I have just recently discovered the wonder that is Cook’s Illustrated. If you are not familiar with it, you should be, ASAP. It is a wonderful cooking magazine that really defines the term “tried and true” since the recipes are tested with numerous variations, multiple times to find the absolute best recipe for favorite dishes. It also has incredibly helpful kitchen tips and pointers, as well as product ratings/reviews, and – no advertisements! Another reason I enjoy it is that it reminds me of Alton Brown in magazine form because it describes some of the science behind cooking and baking, which I just love. I have tried a few recipes from it and so far they have all been just as wonderful as I would expect they should be considering all the testing that goes into them. This simple meat sauce was no exception. I especially love the use of the food processor in this dish, as it simplifies the recipe, making a fairly quick meal that seems like it should take much longer. The flavor and texture were both great. I may try adding a bit of garlic powder and dried basil next time, just because I love to play around with those ingredients. This is a definite keeper!
Simple Italian-Style Meat Sauce
4 oz. white mushrooms, cleaned, stems trimmed and broken into rough pieces
1 large slice good quality white sandwich bread, torn into quarters
2 tablespoons whole milk
salt and pepper
1 lb. 85% lean ground beef
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 large onion, chopped fine (about 1 ½ cups)
6 medium garlic cloves, minced or pressed (about 2 tbsp.)
¼ tsp. red pepper flakes
1 tbsp. tomato paste
1 (14.5 oz) can diced tomatoes, drained, ¼ cup liquid reserved
1 tbsp. minced fresh oregano or 1 tsp. dried
1 (28 oz) can crushed tomatoes
½ oz. grated Parmesan cheese (about ¼ cup)
Process mushrooms in food processor until finely chopped, about 8 1-second puleses, scraping down side of bowl as needed; transfer to medium bowl. Add bread, milk, ½ tsp. salt and ½ tsp. pepper to now-empty food processor and process until paste forms, about 8 1-second pulses. Add beef and pulse until mixture is well combined, about 6 1-second pulses.
Heat oil in large saucepan over medium-high heat until just smoking. Add onion and mushrooms; cook, stirring frequently, until vegetables are browned and dark bits form on pan bottom, 6 to 12 minutes. Stir in garlic, pepper flakes, and tomato paste; cook until fragrant and tomato paste starts to brown, about 1 minute. Add ¼ cup reserved tomato liquid and 2 tsp. fresh oregano (or full 1 tsp. dried), scraping bottom of pan with wooden spoon to loosen browned bits. Add m eat mixture and cook breaking meat into small pieces with wooden spoon, until beef loses its raw color, 2-4 minutes, making sure that meat does not brown.
Stir in crushed and drained diced tomatoes and bring to simmer; reduce heat to low and gently simmer until sauce has thickened and flavors have blended, about 30 minutes. Stir in cheese and remaining 1 tsp. fresh oregano; season with salt and pepper to taste.
Source: Cook’s Illustrated, April 2008