Making meat sauce with pasta.
- Some sort of pasta. Spaghetti, tagliatelle, farfalle... fresh or not, it doesn't matter much. Just be sure you like it, and stay away from macaroni at all cost.
- 1 pound of ground beef
- 1 small can of mushrooms, whole
- Either green olives or sundried tomatoes, chopped but still chunky
- 1 onion
- Chinese soy sauce (Mrs. Chengs is fine)
- Ketchup. Lots of ketchup. Go with Heinz standard ketchup, it's great.
- Spices, including (but not limited to) chili powder, garlic, black pepper, paprika, and most importantly oregano.
- Maybe a bit of Worchestershire sauce, if you feel like it.
- Corn starch
- If you like it, some grated Parmesan cheese (or similar).
Before making this, it's important that you have a good iron skillet. You cannot make good meat sauce in a teflon pan. Or at least I never bothered to try. I would also suggest using a good oil for greasing the skillet - I always run with extra vergine olive oil; it can take the heat from the skillet well without burning.
Depending on what type of pasta you get, sometime during making the meat sauce, you will need to prepare that. Some pasta cooks for ten-twelve minutes; fresh pasta takes one or two minutes. The meat sauce will take some time, and the longer it can simmer, the better, so there's no immediate rush. But think ahead. Personally, I like my pasta cooked well, not al dente, but that's up to you.
Start with chopping up the onion, and fry together with the mushrooms. When reasonably done, put them on a plate for later use.
Now fry up the ground beef. If frozen, cut into pieces first. It might take a while to fry, but make sure it's all well done. I usually crank up the heat a lot, and fry it really well. When it looks done, pour in the onion and mushrooms, and add plenty of ketchup. Stir it all together on high heat for a minute or so. The ketchup will sort of cook right into the beef, making it darker and tastier.
Next, add about a cup of water. This will stop the frying process and reduce it all to a bubbling, simmering soup. Don't panic, we'll take care of that later. Now is a good time to add the rest of the stuff: olives or sundried tomatoes, chili, black pepper, garlic, and soy sauce. I might also, depending on the circumstances, add a dash of other spices, as well as maybe some Worchestershire sauce. But it's not necessary. I usually hold off the oregano, though, at this stage.
Why soy sauce? It's a little bit unusual, I agree; but it adds more color to it, and gives it a richer taste. But only go with chinese soy sauce; japanese soy is too salty for my taste. And for the love of god, use real soy sauce, not the artificial alternatives. Ketjap Manis is a good alternative, or can be used together with chinese soy sauce.
It's important to taste it while adding the spices. What we're aiming for here is a rich, heavy flavor; but it's not supposed to be hot, just spicy rich, so don't go overboard with the chili. It may need more ketchup. Maybe more soy, or chili. But be careful - this is the part where I traditionally burn my tongue.
While it's simmering, this may also be a good time to check up on the pasta. (You did start it, right?) See if it's about ready. If you're dealing with fresh pasta, this is the moment to plunge it into hot, boiling water.
As a last measure, I also add corn starch to the meat sauce; a teaspoon or two, or perhaps about a tablespoon of it (depends on the water), and stir. This will cause it all to come together, which takes about a minute. This is also where I finally add oregano - lots of oregano - that will give it that final Italian touch I love so much. Taste to make sure the oregano can easily be detected. It's supposed to be applied liberally.
So, now all is said and done. If everything went right, you should now have a thick, heavy, spicy meat sauce which you can slap up on the plate along with the pasta and some grated Parmesan cheese. But be warned: it's filling. More than two helpings put me in a coma.
And, a final word. Yes, it is a little fat, probably. And I don't know if it's entirely healthy either. But what the heck... you only live once. :)