We have been teased with some gorgeous, sunny warmth lately, and I have loved feeling the sunshine and hearing the peepers as the weather improves. And yet, we are in the Berkshires! March may indeed go out like a lamb in comparison to how the month started, but it will be a while before I put away my winter sweaters and shift entirely to warm-weather cooking!
The beauty of making a big pot of long-simmered meat sauce is that there’s enough for more than one meal, so even when the weather is not quite warm but not so cold, you can take the leftovers out of the freezer and have a rich dinner relatively quickly.
This is a very flexible recipe so you can adapt to what you have in the house. I like the variety of two different kinds of meat, one ground and the other shredded from the bone, and like the flavor that bone-in meat imparts, but if you want to use stew meat, that will work, too.
The easiest choice for tomatoes is a can of crushed tomatoes, but if you have canned peeled whole tomatoes in the house, you can crush them by hand or with an immersion blender before adding.
I know the addition of anchovy paste may seem odd, but it’s a great secret ingredient to add some rich umami flavor, and no one will ever know it’s in there. I keep a tube in the fridge for just this reason. I’ll admit that a drizzle of heavy cream at the end is gilding the lily a bit, but it is quite luscious.
RICH MEAT SAUCE FOR PASTA
Makes about 6 cups, enough for 2 to 3 pounds of cooked pasta, depending on how much sauce you like with your pasta
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 large beef short ribs, bone-in, about 2-2 1/2 pounds total
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
1/8 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
1 medium onion, chopped
1/4-1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (optional)
1/2 pound ground beef or meatloaf mix
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
2 garlic cloves minced or put through a garlic press
1/2 teaspoon anchovy paste (optional)
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1/2 cup dry red wine (dry white wine will be fine if that’s what is open!)
1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
1 pound pasta, preferably a shape like penne or rigatoni
Grated Parmesan for serving
Heavy cream for serving (optional)
Heat the olive oil in a Dutch oven or heavy large pot over medium-high heat until shimmering and fragrant. Sprinkle the short ribs with 1/4 teaspoon salt and the pepper and sear on all sides until nicely browned, about 3 to 4 minutes per side. Once the meat gets brown it will be easier to turn. Remove to a bowl and set aside.
Add the onion to the pot, add remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt, and sauté for 2 to 3 minutes until just softened. Add the ground meat and sauté until no pink remains and some edged are beginning to brown. Clear a space in the middle of the pot and add the herbs, garlic, anchovy paste and tomato paste, stir to cook slightly, and then incorporate with the meat-onion mixture.
Pour the wine into the pan to deglaze, scraping up any browned bits stuck to the bottom. Add the crushed tomatoes and stir to combine. Return the short ribs to the pot, submerging the meat into the sauce as much as possible.
Turn down the heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer for 1 1/2 to 2 hours until the meat is tender. Check periodically to make sure it’s not cooking too quickly and is not sticking to the bottom of the pot, and adjust the heat as needed. Remove the short ribs and cut the meat off the bones. Discard the bones and any large chunks of fat and gristle. Mince the meat and return to the pot. Keep warm until ready to use or cool and store in the refrigerator for another day.
For a pound of pasta, warm 2 to 3 cups of sauce over medium heat in a very large sauté pan or large pot. Cook pasta according to package directions. Remove the pasta directly from the water into the pan with the sauce, using tongs for a strand pasta, or a spider or strainer for a shape. The water that clings to the pasta adds body to the sauce. Stir gently to combine. If the pot with the sauce is not big enough, drain the pasta in a colander, return to the pasta pan, add the sauce, and stir to combine.
Serve immediately with grated Parmesan, and a drizzle of heavy cream if desired.