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

Baked Eggs in Ramekins with Serrano Ham and Scallions

Last December I made a resolution to eat breakfast every single morning beginning on January 1st, before I went to work and on weekends. I can now resolutely say that I have been underestimating the power of a good breakfast since the end of my elementary school days. Before then my mum would always have oatmeal, fruit, cereal or toast (always with a cup of tea) waiting for both my sister and I when we came downstairs in the morning. As it always seems to be I never appreciated the absolute gift that a breakfast prepared especially for you actually is; in fact the first luxury I would be interested in if I someday stumbled into piles of money would be a breakfast chef of my very own. Since a personal breakfast chef isn’t appearing any time soon on my horizon I have become a fan of breakfasts that can be set to cook or bake when I first get up and that are ready 20 minutes later, at which point I’m usually at least close to being finished all other pre-work preparations (steel-cut oats are another item in this increasingly important recipe category.) Baked eggs are a perfect example of this type of cooking: wake up, preheat oven, wash face, crack eggs into ramekin, add a small splash of cream and bake for 15 minutes or so until set but slightly wobbly. Usually during the week I’ll prepare baked eggs and an ingredient that can be added with little prep (fresh/dried herbs, grated carrot, diced sweet bell peppers or even leftover stir-fried vegetables are all good for this dish), other times I’ll have the eggs plain with buttered toast. However, if I wake up early and full of culinary motivation I might make these during the week but otherwise I tend to reserve these for the weekend. You could use prosciutto or pancetta in place of the Serrano ham if you prefer, I like Serrano ham because of its full flavour and sweet taste and I find that it doesn’t carry such a fatty flavour compared to other types of ham. I really adore baked eggs with buttered toast soldiers, there’s something to be said for the soothing action of dipping warm bread into the creamy yolks and repeating until gastronomically and emotionally satisfied that cannot be replicated with a bowl of Cheerios.

baked eggs in ramekins with serrano ham and scallions for 2:

4 large eggs

1 tsp. grapeseed oil

4 thin slices of Serrano ham

3 scallions, white and green parts thinly sliced

A large handful of spinach

Small amount of butter or oil to coat the ramekins

4 tsp. half-and-half cream

Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper

Freshly grated Parmigian0-Reggiano or Pecorino Romano

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

2. In a skillet sauté the Serrano ham and scallions in the grapeseed oil over medium heat until the ham begins to crisp. Take the skillet off the heat and stir in the spinach so that it begins to wilt.

3. Oil or butter the inside of 2 ramekins. Divide the ham and scallion mixture evenly between the two dishes; into each ramekin crack 2 eggs and drizzle 2 tsp. of half-and-half cream.

4. Bake the eggs for anywhere between 10 to 20 minutes depending entirely on how well set you like your yolks, I usually bake my eggs for 15 minutes and then give them half a minute under the broiler if the tops are still looking runny. Dust the finished eggs with the coarse salt, freshly ground pepper and cheese before eating with buttery toast.

I keep coming back to this album and almost always very loudly while I get ready to go to work for the day.

PJ Harvey – The Glorious Land