I think the folks over at Canadian Beef must be out on a mission to win my love. First, they give me an opportunity to create a fabulous salad recipe for an all-beef, all-Canadian Kitchen Play event. Then, they announce that they’re going to be sponsoring five lucky Canadian bloggers for this year’s Eat, Write, Retreat conference, happening this May in Washington, DC.
(You do know about Eat, Write, Retreat… right? If you don’t and you’re into food blogs, then you owe it to yourself to check it out.)
Anyway, I guess I do a good job of playing hard to get, but the truth is that they had me at “Moo”.
I’ve been a beef-eating kinda girl for as long as I can remember. That’s because beef was an essential part of many of my very favourite childhood meals: meatloaf and mashed potatoes, steaming bowls of spicy chili con carne, slices of juicy-rare roast beef smothered with pan gravy, beef and macaroni casserole covered with a layer of bubbling cheese, slow-braised pot roast with caramelised onions, and heaping bowlfuls of steaming beef and barley soup.
There’s one dish, above all others, that’s got that perfect blend of nostalgia and deliciousness… a heaping bowl of spaghetti topped with classic meat sauce, made using my mom’s classic recipe. The smell alone is enough to make me feel like I’m twelve years old again, standing in my mother’s old kitchen with the blue and white terra cotta tiles, anxiously sneaking a peek at the timer to see how much longer it’ll be ’til dinnertime. It’s the kind of sauce my generation of Canadian kids grew up eating… chunky, tomatoey, beefy, and about as authentically Italian as a stuffed-crust pepperoni pizza.
Eating spaghetti is serious business, and I refuse to stray from the ritual I’ve perfected over many years. I twirl the spaghetti around my fork a few strands at a time, slurping up the dangling ends, until there’s nothing left on my plate but sauce… because that’s the best part, and I always save the best part for last. Some might say it’s a little weird, but I’m convinced the spaghetti just doesn’t taste the same otherwise. Besides, you know what’s really weird? Cutting spaghetti into little bitty pieces with a knife and fork, that’s what. :)
While the Canadian Beef website (and my mother’s recipe) usually go with medium ground beef as a base for pasta sauce, I generally prefer to use lean or extra-lean instead. It’s usually what I’ve got kicking around in the freezer, and it also happens to save the hassle of draining off the beef once it’s been browned. If you do prefer to use regular or medium, make sure to drain off most of the fat before adding the vegetables to the pot.
Since there’s so little work involved in doubling or even tripling the recipe, I usually make an extra-large batch of sauce so that I can have lots of leftovers for the freezer (I have a behemoth 8-quart Le Creuset for this very purpose). It makes for a great last-minute weekday meal, and also serves as the base for my legendary meat lasagna.
Mom’s Spaghetti Sauce
6 slices bacon, chopped
2 tbsp olive oil
2 lbs lean ground beef
2 medium carrots, diced
1 small fennel bulb or 2 stalks celery, diced
1 large onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups dry red wine
2 cans (796 ml each) pureed tomatoes
3 tbsp tomato paste
2 bay leaves
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp dried basil
1 tsp hot pepper flakes (optional)
In a large heavy-bottomed pot, fry the bacon in olive oil over medium-high heat until crisp. Add ground beef and cook for 10 minutes, breaking up into small chunks with a wooden spoon as it cooks, until browned. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the ground beef to a bowl and set aside.
Add carrots, celery, onion and garlic to the pot, and saute for 10 minutes or until onion is soft and translucent. Return ground beef to the pot.
Stir in the remaining ingredients, and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 45 minutes.
Ladle sauce onto cooked spaghetti and serve with a scattering of grated Parmesan cheese.