Quick and Easy Meat Sauce for Busy Weeknights

Shallow earth-coloured bowl on a turquoise tablecloth. The bowl contains a tomato and ground meat sauce, butternut squash "noodles" and shredded fresh basil.

Although it would be lovely to have a pot of bolognese sauce magically simmering away on the stove when you get home from work on a particularly hellish Tuesday, it’s not something one typically indulges in during the week (I mean, if we’re going the magical route I’d also like to request a nightly boulevardier while I sit with my legs dangling in my completely fictitious backyard pool). So, in the same way I settle for a slightly chilly shower and a glass of ice water in place of a bourbon-based treat, this recipe is a perfectly delicious way to “settle” when you’re short on time and energy. You can use ground turkey, chicken, beef, or pork (or any combination thereof), you can even use crumbled tofu, tempeh, or lentils if you’re looking for a meatless version. The finely chopped mushrooms have enough umami heft to blend in with the ground meat, I like to use a mix of portobello and shiitake mushrooms if I have them but more often than not I use regular white button mushrooms (with great success, I might add). Don’t leave out the oil-packed sundried tomatoes, they have an intensely tomato-y taste that gives occasionally lacklustre canned tomatoes a huge boost in flavour. This recipe makes a lot of sauce (is it even possible to make a small amount of pasta sauce?) so go ahead and freeze it for even easier weeknight dinners. To make things ever easier at the end of a long day, prep the onion, mushrooms, garlic, and sundried tomatoes the day before, the ground meat can also be cooked ahead of time. Depending on what’s in my pantry and fridge at the time, I like to use this sauce on both traditional pasta and spiralized vegetables (especially butternut squash and zucchini noodles).

quick and easy meat sauce for busy weeknights:

1+1 Tbsp. olive oil

1 1/2 lbs. ground meat (the picture above is of the sauce made with ground turkey)

1 medium-sized white onion, finely diced

2 cups finely chopped mushrooms

1 tsp. kosher salt (plus more to taste)

3 cloves of garlic, minced

1 Tbsp. dried Italian seasoning

1/4 cup oil-packed sundried tomatoes, finely chopped

14/-1/2 tsp. dried chili flakes

1/2 cup red wine (optional)

1 28-oz. can diced tomatoes

1 14-oz. can puréed tomatoes

1/4 cup tomato paste

1/2 cup fresh basil (plus more for garnish), cut into a thin chiffonade

1/2 fresh parsley (plus more for garnish), roughly chopped

  1. Cook the ground meat in 1 tablespoon of olive oil over medium-high heat in a large skillet until the meat is no longer pink inside. Drain off the fat and set aside.
  2. In a large pot heat the remaining tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat and add the diced onion and chopped mushrooms. Sprinkle the kosher salt over the onion and mushrooms, allowing them to cook for 8-10 minutes or until softened.
  3. Add the minced garlic, dried Italian seasoning, sundried tomatoes, dried chili flakes, and optional red wine. Continue cooking for another 2-3 minutes before adding the diced and puréed tomatoes and tomato paste. Add the ground meat and stir to combine.
  4. Turn the heat down to medium-low and allow the sauce to cook for another 30 minutes, covered. Stir in the fresh herbs towards the end of the cooking time, taste and adjust seasonings as needed before serving.

PJ Harvey makes some of my favourite “being alone” music, everything she does sounds like it’s somehow a secret just for you. This album came out in the middle of my high school career, I had heard PJ Harvey before but never felt intimately acquainted because I was a few years too young for her earlier work. I remember Stories From the City, Stories From the Sea was considered her most commercial work at the time, but it was a perfect diving-off point for me as a 16-year old. It clearly had an impact, this is still the album I turn to when I’m alone most often – especially when I’m alone and cooking.

PJ Harvey – A Place Called Home

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