Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Easy Semi-Homemade Spaghetti Sauce with Meatballs or Meat Sauce

A great spaghetti sauce, made with onion, garlic, stewed and Rotel tomatoes, Italian and Cajun seasonings, and a little help from canned sauce, but tastes like you cooked it from scratch.
A great shortcut spaghetti sauce, made with onion, garlic, stewed and Rotel tomatoes, Italian and Cajun seasonings, and a little help from canned sauce, but tastes like you cooked it from scratch.

Easy Semi-Homemade Spaghetti Sauce

In the mood for spaghetti with a homemade taste, but that doesn't have to simmer all day long? Okay, so yes, you do get a little head start with canned pasta sauce to start with so I guess you can call this "semi-homemade," BUT... once you add in some very simple but transforming enhancements, you will end up with something that tastes as if you made the sauce from scratch and simmered it on the stove for hours. I've been making my spaghetti sauce like this for years, and The Cajun loves it!

True, there is nothing that can match a sauce that is made from fresh home grown or store- bought, in-season tomatoes and low simmered on the stove all day long, but what to do when tomatoes aren't in season? Or, if you don't have that kind of time?

Canned pasta sauces are cheap to use, and you can pretty much use just about any brand, however, that doesn't mean that you want to just dump the sauce in a pot, add the meatballs and serve it over spaghetti noodles! Just a little extra effort will make a major difference, and if nobody's lookin' to see you pop open the cans, they'll think you slaved over a hot stove for hours. The secret, will be yours to keep.

I really like the Casa meatballs (and so does The Cajun), but if you don't have pre-made meatballs on hand, the recipe I have been using since the beginning of time for basic homemade meatballs is right here. Just allow time for the preparation. In fact, double or even triple the batch, cook them and then lay them out on a baking sheet in the freezer. Once frozen you can transfer them to a large zipper freezer bag and then you'll have your own premade meatballs for another time!

But, to be honest, if you don't have pre-made meatballs, a meat sauce is also equally good, super speedy, and for that, all you have to do is brown your ground beef up in the same pot you cooked the onion and garlic in. Then add whatever tomatoes and/or canned pasta sauce you are using and let it cook on a medium simmer for at least 30 minutes, or up to several hours on a low simmer if you have the time.

You can also start this sauce the night before, or the morning you want to make it for dinner, and then dump it in the crockpot and let it simmer on low all day (8 to 10 hours) in your crockpot while you're at work or running errands! When you get home, dump in the cooked meatballs and turn it to high for about 30 minutes, or until they are heated through. If using commercial frozen meatballs, be sure to allow them to thaw, otherwise they take days to thaw in the slow cooker. For meat sauce, this is especially fast if you have stored some pre-browned ground beef in your freezer. However you do this, it's a fast and delicious spaghetti that is both man-pleasin' and kid-pleasin' and tastes like it took much more effort than it really did.

I keep a wide variety of canned tomatoes as pantry staples all the time - tomato paste, sauce, stewed and diced tomatoes, Rotel, whole, pureed, fire roasted, and cheap, canned pasta sauce, all are common staples in my house.  I like to start my spaghetti sauce with a large can or two of cheap canned pasta sauce, rather than using only plain tomato sauce, because it's slightly sweetened and contains some seasonings already, but I have used a combination of many different tomatoes as well, so mix it up!

Here's what you need to totally transform a can (or jar) of off-the-shelf spaghetti sauce, and make it with your own 'homemade.' Grab some olive oil, 1 medium sweet or yellow onion, 3 cloves of garlic, 1/2 a teaspoon of Italian seasoning, 2 bay leafs, dash of red pepper flakes, 2 large cans of pasta sauce, 1 can stewed tomatoes, cooked meatballs OR 1 pound of ground beef and a package of thin spaghetti noodles.

Chop the onion. On occasion, I also like to add in a rib of celery, one carrot and a half a green pepper, all diced.

And saute it in some olive oil in a large saucepan or pot. You'll be doing the whole sauce in this same pot.

Once the onion has cooked down soft, but not caramelized, add the chopped garlic. Cook that for about 3 or 4 minutes.

Gather the seasonings - 1/2 teaspoon of dried Italian seasoning, 1/2 teaspoon of Cajun seasoning, 2 bay leaves, and a couple dashes of red pepper flakes.  If you have fresh herbs in your garden, absolutely use them here instead of using the dried seasoning.

Add the seasonings in with the onion and garlic.

And stir them in well, allowing the flavors to cook and meld together for a few minutes.

