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

Slow Roasted Red Pepper and Ricotta Pasta Sauce

White bowl full of penne and a roasted red pepper blush sauce on an orange tablecloth.

I’m coming down from one incredible weekend; it’s Tuesday and I still feel some residual buzzing going on. Last Friday afternoon 11 of our friends came up to Vancouver from Seattle and San Francisco for a gigantic friend reunion of sorts. On top of that, I saw Beach House twice (!!) – Saturday at The Vogue and then Sunday night at Performance Works on Granville Island. Saturday’s concert was of course, wonderful, and Sunday’s performance was so special and so beautiful. Beach House did a series of intimate concerts in very small spaces, just the 2 original band members, and my husband was lucky enough to have been able to get us both tickets. From the moment we stepped into the witchy magenta hued space I felt utterly enchanted, the light show itself was gorgeous and sitting on the floor with cushions while you get to experience the visuals and the music all at once was an unforgettable experience. It was wonderful being able to surround myself with a live performance in such an aesthetically pleasing cocoon, I felt as though I was floating on the way home afterwards.

Tray of cut up peppers, celery, cucumber, and grape tomatoes.

On Saturday afternoon we all came to the consensus that dinner should be easy and totally uncomplicated. Pizza was ordered and I made a vegetable platter with hummus that I doctored with Greek yogurt and cumin. At the end of the evening I came home by myself, in desperate need of some solitude after the concert and the swarms of people downtown. While everyone else went on a drinking adventure I got into my pajamas, had a beer, and watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer in bed (which is pretty much my definition of paradise). I also snacked on the leftover cut up vegetables but realized that I’d need to think of a good use for all of the peppers I’d cut into strips. Monday night, when Ian and I were both in battery charging mode AKA extreme states of introversion, I decided that the leftover pepper strips would be just perfect for a pasta sauce because let’s face it, pasta has and will always be the best form of comfort that food can possibly offer. I wasn’t in any hurry because I was having a great time just reading a PD James book on the couch so I slow roasted the vegetables, this also made them very sweet and full of flavour without the unsightly addition of sugar burned black flecks in the sauce. The ricotta helps to thicken the sauce without having to add flour, it also gives an incredibly rich taste and texture without adding a surplus of cream. In fact, the small amount of cream called for in the recipe could easily be substituted with milk, just be sure not to bring the sauce to a boil in order to avoid accidental separation.

slow roasted red pepper and ricotta sauce:

3 sweet peppers, cut into strips

10 grape or cherry tomatoes

1 large red onion, cut into fat wedges

4 cloves of garlic, left whole in their papery husks

3 Tbsp. olive oil

2 sprigs of fresh rosemary

Kosher salt and freshly cracked pepper

1 Tbsp. red wine vinegar

2/3 cup of ricotta

1/3 cup of cream

5 fresh basil leaves (plus more for garnishing), torn into pieces

Pasta of your choice

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Spread the pepper strips, tomatoes, onion wedges, and garlic in a single layer on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and freshly cracked pepper, add the rosemary whole and with your hands toss the vegetable mixture to coat.
  3. Roast the vegetables for up to an hour, stirring every 20 minutes or so to ensure even cooking. The vegetables are done when they’re very soft and beginning to caramelize. Remove the rosemary and garlic husks and transfer the remaining vegetables and their juices to a food processor and pulse until you have a not so smooth puree.
  4. Add the red wine vinegar, ricotta, cream, and 5 basil leaves to the food processor and give a final blitz – the sauce should still be slightly chunky in texture. Adjust the salt and pepper if neccessary.
  5. Cook the pasta until al dente, saving about 1/2 cup of cooking liquid for the sauce. Lower the heat and transfer the sauce into the pot used for cooking the pasta and stir in the cooking liquid and sauce. Allow the pasta and sauce to cook together for about 5 minutes, this will give the sauce a chance to thicken up before you serve it. Garnish with a generous amount of fresh basil that’s been cut into a very fine chiffonade.

This song is an ideal addition to my soundtrack for the last few days, kind of like a beautiful sunset after a sublimely sunny day – pure, melodic, and strangely intimate. After Sunday’s show I now have an accompanying vision of light installation flower walls from floor to ceiling and both of us on pillows, leaning into each other in the softest moment possible.

Beach House – Real Love