Alex Guarnaschelli Blogs: My Favorite Meat Sauce – Get the Recipe!

Alex Guarnaschelli

Alex Guarnaschelli is an Iron Chef, a Food Network celebrity chef, the author of Old-School Comfort Food and the executive chef at New York City’s Butter restaurants. Read her blog every Tuesday to get her professional cooking tips, family-favorite recipes and personal stories of working in front of the camera and behind the kitchen doors. Follow her on Twitter at @guarnaschelli.

I know it’s summer and we are spending our time steeped in fresh peas, BBQ sauce, grilled hamburgers and buttered ears of corn. There are just those days when I come home from being outside at the beach and I want something belly-warming. Maybe, I’ll admit, I even want to take a break from all the great summer eats and make something traditional that I normally go to on a chilly Tuesday night in February.

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A few notes about tomatoes: I love canned tomatoes and I always buy the whole peeled ones. I find letting whole tomatoes cook down in a sauce produces a better result than beginning with a can of chopped or pureed ones. If I have access to some meaty, flavorful fresh tomatoes, I chop them up and stew them (over medium low heat) on the stove separately first. I like to cook out a lot of the water until I get to that pure tomato flavor. I sub that cooked tomato for the canned in the recipe. Sometimes I buy a few too many fresh tomatoes (because my eyes are always bigger than my stomach at the market!), and if they start to get a little soft around the edges, incorporating them here can be a great way to make sure they are put to good use.

This is the a great time of year for basil, so I also go heavy on the basil to finish. There are so many types (lemon basil, Opal basil, Thai basil) but I tend to go for the Genovese or the “Bush” basil (it has super-tasty, tiny leaves) when I can find it. If you have basil with bigger leaves, wash and dry thoroughly to avoid making grit part of your recipe and tear the leaves over the sauce just as you serve this dish for a burst of freshness that also heightens the naturally sweet flavor of the tomatoes. Great against savory meat. I am getting hungry for this as I type! A good sign that we may be on to something tasty here.

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Alex Guarnaschelli

Alex Guarnaschelli’s Tomato and Beef Spaghetti Sauce
Serves 6-8

3 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
2 oz. (6-7 thin slices) pancetta, finely chopped
1 medium carrot, grated
2 small “inner” yellow celery stalks, thinly sliced
2 medium shallots, finely sliced
5 large cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp. sugar
Kosher salt
One 28-ounce can whole peeled tomatoes
2 tbsp. unsalted butter
1 1/2 lbs. ground beef (preferably chuck)
2 tsp. red pepper flakes
1 cup dry white wine
¼ cup heavy cream
3/4 lb. (dry) rigatoni pasta
1 1/2 to 2 cups finely grated Parmesan cheese

Make the sauce:
1.In a medium skillet, heat the olive oil. Add the pancetta and cook for 1 minute, stirring, so it brown slightly. Add the carrots, celery, shallots and garlic. Season with the sugar and a generous pinch of salt.
2. Cook for 10-12 minutes over medium heat, stirring frequently with a wooden spoon, or until the onions become translucent and brown. This is an important step because you are building the foundation for your sauce. Don’t rush it! Add the canned (or fresh if using) tomato and simmer over low heat.

Cook the beef:
1. Heat a large skillet and add the butter. When the butter melts and browns around the edges, add the ground beef in a single layer and season generously with salt.
2. Brown the meat over high heat, 3-5 minutes, and stir in the red pepper flakes. Stir in the white wine and simmer over medium heat until the wine cooks out and melds with the beef, 5-8 minutes.
3. Taste for seasoning. Pour the tomato sauce and the cream over the ground beef. Stir to blend. Simmer over medium heat 3-5 minutes, then shut off the heat and allow the sauce to rest. Hamburgers rest. Steaks rest. Why shouldn’t a sauce with beef rest too?

Cook the pasta:
1. In a large pot, bring 6 quarts of water to a rolling boil and add a generous handful of salt. Bring the water back up to a boil. Taste the water! It should taste like sea water.
2. Add the Rigatoni and cook for 5-8 minutes. Stir the pasta with a slotted spoon to make sure it does not clump or stick to the bottom as it cooks. In a large colander, drain the pasta. Reserve some of the cooking liquid in case you need it to adjust the flavors of your sauce.

Assemble the dish:
1. Toss the pasta in the skillet with the sauce. Stir to coat with the sauce. Add the remaining pasta, if desired.
2. Warm the pasta over very low heat for 2-3 minutes, tossing to coat and allowing the flavors to mingle. Serve immediately with Parmesan cheese on the side.

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