I always get irrationally irritated when I see a recipe declaring itself "The Best Soup/Sauce/Etc" and it starts with one stick of butter, or a pound of bacon, or heaven forbid, both... Sure, it will probably taste good, but it seems like a crutch that, if taken away, will leave the recipe bland and generic. So I developed my own! Instead of the richness of fat, this recipe relies on layering of flavors, and Secret Ingredient #4.
I am going to tag this as vegetarian, since the meat is entirely optional, although it does add a layer of flavor. I often make it without meat, and add sauteed portabella mushrooms at serving time. And you can even tweak it to be completely vegan, with minimal loss of flavor.
Oh, and it takes nearly the same amount of time to make a double or even triple batch so you can freeze it for later! You're really only limited by the size of your pot!
Step 1: Gather Your Materials
You will need:
1 teasp fennel seed (Secret Ingredient #1)
28 oz can of San Marzano tomatoes (Secret Ingredient #2)
1 to 2 teasp Better than Bouillon Beef Flavor (Secret Ingredient #3)
Secret Ingredient #4 (it's super secret)
1 onion, chopped
2-5 cloves garlic, crushed and peeled
1 teasp dried basil
1/2 teasp dried oregano
1 teasp granulated garlic
1 teasp onion powder
2 teasp parsley flakes
1 bay leaf
*optional: 1 lb ground beef
*optional extras: handful of fresh basil leaves, with extra for serving, and Parmesan cheese
*optional equipment: immersion blender
Fennel seed is what makes Italian sausage tastes like Italian sausage. Ethnic grocery stores carry small sacks of them for $2, or you can get it from regular stores in tiny, glossy-labeled containers for double the price.
The San Marzano tomatoes is expensive for canned tomatoes, at $3.50, but it is really worth the price and makes all the difference!
Better than Bouillon broth base is amazing. I use in place of salt for nearly everything, because it adds a richer flavor than just salt.
I love the immersion blender because it gives the perfect and unique texture that I just love. It's only about $15, and doesn't take up a lot of space, but if you just don't want to get one, you can crush up the tomatoes and meat with your hand or cooking spoon. (It's also very handy for making dips, spreads, soups, and baby food)
Step 2: If You're Using Meat:
Heat your pot on Med/Hi until a drop of water will skitter and steam when dropped on the surface. Add a good glug of oil, and add your beef. Mash it out as much as you can into a giant patty, and do it quickly. Then, leave it alone to cook in peace! (much like I wish my kids would do) Also might help to turn on the vent before the fire alarms start going off. After a few minutes, the beef should look crispy and nearly burnt. Turn the patty over and cook the other side until it looks the same.
Remove the patty to a plate, and pour the grease remaining in the pot in the trash. (I used 80/20 chuck here, so I used paper towels to soak up the grease. If you were using leaner meat, you can skip the paper towels and save the juices)
If you choose not to use meat, skip to the next step.
Step 3: Begin the Layering
Heat the pot on Medium heat, and add a couple of spoons of oil, then the fennel seeds. Stir once, and add the crushed garlic cloves. Stir some more, but do not let cook for more than ONE minute, because these items burn easily.
If you have a whole garlic cloves, smash it with the flat of your knife, and the papery shell will come right off.
Step 4: Add the Chopped Onion
What it says in the title... Stir and cook for 2 or 3 min, until the onion starts turning clear. It should smell heavenly right about now!
Step 5: Add Everything Else But the Bay Leaf
Add in the can of tomatoes. They're whole peeled tomatoes, so crush them up if you're not using the immersion blender.
Add in the herbs and spices: basil, oregano, parsley, garlic powder, onion powder, and the Better than Bouillon. (I belatedly realized I was out of the beef flavor, so I used chicken instead)
If you like, you can add extra herbs or spices, like black pepper, or red chilli flakes.
Step 6: Give It a Whirl
Use the immersion blender and mix everything up. I personally like a chunky sauce, but I cook for certain personages who (supposedly) do not like onions, so it's necessary for me to blend everything into oblivion.
Taste test! At this point, your sauce will be too raw to make any valid judgement on, but if you think it needs more salt, go for it!
Step 7: Add in the Meat
It's okay that your meat is not cooked through. Just break it up into chunks and throw in the pot, along with all the collected fluids, if you have any. And this is the super special technique:
Feel around with your immersion blender, and place the business end over a chunk of meat, and pulse briefly. Repeat for each chunk.
This should give you a uniquely amazing texture of finely ground meat with pleasantly surprising little chunks.
Don't get too enthusiastic with the blender: you don't want meat paste!
Alternatively, you can just crumble up the meat.
Step 8: Simmer for 2-3 Days
Keeping your stove on Medium heat, add the bay leaf, cover your pot, and simmer for about 15 min to finish cooking the meat.
Step 9: Meanwhile, Chop Up Your Fresh Basil
Stack the basil leaves together, roll up, and slice the rolls into "chiffonade". You can also shred them by hand.
After the simmering, take one final taste test and adjust as needed. Err on the side of too salty, because an undersalted sauce is a sad sauce.
When the taste is to your liking, throw in the basil, turn off the heat, and add Secret Ingredient #4.
Step 10: Secret Ingredient #4
TIME! 12 to 24 hours' worth! You know how soups always taste better the day after? It's because the flavors had a chance to meld. Also, the traditional method of simmering spaghetti sauce for hours and hours destroys some of the subtler flavors, not to mention it's painstaking to stand there and stir occasionally, add water if needed, etc. I'm entire too lazy for that!
Once your sauce is done, let cool completely and refrigerate overnight. Sure, you could serve it immediately, but for no extra work, you can make your sauce taste amazing!
This recipe makes 6-8 servings. I normally will freeze half of it for later. If I'm feeling particularly froggy, I'll make a lasagna with it before freezing.
Step 11: Bonus Tip
Cook your noodles in COLD water, in a roasting pan or a large skillet. This is the "kitchen hack" I've ever tried! It really does work as promised, using less water, less energy, and less time. Plus you skip that awful minute of standing there waiting for the noodles to soften enough to get it all in the pot! And no, broken or "pot-sized" noodles are not an option... See the original video here:
By the way, if you normally salt your water, use just a pinch! The first time I used this method, I made inedible noodles because I forgot I wasn't salting 5 gallons of water...
In the meantime, reheat your sauce (mine was still in the original pot). When the noodles are ready, drain and add to the sauce. You can reserve the cooking water to thin it out if needed, but this one should be pretty loose to start with, because it wasn't simmered that long. Cook them together for a couple of minutes so the noodles absorbs the sauce, and...
Step 12: Ta-da!
Generously sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and more fresh basil, either chiffonade or cute little sprigs.
Hope this was clear and helpful. Happy eating!
Oh, and that leftover basil stem?
Step 13: Root It for More Basil!
Can't hurt to have more basil on hand! See full instructions for propagating them here: