Simple Italian-Style Meat Sauce

Except for ground round (which tasters found spongy and bland), this recipe will work with most types of ground beef, as long as it is 85 percent lean. (Eighty percent lean beef will turn the sauce greasy; 90 percent will make it fibrous.) Use high-quality crushed tomatoes. If using dried oregano, add the entire amount with the canned tomato liquid in step 2. The sauce makes enough for nearly 2 pounds of pasta. Leftover sauce can be refrigerated in an airtight container for 3 days or frozen for 1 month.

Simple Italian-Style Meat Sauce

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  • Prep Time


  • Total Time


  • Servings

    about 6


  • 4 ounces white mushrooms, cleaned, stems trimmed, and broken into rough pieces

  • 1 large slice high-quality white sandwich bread, torn into quarters

  • 2 tablespoons whole milk

  • 1 pound 85 percent lean ground beef (see note and related content)

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil

  • 1 large onion, chopped fine (about 1½ cups)

  • 8 medium garlic cloves, minced or pressed through garlic press (about 3 tablespoons)

  • ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes

  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste

  • 1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes, drained, ¼ cup liquid reserved

  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh oregano leaves or 1 teaspoon dried oregano (see note)

  • 1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes

  • ½ ounce grated Parmesan cheese (about ¼ cup)


1. Process mushrooms in food processor until finely chopped, about eight 1-second pulses, scraping down side of bowl as needed; transfer to medium bowl. Add bread, milk, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper to now-empty food processor and process until paste forms, about eight 1-second pulses. Add beef and pulse until mixture is well combined, about six 1-second pulses. 2. Heat oil in large saucepan over medium-high heat until just smoking. Add onion and mushrooms; cook, stirring frequently, until vegetables are browned and dark bits form on pan bottom, 6 to 12 minutes. Stir in garlic, pepper flakes, and tomato paste; cook until fragrant and tomato paste starts to brown, about 1 minute. Add 1/4 cup reserved tomato liquid and 2 teaspoons fresh oregano (if using dried, add full amount), scraping bottom of pan with wooden spoon to loosen browned bits. Add meat mixture and cook, breaking meat into small pieces with wooden spoon, until beef loses its raw color, 2 to 4 minutes, making sure that meat does not brown. 3. Stir in crushed and drained diced tomatoes and bring to simmer; reduce heat to low and gently simmer until sauce has thickened and flavors have blended, about 30 minutes. Stir in cheese and remaining teaspoon fresh oregano; season with salt and pepper to taste.


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