Italian Meat Sauce

Cook date: November 7, 2018

A few weeks ago we belatedly – by four months – celebrated our friends’ birthdays. We had planned to go to Bernie’s Southern Bistro that serves served a great plate of fried chicken. But since we were there last spring it had closed. As a backup we found Ciao Vito a great little Italian place over in Northeast Portland. Jay and I had the Bolognese which was fantastic. It put me mind to cook some up. 

Years ago I made some Bolognese sauce from a Cook’s Country or Cook’s Illustrated recipe but I couldn’t find my blog post on it. The recipes I found looked delicious but were very involved;  I didn’t have time to cook something that complex on the day we asked friends over.

Dad Cooks Dinner and my pressure cooker to the rescue. He has a recipe for a quick Italian Meat Sauce prepared in a pressure cooker. Given the time I had and knowing Mike Vrobel’s recipes are tasty I went for it.

Simple set of Ingredients for the meat sauce.

It only takes a few minutes to prepare the traditional trio of vegetables for the base.

Onion, celery, and a carrot ready to be sautéd.

The recipe calls for hot and mild Italian sausage links to be broken up. Like I said, I was in a hurry, so I just got some bulk sausage from the meat counter. I think this was a mistake – which I’ll talk about later.

Everything in place for the meat sauce.

Step 1 is to sauté the vegetables along with the aromatics and some salt in olive oil. Then we stir in the wine and scrape up the brown bits at the bottom of the pan. Cook the sausage until the pink just goes away – we don’t want to fully cook it at this stage.

Italian sausage and vegetables ready for the wet ingredients

Stir in the – preferably homemade – chicken stock and tomatoes and pressure cook then allow the pressure to come down naturally.

It was time to pay attention to the pasta. Back when it was on the air, I was devoted to Alton Brown’s show Good Eats. My first real cooking experience was smoking pulled pork using a hot plate and a couple of terra cotta pots. Alton is getting ready to produce some new episodes of the show; in the meantime he has a few episodes of Good Eats: Reloaded, where he runs an old episode then cuts in with new information and better ways. 

I just happened across this show one night when the subject was cooking pasta. In the original episode he cooked it the “normal” way adding dry pasta to a large pot of boiling water. Then he interrupted to tell us “Wait there is a better way”: put the pasta in cold water and bring it to a boil.WHAT!? That’s crazy. What the heck let’s give it a try.

Dry pasta in a pan ready to be covered in cold water for cooking.

The method is to cover with cold water an inch or two over the top of the pasta. Salt well, bring to a boil then simmer. Check a couple of minutes short of the time called for on the box. Then, don’t pour it all through a colander, instead pull the pasta out of the pot into the serving dish saving the starchy water to thicken your sauce if needed.

This method worked well – it certainly cooks faster because you don’t have to boil nearly as much water. But it’s a bit tricky to get the timing down. Normally, I get my pot of water going early and keep it just under a simmer while we prepare everything else. Then it’s quick work to turn up the heat to get a rolling boil. With the new method you need to guesstimate how long it will take to cook the pasta from start to finish. 

It tasted good – but not worlds better than the traditional method. If you do use some of the starchy water to adjust your sauce this method is the way to go.

Back to the sauce.  Release the pressure, carefully remove the lid and season to taste. I freaked out a bit at this stage; there was a lot of grease on top. I think this is because the bulk sausage was so fatty. Well, we can work around that with a slotted spoon. I took a cup of the sauce and tossed it with the pasta. 

Pasta tossed with 1 cup of sauce.

We then portioned it out into pasta bowls and topped each bowl with more sauce and some Parmigiano Reggiano cheese. Dinner is served. Our guests enjoyed it. Karen brought garlic bread to round out the meal. Good stuff.

Dinner is served. Pasta with meat sauce

It was quite nice but I had to work around all that fat on top. I think next time I’ll use the large link Italian Sausage which I bet has less fat. And maybe cook it the day before, refrigerate overnight, and skim off the excess fat before reheating. Spaghetti sauce always tastes better the next day anyway, right?

RATING: ★★★   I think this can move up to four stars by making the adjustments I discussed above. It’s fast and simple. Take a look at the recipe on Dad Cooks Dinner.

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