Possibly one of the world's best comfort foods.
1 pound ground beef, 85% lean (see notes)
3/4 cup yellow onions that have been diced medium
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup dry red wine such as Zinfandel or Chianti
2 28-ounce cans crushed or pureed tomatoes (see notes)
A couple handfuls fresh parsley leaves, plus minced parsley for serving (see notes)
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1-2 bay leaves (see notes)
Ground black pepper
Optional: fresh minced basil leaves, grated parmesan cheese for serving
1. Warm 1 Tablespoon of the oil in a large pot set over medium-high heat. When hot, add the ground beef, breaking it up into small pieces in the pan. Sprinkle 3/4 teaspoon of the coarse salt (or half this much if using table salt) over the meat and let it brown in the pan for about 8 minutes, breaking it up into crumbles as it cooks.
2. Add another Tablespoon of oil to the pan, turn the heat to medium and stir in the onions. Saute them with the beef for another 5-7 minutes, until translucent.
3. Add the garlic and saute just until fragrant, then turn the heat to high and pour in the wine. Bring the mixture to a strong simmer and use a wooden spatula to scrape the bottom of the pan and stir the mixture as the wine reduces in volume by about half. This should take about 4-6 minutes.
4. Pour the tomatoes into the sauce and add the parsley, oregano and bay leaves. Stir everything together and let the sauce return to a strong simmer. Turn the heat to medium low, put the lid on askew, and let the sauce simmer, stirring occasionally, for at least 30 minutes or up to 2 hours (see notes).
5. Before serving, stir in a couple of grinds or pinches of pepper and taste. Add a pinch more salt or pepper if needed and stir in the minced basil if using. Serve with grated parmesan and minced parsley sprinkled over the top.
This recipe calls for ground beef, but other ground meats would also be great here. I've made it with ground turkey, and pork or veal would be nice too. More unusual ground meats, such as ostrich or bison, would also work well, in case your freezer happens to be a bit more adventurously stocked. ;)
If you're using ground beef, I've called for 85% lean, which means it contains 15% fat. If you're using leaner beef than this, or one of the other meat options, you'll need to use more olive oil than I've called for.
This recipe assumes your canned crushed tomatoes include salt as an ingredient. If not, you'll probably have to add more salt than called for. You could absolutely also make this with fresh plum tomatoes if you happen to have a bumper crop you need to cook through. Just blanch them to remove the skins first, then let them cook down in the sauce, crushing them a bit to help things along.
I don't get too fussy with the parsley for this. I just add whole leaves I've torn from about 1/4 of a grocery store-sized bunch of sprigs (you can freeze the stems left behind for use in future stock/broth). Sometimes if I'm feeling lazy, I skip the additional minced parsley at the end. The mix of a fresh herby pop at the end along with the longer-cooking leaves already in the sauce is nice, but if you're not up to a lot of fancy knife skills, feel free to skip the mincing. It will still be delicious.
Regarding bay leaves, I'm sure this is one of those details that probably only applies to a miniscule handful of people on the planet, but here it is anyway: if your bay leaves have been sitting lonely and neglected in the cupboard for eons (like most people's bay leaves), you may want to use an extra one or two. Unlike most normal people, I happen to have fresh bay leaves growing in a pot on my back porch (no joke!), and they are super-duper fragrant, so I only use one when making this. I'm sure you'll find your happy place between those two extremes.
I usually don't look too closely at the clock when making this, but you've got some options. The whole thing can be on the table in under an hour if that works for you. Just set a pot of water on to come to a boil as you get the sauce started, then cook the pasta while the sauce simmers, and everything will be ready at roughly the same time. But if on the other hand, you have some time, let it simmer away deliciously on the stove while you're vacuuming or paying bills, or playing canasta (does anyone really play canasta?). The longer it simmers, the more time for flavor to develop. But honestly, it's delicious either way.
This is a great sauce to make ahead in a big batch. It can be stored in the fridge for up to 3 days and in the freezer for months, covered tightly.
I serve this over cut pasta like the shells shown in the picture, because that way the pasta pieces can hold onto all that meaty goodness and serve it all up together a bite at a time. With long noodles like spaghetti, you'll notice that most of the meat ends up huddled together in the bottom of the bowl.
And finally... please cook your pasta in salted water for maximum deliciousness.