional yeast.