If you are making a meat sauce, this is where you will add in the raw ground beef and brown it before adding the tomatoes and sauce. If you're crocking it, once you brown the meat, transfer it to the crockpot and add everything in there.  Otherwise, add in the can of stewed tomatoes, Rotel if you're using it (you can just sub in another can of diced or stewed tomatoes), or whatever combination of tomatoes you have on hand.  Feel free to experiment and mix up the tomatoes you use for your sauce, whatever you have - stewed, diced, whole, crushed, fire roasted, your own recipe, and certainly any from the garden you happened to have put up!

... and let them cook for about 5 minutes.

Now add in the spaghetti sauce, if you're using it. I have used Del Monte Traditional canned spaghetti sauce for years because the flavor is excellent, it's got a little sweetness and seasoning to it already, and it's cheap - but I've used Hunt's, even generic - whatever is on sale - it all works fine, just don't spend a lot of money because you are only using this as your base.

Stir it all in together, bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer, covered, for 30 minutes to several hours, stirring a few times in between. If cooking this in a crockpot, I wait to add the cooked meatballs in right before I am ready to serve it, then crank it to high, cover it and let it cook for about another 30 minutes, just enough to thoroughly warm through the meatballs. Be sure to use thawed meatballs if you're using the commercial ones because the frozen ones will take way to look to cook through.

On the stovetop, when I am serving this with meatballs, I like to let the sauce simmer by itself first and then add in the cooked meatballs right before serving. Stir in the meatballs, return to a boil, reduce heat and simmer, covered, for about 25 to 30 minutes, or according to the directions on your package of meatballs if you are using prepacked meatballs. If you're in a hurry, just add the meatballs right after you add the tomatoes, since the sauce really only has to simmer 30 minutes, about the same time the meatballs are heated through.

When the meatballs are just about ready, get a pot of water going for the pasta. Large pot, lots of water and salt the pot generously! This is where people make the biggest mistake when they cook pasta. They either way under season the water for the pasta or they don't season it at all! Believe me, it does make a difference. You need about 3 very generous pinches of kosher salt.  Bring the water to a full rolling boil and add the salt. (If you add the salt first, the water will take longer to boil)

Now, I'm not very fond of the regular whole wheat pastas much - kinda depends on the brand really. But, I LOVE the Barilla Plus pastas {affil link}. They really are good all on their own in any pasta dish.

But... sometimes I mix my pasta! I'll use half a package of the regular spaghetti noodles and half Barilla Plus. Then, what I like to do is snap the noodles in half while holding them over the pot. This way they still look like whole spaghetti noodles, but they are easier to manage with a twirl of the fork! Gotta twirl your pasta, right?

Cook the pasta according to the package directions for al dente, drain and return the noodles to the pasta pot. See, it looks like any regular old pasta now doesn't it? Trust me, you can pull this off with your family! Give it a shot and see what happens.

Put the noodles back into the pasta pot, pull about 3 scoops of the sauce out of the sauce pot.

And add that to the spaghetti noodles.

And mix it in well, so all the noodles are well coated.

Pour the noodles into a serving platter.

And top with the sauce and meatballs. Dig in!

If you have leftover sauce turn it into Spaghetti Lover's Soup or reserve some meatballs for a po'boy.

Recipe: Easy Semi-Homemade Spaghetti Sauce with Meatballs or Meat Sauce

©From the Kitchen of Deep South Dish
Prep time: 10 min |Cook time: 1 hour | Yield: About 6 to 8 servings

  • 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 cups of chopped, sweet or yellow onion
  • 1 heaping tablespoon of garlic, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon of Italian seasoning
  • 1/2 teaspoon of Cajun Seasoning (like Slap Ya Mama) {affil link}, or to taste, optional
  • 2 bay leaves
  • Dash of red pepper flakes, optional
  • 2 large (26.5 ounce) cans of pasta sauce (recommend Del Monte or Hunts)
  • 1 can (14.5 ounce) diced or stewed tomatoes, undrained
  • 1 can (10 ounce) of Rotel tomatoes, undrained, optional
  • 1 pound package of fully cooked meatballs, homemade meatballs, or 1 pound of ground beef for meat sauce
  • 1 pound package of thin spaghetti noodles
  • 3 large pinches of kosher salt for the pasta water

Heat the oil over medium heat in a large saucepan or a small stockpot. Add the onion and cook until softened. Add the garlic and continue cooking for about 3 or 4 minutes. Add the Italian seasoning, Cajun seasoning, 2 bay leaves, and a couple dashes of red pepper flakes, stir in and cook for about 2 minutes. If you are making a meat sauce instead of using meatballs, add the ground beef here and cook until browned.

