From America's Test Kitchen Season 9: Perfecting Pasta Sauces
Old-fashioned Italian-style meat sauces are on an old-fashioned time line—they require hours of simmering. But just giving browned ground beef, onions, garlic, and canned tomatoes a quick simmer produces lackluster flavor and meat with the texture of a rubber band. We wanted a quick, weeknight meat sauce with long-simmered flavor. Our goal required concentrated flavor and tender meat. Browned chopped onions and mushrooms gave the sauce a rich base of flavor, and browning the mushrooms made them so soft and supple they practically disappeared into the finished sauce. Deglazing the pan with tomato paste and tomato juice further boosted flavor. To tenderize the meat, we incorporated a panade—a paste of bread and milk—into the meat before cooking; we combined the panade and the meat in a food processor to avoid chili-like chunks. We cooked the meat mixture just until it lost its raw color; any longer, and the meat would have turned dry and mealy. Finishing the meat in a combination of canned diced and crushed tomatoes gave us the best mix of textures. A handful of grated Parmesan, added just before serving, lent the sauce a tangy, complex character.
Makes about 6 cups
Except for ground round (which tasters found spongy and bland), this recipe will work with most types of ground beef, as long as it is 85 percent lean. (Eighty percent lean beef will turn the sauce greasy; 90 percent will make it fibrous.) Use high-quality crushed tomatoes; our favorite brands are Tuttorosso, Muir Glen Organic, and Hunt’s Organic. If using dried oregano, add the entire amount with the canned tomato liquid in step 2. The sauce makes enough for nearly 2 pounds of pasta. Leftover sauce can be refrigerated in an airtight container for 3 days or frozen for 1 month.