Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Comfort Food: Spaghetti

buon appetito

Can you believe there was a time when Italian food was considered exotic in the United States? It's true. I read it on Mental Floss, or BuzzFeed or Cracked, one of those authoritative sites.

It hardly seems exotic anymore. I consider most Italian dishes to be comfort food and, consequently a regular item on our menu. I especially love to make spaghetti sauce and let it simmer in the house all afternoon. On cold days like we're having right now, it just feels cozy.

My version of spaghetti sauce will be going into our family cookbook. I'm sharing it here not because my "recipe" is particularly wonderful, but because I've learned a couple of things over the years:
  • You can hide an awful lot of healthy vegetables in spaghetti sauce when you make it yourself.
  • It needs lots of time.
As our garden picked up last summer, I also discovered the joy of fresh herbs. I didn't get my act in gear to preserve as many of the fresh herbs as I would like to have done. In fact, I only did my basil (pureed with olive oil, then frozen in an ice cube tray), and I've just used the last of it.

On my latest trip to Farm Boy, I discovered that they actually still have a very small selection of potted herbs, so I bought basil and parsley. Not terribly exciting, but they were the only two that looked viable. They are now perched in the sun room, where I will probably forget to water them.

But my intentions are good and that's what matters, right?

Here is my first harvest.

I figure I'd best start using them before they wither and die.


The quantities are quite variable, depending on what's in the fridge.

1 or 2 lbs ground beef or Italian sausage
1 onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
1 cup mushrooms, sliced

½-1 sweet green or red pepper, chopped
1 or 2 carrots, peeled and shredded
1 zucchini, shredded
1 large can tomato sauce
1 large can diced tomatoes
½ small can tomato paste
1 tsp dried oregano (or 1 Tablespoon fresh)
1 tsp dried basil (or 1 Tablespoon fresh)
1 Tbsp dried parsley (or 3 Tablespoons fresh)
Salt and pepper to taste

Note: this makes enough sauce to serve six adults (four of them men!) for dinner with enough left to make a lasagne later. UPDATE: by the time I got to the leftovers, there was not enough left to make lasagne.


Start with your largest stock pot. After sauteing (and draining the fat, if needed) the first five ingredients until the meat is brown and the veggies are soft, add the remaining ingredients. It should look like this.

This is what I mean when I say you can "hide an awful lot of healthy veggies in spaghetti sauce when you make it yourself." I'd lay money that there aren't this many fresh vegetables in commercially bottled spaghetti sauces. With this amount of vegetables, I don't really feel bad about being too lazy to make up a salad to go with it.

It looks like it will overflow. If you're like me, there will be a goodly amount of mess on the stove top when you've finished mixing. (That's why the picture is cropped so closely.)

This is what it looks like when you first mix it all together.

Looks pretty solid, doesn't it? But if you put this on your pasta at this point, it would taste fine but would be very watery.

Here's what it looks like 20 minutes later.

The water has seeped out of all the vegetables. Keep letting it simmer, giving it a stir every 15 or 20 minutes.

Ideally, you would have at least an hour to let this simmer on low to allow the water to boil off and leave behind your delicious sauce. Today, I didn't have that much time (I started cooking just before 6:00 p.m., which is late for us), so it wasn't ideal. But it was still a yummy, healthy, comforting meal. Just don't tell your fussy eaters how much vegetable is in the sauce.


  1. Looks yummy. This is one of my favourite meals too. I also hide a ton of veggies in it. Especially spinach and zucchini!

  2. I have a similar recipe that includes rinsed chickpeas, roughly pureed in a food blender, and cut back on the ground beef. (Or eliminate the beef, and hold back 1\3 of the chickpeas from the blender, and add whole to the sauce for meatless version). Your point that spaghetti can be a great meal for hiding nutritious veggies, and use up what's in the frig, is great. Another problem with the bottled versions is that most contain sugar.
    I haven't been able to find Italian sausage over here yet! I'd like to try that, maybe spaghetti and meatballs.

    1. The bottled versions contain a lot of unpleasant stuff, but are great when you're exhausted or time is really short.

  3. Spaghetti is a weekend thing for me; I too love the long-simmering deliciousness of it all! This is also where I sometimes toss in some pulp from juicing. I also use veggie ground round. With all the spices and seasoning and slow simmering - not to mention the wine - no one can tell that they're having a meatless meal!

    1. Hadn't thought of doing that with the juicing (still haven't started juicing) or of using veggie ground "meat." I find a lot of the veggie burgers are overloaded with seasoning when all I really want is the texture (I'll add the seasoning myself, thank you very much).


What did you think? Any comments?

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