Add the diced or stewed and Rotel tomatoes and cook for 5 minutes. Add the 2 cans of spaghetti sauce, bring to a boil, reduce to a medium simmer and cook covered for 30 minutes. If using meatballs, stir to mix in well, cover and cook an additional 25 minutes, or per the package instructions.

Place water for pasta in a tall stockpot, cover and bring to a boil, and season very generously with 3 generous pinches of kosher salt. Cook the pasta according to the package direction for al dente, drain and return to the pasta pot. Scoop out some of the spaghetti sauce and add it to the spaghetti noodles. Stir until pasta is well coated. Transfer spaghetti noodles to a platter and top with additional sauce and meatballs.

Cook's Notes: This is also an excellent sauce all on its own if you want to go meatless. I like Del Monte canned sauce, however Hunt's is another brand I use. While I usually start with a canned spaghetti sauce, I certainly do and have used a mixture of stewed, diced, whole, fire roasted, my own Creole tomato recipe made from my garden harvest, and certainly any nice tomatoes you happened to have put up will do. Feel free to experiment and mix up the tomatoes you use for your sauce.

For the Crockpot: If making meat sauce, saute the veggies and brown the meat, then add to the crockpot with all of the remaining ingredients. Cook on low for 6 to 8 hours. For meatballs, I recommend waiting to add the cooked meatballs in until about 30 minutes before you plan to serve dinner. Turn the crockpot up to high and continue cooking for about 30 minutes or until meatballs are thoroughly warmed through. If using commercial meatballs, thaw before adding.

Leftover Spaghetti Lover's Soup: Reserve 2 cups of leftover sauce, with meat. Saute 1/2 cup each of chopped onion, bell pepper, carrot and celery in 1/2 tablespoon olive oil for 5 minutes; add 1/2 tablespoon minced garlic and cook another minute. If using only leftover sauce without meat, add 1/2 pound of crumbled raw sausage or ground beef and brown; drain off any excess fat. Add 4 cups of chicken or beef broth, or a combination of water and broth, one can of Rotel tomatoes, drained, one (15 ounce) can undrained diced tomatoes, and the reserved spaghetti sauce. Add additional water or broth as needed for desired consistency.

Bring to a boil, reduce to simmer, and cook for 30 minutes, or until vegetables are tender. Heat 2 cups of chopped, leftover spaghetti noodles and add to individual bowls. If using fresh uncooked pasta, add and cook another 12 to 15 minutes, however the noodles will absorb most of the liquid so you will need to increase. Taste first then adjust seasonings as needed (salt, pepper, Cajun), though depending on how well your sauce is seasoned, you may not need any.

Deep South Spaghetti Variation: This isn't identical to "Dad's Deep South Spaghetti" from my cookbook {affil link}, but you can get pretty close by adding a diced large green bell pepper and one diced celery rib to the chopped onion, and adding 1/4 pound of very thinly sliced spicy andouille smoked sausage. I also like to add in a diced carrot sometimes.

Tip: If you'd ever had the occasion to end up with watery spaghetti on your plate, the culprit is likely the wet pasta. Don't rinse the pasta, make sure you give it time to drain really well, and don't build the casserole until it is dry and stops steaming. That steam can create condensation and thus water in the finished dish. Also, you can transfer the pasta back to the hot, but empty, cooking pot and place it back over the turned off burner. The residual heat from the burner and the pot will help to dry the water out of the pasta.

Click here for my basic homemade meatball recipe.

Source: http://www.deepsouthdish.com

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©Deep South Dish
Leftover Meatballs

The leftover meatballs from this sauce make a fantastic meatball sub sandwich! Warm the meatballs in the microwave, just enough to take the chill off. Preheat the broiler. Get a good French roll or sub roll, open it up, cut a few meatballs in half and lay them on the roll. Be generous! Spoon a little sauce on top of the meatballs. Cover with sliced mozzarella cheese and place under the broiler just long enough to toast bread and melt the cheese.

For a softer roll, warm the meatballs in the microwave and prepare as above except wrap tightly in aluminum foil. Place into a preheated 350 degree oven for 20 to 30 minutes or until warmed completely through. Save some leftover sauce and meatballs, pair it up with some refrigerated pasta for a delicious dish that'll impress your guests.
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Posted by on March 24, 2009
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