Sensational spaghetti

This sauce became such a popular partner for spaghetti that in many circles it is still known as 'spaghetti sauce.'

spaghetti 88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
spaghetti 88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
When the weather turns cool, a bowl of spaghetti topped with a rich, hearty sauce makes a welcome, warming supper. In many American households the traditional sauce has come to mean a deep-red tomato sauce simmered with meat - often ground beef, meat cubes, chunks of sausages or, in my own childhood, meatballs. This sauce became such a popular partner for spaghetti that in many circles it is still known as spaghetti sauce. Cooks who make the sauce with beef cubes find that the sauce needs to cook for two hours or more. Indeed, even those using ground meat or sausage often cook their sauce at length to thicken it and concentrate its flavor. Yet spaghetti sauce made with ground meat actually needs only a few minutes of simmering, as ground meat cooks rapidly. To give the sauce a richer taste, it's a good idea to saute the ground meat briefly before adding any liquid. If you don't begin with a lot of liquid, the sauce will be thick enough without lengthy cooking. Drain canned tomatoes before adding them to the sauce; adding the juice from the can thins out the sauce and prolongs its cooking time. To make meaty spaghetti sauces lighter, I substitute ground chicken or turkey. To give the sauce a lively flavor, I sometimes add curry spices or the Yemenite favorites of cumin and turmeric. Occasionally I use East Asian seasonings like fresh ginger and teriyaki sauce. Spaghetti sauces make the satisfying taste of a small amount of meat go a long way, and thus make sense nutritionally and economically. It's best to purchase lean ground meat and to cook it within a day or two. Once the sauce is cooked, you can refrigerate it for a day or two or freeze it. Meat sauces are good with all sorts of pasta, not just spaghetti. Try them with spirals or shells, which are great for catching the bits of meat, or spooned over orzo, couscous or rice. If you're trying to go easy on carbs, you can spoon the sauce over vegetables, like briefly cooked green beans or cabbage, served on their own or combined with pasta. PASTA WITH TERIYAKI SPAGHETTI SAUCE Teriyaki sauce, fresh ginger and soy sauce add an intriguing note to this quick ground-beef spaghetti sauce. 225 gr. ground beef, turkey or chicken 3 to 4 Tbsp. soy sauce, or to taste 5 Tbsp. vegetable oil 225 gr. green beans, ends removed, halved 1 sweet red or green pepper, cut in strips 1 cup peeled sliced celery 3 Tbsp. minced peeled gingerroot 1⁄2 cup chicken broth 340 gr. spaghetti 3 to 4 Tbsp teriyaki sauce (see Note below) 1⁄3 cup chopped green onions Combine beef, 1 tablespoon soy sauce and 1 tablespoon oil in a medium bowl and mix well; set aside. Cook green beans in a medium saucepan of boiling salted water and uncovered over high heat for 6 minutes. Drain, rinse with cold water and drain well. Heat 3 tablespoons oil a large skillet. Add red pepper and celery and saute over medium heat about 3 minutes or until crisp-tender. Remove with a slotted spoon. Add gingerroot, stir, then add beef mixture and saute over medium heat, crumbling with a fork, about 4 minutes or until beef changes color. Add broth and 2 or 3 tablespoons soy sauce and bring to a simmer. Return pepper and celery strips to pan. Cook spaghetti uncovered in a large pot of boiling salted water over high heat, separating strands occasionally with a fork, 7 to 8 minutes or until tender but firm to the bite. Drain well. Transfer to a large heated serving bowl and toss with 1 tablespoon oil. Reheat meat sauce. Add teriyaki sauce and green beans. Reserve 1 or 2 tablespoons green onions for sprinkling, and add rest to sauce. Heat a few seconds. Remove from heat, add to spaghetti and toss. Serve hot, sprinkled with reserved green onions. Makes 4 servings. Note: If you don't have teriyaki sauce, you can mix 2 tablespoons soy sauce with 2 tablespoons mirin (Japanese sweet rice wine), sherry or dry white wine and with 1 to 2 teaspoons sugar; or substitute Chinese plum sauce or duck sauce. SPAGHETTI WITH SPICY MEAT SAUCE Yemenite spices brighten up any spaghetti sauce. Besides spaghetti, this sauce is good with bulgur wheat, kasha or white or brown rice. If you have Yemenite s'hug or another hot pepper garlic sauce, you can serve it on the side and omit the hot peppers and garlic from the sauce. 340 gr. ground beef, turkey or chicken (about 11⁄2 cups) 2 or 3 Tbsp. vegetable oil 2 medium onions, minced 1 cup chopped celery 2 small hot peppers, ribs and seeds removed, minced Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste 6 large garlic cloves, minced 1 Tbsp. ground cumin 1 tsp. turmeric 1 cup tomato sauce 340 gr. spaghetti 2 to 3 Tbsp. chopped fresh coriander Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large saute pan. Add meat and saute over medium heat, breaking up meat with a wooden spoon, about 7 minutes or until changes color. Transfer to a bowl. Add 1 or 2 tablespoon oil to pan. Add onions, celery, hot peppers and a pinch of salt and ground pepper. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, about 7 minutes or until onion begins to brown. Return beef to pan and add garlic, cumin and turmeric and cook, stirring, 1 minute. Add tomato sauce and simmer for 5 minutes. Cover and keep warm. Cook spaghetti uncovered in a large pot of boiling salted water over high heat, separating strands occasionally with a fork, 7 to 8 minutes or until tender but firm to the bite. Drain spaghetti well. If there is room in pan of sauce, add it to pan; otherwise, put it in a large heated bowl and add sauce. Toss lightly until blended. Taste and adjust seasoning. Bring some of sauce to top for serving. Sprinkle with coriander and serve. Makes 4 main-course servings. Faye Levy is the author of Sensational Pasta.