Monday, May 16, 2011

Spaghetti with Meat Sauce

This is one of those recipes that I make very little changes on. It is Alton Brown's recipe, almost verbatim. I really love this recipe in that it addresses the age old problems that spaghetti has and I really learned a lot by watching it be prepared on Good Eats. I really recommend watching the episode (as he does a much better job of explaining everything than I would) and just use the pics I have taken to compare. 

Good Eats Episode (in 2 parts)

Part 1
Part 2

He takes FOREVER to make this, and if I followed the recipe exactly, then it may be marginally better, but the way I make it, I save a lot of time and it ends up being really good, so do what you will.

Meat sauce:
6 ounces thick sliced bacon, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 whole cloves
1 whole star anise pod
3 stalks celery, finely chopped
5 cloves garlic, 3 minced and 2 coarsely chopped
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
8 ounces coarsely ground beef chuck (I usually use plain old ground beef)
8 ounces coarsely ground pork butt (I usually use plain old ground pork)
1 1/4 cups white wine, divided (Use a good chardonnay you'd like to drink)
3/4 cup evaporated milk
3 cups beef broth (store bought is fine here but if you have some homemade, by all means, use it)
3 oz porcini mushrooms, finely chopped (I left out the mushrooms in this version but have since started using them again. I usually just sauté them in some butter and add them in with the beef and pork)
2 (28-ounce) cans diced tomatoes
1 tablespoon dried oregano
2 teaspoons dried basil
2 teaspoons dried marjoram
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 tablespoon ketchup
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar (Can sub balsamic or red wine vinegar, but sherry is really awesome)
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/3 cup finely grated Parmesan (Make it good parmesan)

1 gallon water
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1/2 pound dry spaghetti


Begin by getting a large pot or dutch oven and 6 slices of thick cut bacon (this is usually 6 oz) or you can use end pieces that add up to 6 oz. Cut up the bacon (I like to cut the pieces big because you will be removing them as we are just harvesting the fat) and let them cook, over med-low heat until they have given up the fat, but are not burned. 

Remove the bacon and eat, or save it. I usually just eat it with the kids while I cook the spaghetti. 

Add 1 large diced onion and 3 stalks of celery to the fat. Also add a spice bag with 3 cloves and a whole star anise pod, smashed.

Let this cook over med-low heat until very soft. About 20 minutes. 

Meanwhile, brown the ground meat in a separate pan over high heat. (sorry didn't get pics of this step) 

Drain the meat, deglaze the pan with 1/2 cup white wine and add everything to the onions/celery.

Add another 1/2 cup of white wine, 3 cups of beef broth and 3/4 cup of evaporated milk to the pot. 

Unless you actually took the time to buy ground chuck and ground pork shoulder, you don't need 3 hours to cook this. I only let it go for about an hour, then I start the tomato portion of the sauce.

Pour a table spoon of olive oil in a saute pan over medium heat and add 3 cloves of garlic, coarsely chopped. Let this saute until fragrant, but NOT browned, 30 seconds to a minute. Keep it moving the whole time.

Add two, 28 oz cans of diced tomatoes. 

If you want a smoother sauce, use your immersion blender here to purée everything. 

Add 2 tablespoons of oregano along with 2 teaspoons each, basil and majoram. 

Let this cook over med-high heat until most of the liquid has evaporated. It'll take about 20 minutes depending on your heat level.

Since we evaporated off the water in the tomatoes, we'll be replacing it with some more flavorful liquids.

Namely: 1/4 cup of wine, 2 tablespoons tomato paste, 1 tablespoon ketchup, 1 tablespoon sherry (or balsamic or red wine) vinegar and 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce.

Again, cook until very thick, like a paste. It shouldn't take as long this time, maybe 7 minutes over medium heat.

Then, turn up the heat to high and add 1 tablespoon of olive oil and fry the tomato mixture for 2 minutes, stirring constantly to deepen the flavors even more.

Your meat sauce should look something like this:

***REMOVE THE SPICE BAG*** and add the tomato mixture and stir to combine.

I usually just let this sit for a while to let the flavors meld, but you can probably get away with 15 minutes or so. Go ahead and start the pasta. 

Cook 1/2 pound of pasta to JUST BEFORE al dente. It will finish cooking in the sauce. As Alton says in the episode, this allows for everything to combine nicely for service, and I completely agree. You know how Italian food is better the next day, this is why.

**Full disclosure edit:

I kind of messed up this step as I cooked the pasta earlier in the day and added it cold. 

Big mistake. 

You'll notice in the pictures that there's liquid all over the plate. That's because you need to take the pasta DIRECTLY from the boiling water and put it in the sauce. 

This allows some of the starch in the pasta water to thicken the sauce and as I said, lets the pasta finish cooking in the sauce, thus absorbing the flavors and excess liquid of the sauce. 

I make these mistakes so you don't have to.

Anyway, stir in 1/3 cup of good parmesan cheese and serve with garlic bread, or a salad or alone or with both.


This is the best spaghetti Bolognese I've ever had. Certainly the best recipe I have and even better than restaurants. 

The sauce is intensely flavored, extremely deep. The tomato and meat work in perfect balance and the herbs come out in what I can only call "Italian" flavors. This is comfort food. Classic Americana on a plate. 

If you try this, I guarantee you'll never go back to your old spaghetti recipe.



  1. You make me embarassed of my Ragu technique. Ha! I need to try this. Tonight we had spaghetti, but I added cream cheese and parmesean to the Ragu for a different flavor. Sounds weird but it's surprisingly good.

    PS: I like that you just eat the bacon while cooking. I would do the same!

  2. Love your food blog! You also make me embarrassed, as my gourmet spaghetti recipe involves Newman's Own marinara poured over ground beef. I'm going to try some of your recipes eventually.

  3. @Jaren, I have a recipe that does the same thing with cream cheese, and it IS surprisingly good. and @Christy, yay! please do!

  4. I love spaghetti since I was a child. My mom always cooks me, my brothers and my sister whenever it's our birthday or other special occasions that needs celebrating. Thanks for sharing this recipe. Now I can cook for my mom. I'll definitely make this before I get my Food Handler Certification.


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