Since this post is about my making my own homemade spaghetti sauce, the context of the experience would be incomplete without the story of how I set water on fire in my early spaghetti making days. Yes, folks, for years afterward I considered myself such a horrible cook that I could even set water on fire. This incident happened back when I was in high school, and was one of three major kitchen mishaps of my youth–the other two being The Great Mustard War and the Wall Oven Meatloaf Disaster. There were also intentionally horrifying culinary creations that originated in my parents’ long ago kitchen, with its turquoise boomerang formica countertops, blond wood cabinets and built-in Carol Brady oven. Those, however, are stories for another day.
Setting water on fire was particularly mortifying to me because it happened when I was cooking what was supposed to be a romantic dinner for my date. Also, because my date was the kind who would never let me live it down. There I was, about sixteen years old, trying to impress my boyfriend with my domesticity. When he arrived at my house, I had the Ragu-based meat sauce simmering and the salad all ready to go. All that was left were the noodles. While waiting for the water to boil, we ate our salads, and I awkwardly tried to be a charming and flirtatious hostess. I had taken the seat closest to the stove, which meant my date–who sat across from me–was facing it. All of a sudden, his eyes got huge. I thought he was either choking or about to lavish praise on the miraculous salad I had bestowed upon him. Instead, he shouted that the pot on the stove was on fire.
I was relieved that I did not have to perform the Heimlich maneuver, sad that my salad got no props and terrified that I was about to burn the house down. We both leapt from our chairs, not sure what to do, but fairly certain that “Stop, Drop and Roll” did not apply to this situation. As quickly as it started, the fire burned itself out, and we cautiously approached the stove to examine the forensic evidence. My date was baffled by the fact that there was only water in the pot. I knew that appearances could be deceiving. You see, I had heard that if you put just a bit of vegetable oil in the water when cooking pasta, the noodles won’t stick together. It quickly became apparent that I had filled the pot with too much water, and when it boiled, it overflowed, causing the vegetable oil to ignite on the burner.
If I were to psychoanalyze myself, my lack of desire to cook during the following twenty years of my life could maybe be traced back to this embarrassment, as could the failed marriage to the guy who incessantly mocked me about it for years. Hmmm…gotta love blogging as therapy.
Back to the present. Now that my self-esteem has mostly recovered from the trauma caused by that formative life experience (except for my lingering fear of fire), I once again enjoy making spaghetti. I have tried many jarred pasta sauces in the past few years, and have settled on Sockarooni by Newman’s Own. Not only is it all-natural and tasty, but the name is AWESOME and fun to say (Sockarooni! Sockarooni! Sockarooni!), and all proceeds go to charity.
However, when tomato season arrives at our house, it seems silly to use tomato sauce from a jar, so last year I boldly did some experimenting and created my own recipe. And it’s GOOD, if I do say so myself. 🙂 It is a thick and chunky meat sauce that is easily adapted to different tastes. Leave in more jalapeno seeds if you want a kick or leave them out if you prefer a non-spicy sauce. Bell peppers and mushrooms can be used or not, depending on your preferences. I don’t like something that’s in Italian Seasoning, so I just add basil and oregano, but if you’re a fan of Italian Seasoning, go nuts. Also, I used ketchup, but you could put in tomato paste instead. Use as much of it as you need to make the sauce the consistency you want. Oh…and I no longer spike the pasta water with oil–go figure. It’s much safer just to toss the cooked noodles with some olive oil to keep them from sticking together.
BTW, if you are looking for something to do with any leftover spaghetti noodles, I highly suggest feeding them one by one to your dog, if you have one. It is highly entertaining, complete with slurping and teeth gnashing, as you can see in this YouTube video featuring my dogs Dieter, Tigger, and the late Katie. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RfWUTW1arGc
JULIE’S HOMEMADE PASTA SAUCE
Note: All measurements are approximate and may be adjusted to taste. Makes approximately 4 servings.
- 1 lb ground sirloin
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1/3 cup chopped onions
- 1 bell pepper, chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- Dried basil, oregano, salt and pepper to taste
- 2 jalapenos, minced–leave a few seeds in for some spice
- 5-7 medium-sized tomatoes
- ½ cup ketchup (a few squirts)
- 1-2 tbsp fresh basil leaves, minced
- 1 small can mushroom pieces
- 2 tbsp ground flaxseed (this is not necessary, but why not sneak in some healthy Omega 3s)
- Cornstarch, if needed for thickening
Set a pot of water to boil for peeling tomatoes. Meanwhile, brown ground sirloin in olive oil with onions and bell peppers. When meat is almost browned, add garlic, jalapenos and dry seasonings. Turn off heat when done, to deal with tomatoes.
When water boils, plunge tomatoes in pot for one minute, then remove. When cool enough to handle, core, peel and seed them. Chop and mix remaining pulp into meat mixture. Use a turkey baster to drain any excess liquid/grease.
Add ketchup, fresh basil, mushrooms, and flaxseed to meat/tomato mixture. Bring to a boil, and then turn down heat to simmer. Simmer for 15-20 minutes minimum, longer if possible, until tomatoes and peppers have softened. If sauce is too watery, cook longer or add a bit of cornstarch to thicken.
Serve over pasta or spaghetti squash with parmesan cheese and a salad and/or garlic bread. Actually, I found a yummy bruschetta recipe that would make a great appetizer or accompaniment for this dish. Stay tuned…
Click JULIE’S HOMEMADE PASTA SAUCE for a printable PDF of this recipe.