Home Cooking: My Favorite Meat Sauce for Pasta

The finished sauce, cooling and getting ready to be bagged for the freezer.

I made a big pot of this healthy and delicious sauce this past week, and froze individual servings for Brett and I enjoy for the the next few months. Spaghetti with meat sauce is one of our favorite meals year-round, and while I love a good marinara sauce (especially Rao’s), our family’s favorite recipe for meat sauce is the one below, sent in to Cooking Light magazine several years ago by a reader, Erika Boyer, and then passed on to me by my sister. 

I love this recipe for a variety of reasons:

  • It makes enough for at least two regular size meals for a family, or for a crowd if you’re having a party. Freezing half for another meal saves on cooking time later. For just the two of us, I put 1 1/2 cups of the sauce in ziplock bags for the freezer, and got seven bags from the recipe (plus a container for the refrigerator to enjoy next week).
  • It has lots of vegetables in it! Back when we had a garden and it was bursting with peppers, tomatoes and zucchini, I made up extra batches of this sauce for the freezer, but these days all the ingredients can be affordably purchased locally. The sauce can easily become vegetarian/vegan with a ground beef substitute (I did this a few times and no one noticed). And, one-half cup grated carrot can be substituted for the sugar if you want to add even more vegetables.
  • It’s very low fat. Using ultra-lean ground beef, there are only 4.6 grams of fat per serving. Ground turkey or a meat substitute can also be used instead of beef to lower the fat content even more. My favorite is a 50-50 mix of lean ground beef and ground pork.
  • It tastes really, really good! I know it’s not authentically Italian, but it’s thick, filling, and great over spaghetti, and equally good served with polenta or gnocchi. Our girls loved this sauce (still do), and so did their friends who supposedly hated vegetables.
The various forms of canned tomatoes and jarred roasted red peppers needed. (I forgot to set out the additional 14-oz can of diced tomatoes.)
Diced and grated vegetables for the sauce. I didn’t have a red pepper this time, but all green is fine too.
In a large stockpot, brown the ground meat first, then set aside and wipe out the pot.
Next, saute the vegetables until the onion is translucent and carrots, peppers, and zucchini are soft. The vegetables will give off a lot of moisture, but it will be incorporated into the sauce. I also add 4-5 cloves of minced garlic at this point (we like garlic).
Drain the roasted peppers over the pan then chop the peppers into small pieces before adding to the sauce (a pair of kitchen shears works great for this task).
Finally, add back in the meat, add seasonings and wine, then simmer on low for at least an hour. The sauce will thicken and reduce a bit.
My pot of sauce made enough for eight meals: 7 bags for the freezer, and a container to put in the refrigerator!

MEAT SAUCE FOR PASTA

  • 1 pound ground beef or other lean ground meat
  • cooking spray
  • 1 1/2 cups diced onion
  • 1 1/2 cups diced green bell pepper
  • 1 cup diced red pepper
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 cups shredded zucchini (about 2 large)
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1/4 tsp crushed red pepper (optional)
  • 1/4 cup sugar (can substitute 1/2 cup grated carrot)
  • 1 28-oz can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 28-oz can diced tomatoes
  • 1 14.5 oz can diced tomatoes with garlic and basil
  • 1 12-oz can tomato paste
  • 1 7-oz bottle of roasted red bell peppers, undrained
  • 1/2 cup good red wine
  • salt & pepper to taste

In a large Dutch oven or pot, cook the meat over med-high heat until browned and crumbled. Drain meat well and set aside. Wipe out pan and coat with cooking spray. Heat pan and add onions, diced peppers, and garlic, sauté until tender, about 5 minutes. Add zucchini and sauté an additional 5 minutes. Drain the vegetables and return to pot along with the meat; add oregano and crushed red pepper, if using. Cook the vegetable-meat mixture over med-high heat for another 5 minutes, then add crushed and diced tomatoes, tomato paste, sugar and the water from bottle of roasted pepper. Chop the roasted peppers and add to the pan, along with wine. Add salt & pepper to taste. Bring sauce to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer for at least an hour, or until the sauce is thick.

7 thoughts on “Home Cooking: My Favorite Meat Sauce for Pasta

  1. Oooh! Definitely going to try this. I was a big Cooking Light fan for years until the magazine changed and lost me. But the reader recipe submissions are still some of my favorites. We had a good food column in local newspaper for years, too. They featured a reader recipe weekly and several of those became favorites. This one looks wonderful – and healthy!

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    1. Agree with you about Cooking Light. At least I can still find some favorite recipes on their website. I got tired of all the (expensive) “special ingredients” their recipes seems to call for more and more.

      Reader recipes are the best. Another great source for those was always Sunset Magazine (sort of like Southern Living for the western U.S.).

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  2. Yummy, I need to try this. My husband is crazy about bolognese sauce but this is more on my liking because of all veggies in it.

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    1. It does have a LOT of vegetables, which is the reason I love it too. It’s very favorable as well, and of course you can season it the way you like. It’s a very healthy recipe!

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