This sauce is a lot of work. It’s more than worth it.
- 1 lb. sweet Italian sausage
- 1 lb. ground beef
- 1 cup finely chopped sweet onion
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 1⁄2 cup brown sugar
- 1⁄2 cup chopped parsley
- 1 tbsp. dried basil
- 1⁄2 tsp. black pepper
- 1 tbsp. salt
- 24 oz. tomato paste
- 72 oz. crushed tomatoes (3 24-oz. cans)
- Option: 72 oz. (6 lbs. ) fresh tomatoes
- 1 cup water (if you use fresh tomatoes, make it 2 cups water)
Sautée onion; add to a large Dutch oven or stock pot.
Sautée beef and sausage; drain fat. You’ll want to chop it up to an extent so the sauce doesn’t have large chunks of meat. I like to use a Farberware nylon meat/potato masher. I like the sauce to be thick, but with some nice chunks of meat and tomato here and there rather than a silky-smooth purée. YMMV.
Add tomato paste and tomatoes: For the tomatoes, follow whichever method you prefer:
Option 1: Canned Tomatoes
If you use canned tomatoes, add the whole can of tomatoes along with the water and other goop in the can.
Option 2: Fresh Tomatoes
I like to use tomatoes on the vine for this recipe, but any large tomato will work just fine (Roma, cherry or grape tomatoes won’t work very well:
Bring a large pot of water to a boil; place a large bowl or pot of ice water next to it and an empty bowl next to the ice water.
Cut an X in each tomato (not on the end with the stem, the other end).
Put two or three tomatoes at a time in the boiling water and let them boil for a couple of minutes.
Remove them from the boiling water and drop them into the ice water for a minute or so.
Take the tomatoes from the ice water and peel them, starting with X you cut into the bottom. If the skin doesn’t want to come loose, boil and ice the tomato again. It will take a bit of fiddling with the process, but once you get the hang of it the skin will slide off mostly in one piece.
So! Now you have a big bowl of skinned tomatoes. If I was Martha Stewart or this was a Cordon Bleu class, the next step would be to core each tomato with a chef’s knife to ditch the seeds and that nasty stringy thing in the center.
You can certainly do that if you want, but I’m not a Cordon Bleu teacher and I’m sure as hell not Martha Stewart, so here’s how I do it:
I don’t care if the seeds get in the sauce; I just want to get rid of that nasty stringy hard thingy in the middle. So I grab a tomato and just crush it with my fingers, rolling it around and squeezing hard.
The parts you want to put in the sauce will smoosh and ooze and squirt out between your fingers, and before long you’ll have just that nasty hard stringy core thingy left.
Okay, so why go through all this extra effort instead of using canned tomatoes?
I’m not one of the GMO-phobic folks you see online ranting about Monsanto, but I do enjoy creating ingredients by hand if time and money allows. Canned tomatoes are gonna be salty; PCBs and preservatives and other stuff will leach into them.
But it’s not just that. I tend to appreciate and enjoy things more when I’ve put in some work rather than buying it in a can or box or whatever. Call it a labor of love.
No guilt, though: Like I said a couple of times before, YMMV.
Once you’ve got everything in your big Dutch oven or stock pot, simmer it, uncovered, for 1 1⁄2 to 2 hours.
While it’s simmering, stir it frequently. I don’t mean every 15 minutes or so between episodes of Robot Chicken; I mean frequently. A lot. Almost nonstop.
Why? Because this sauce is eager to stick to the bottom of the pot and burn, leaving behind a bad taste and gruesome residue you probably won’t enjoy scouring out of your cookware.
There’s a better method, though:
Gently bring to sauce up to a simmer, leaving it uncovered and stirring frequently, until the tomato paste has all dissolved and your kitchen smells so good it’s attracting Guidos from all over the Eastern seaboard and you’re fighting them off with a baseball bat. This usually takes me about 15 minutes, but your nose will let you know.
Remove the pot from heat and cover. Let it cool for a while, then transfer the lukewarm sauce to a slow-cooker crock, cover, and stick it in the fridge overnight.
The next day, pull out the crock and voilà: The grease and fat will all be sitting on top, cooled into its own tiny little fatberg. Spoon it all up and get rid of it, then put the crock back in the slow cooker. Put it on low heat and let it gently simmer as long as you like.
Now you can spend as much time making homemade pasta or watching football or whatever else you want to do until suppertime.
I solemnly and formally swear: If you put in the effort this recipe demands, your diligence will be rewarded so richly you’ll never again want to settle for stopping at Safeway and snagging a jar of Prego or Ragu or whatever.