Get creative and make it your own style! There is no rule for a great tasting pasta sauce. Each sauce recipe is someone's character, so make it your own, write it down and tune it up to your taste over time. You can make it with beef, pork, lamb, chicken or mix and match your left-over. I think the best flavor comes from scraping the bones of beef ribs or cutting up left-over steaks. Chicken will be weak, so you may want to compensate with either more herbs or make it spicy with chili.
There is no measurement given for this recipe! Go ahead, make too much and freeze the extra in portion size bags or containers.
Ingredients you can use:
- Tomatoes of course! Canned or fresh, small or big.
- Beef, pork, chicken, lamb and duck are also good creative choices.
- Garlic is important in Italy! Onions of course, maybe red ones?
- Mushrooms; consider mixed selections of dried mushrooms.
- Olive oil, not any other.
- Red wine is a must, hearthy red wine.
- Thyme and Oregano; Basil, Rosemary, etc. for different flavors.
- Freshly chopped Parsley at the end give color and freshness.
- Sea salt and fresh black pepper are the better choices.
- Carrots, peas or corn are perfectly ok too.
- Don't forget the cheese, not in the sauce but grated fresh on the plate.
About the tomatoes
Tomatoes will set the texture and style of your sauce. Peeled tomatoes in a can, with tomato paste added for body, will give a traditional sauce best served on spaghetti. Fresh tomatoes, the plum shaped Roma tomatoes are best, will give you a fresh tasting sauce, although more fluid and thinner. See the pasta notes below to make the marriages of pasta and sauce. You can very well mix canned and fresh as long as you remember to add the fresh tomatoes late in the cooking, else your sauce will taste and look like a canned tomatoes sauce. Sun-dried tomatoes can also be added to fresh tomatoes. Always drain your tomatoes, canned or fresh to avoid a watery sauce.
About the meats
Ground beef or pork, or 50/50 for traditional meat sauces. Go with leaner ground, else you will have too much fat floating on top of your sauce,
but you do need some fat for flavor, ground steak will lack taste and feel dry. You can cheat flavor by adding bacon as well, especially if you use chicken.
I prefer to chop, or shred, the meat rather than using store ground. The sauce will be a little more chunky and you will be able to distinctly taste the meat. Especially important if you use left-over steak. Lamb and pork are best cut coarse and shredded only after cooking, but don't do that to chicken as you will end up with no taste at all. Duck is great alternative to chicken.
The major contributors
Onions and garlic are required, although may be dispensed if your stomach does not like that too much, but you will take the blame!
You can replace onions with shallots, it is a good choice for chicken. Powder form only if that is really the only thing you have on hand,
as you will never get the same taste as you do with fresh.
Mushrooms! Adds texture and flavor, also stretch your sauce if you are a little short on the meat. Don't be boring with basic white mushrooms, explore the possibilities! Portobello are strong tasting, use them with lamb or steak, Porcini are great with pork, Chanterelle will boost your chicken. You can very well make a vegetarian version with all mushrooms, but then use at least two types of mushrooms for flavor and looks.
Tip: For a traditional sauce, briefly fry the mushrooms with the garlic and then add to the sauce. For a fresher tasting sauce, add the mushrooms late in the cooking to keep them from shrinking and keep their fresh taste in the dish, this is especially important for Chanterelle or Porcini.
Red wine is indispensable, don't worry about the kids, the alcohol is long gone through the cooking. Less in the thinner fresh sauces,
more in the thicker sauces made with tomato paste. A hearty wine is best as you need less of it keeping your sauce from turning to soup!
Fresh herbs and flavoring is where you show your personality. Anything goes! Basil is a common addition to Thyme and Oregano. Be careful with Rosemary as that could add an overly strong character to the sauce, however, it is a great choice for lamb. Smell your herbs and decide. Chopped fresh parsley is added at the very end, or even on top of the sauce in the plate before grating the cheese.
The wild cards
Venison, shrimps, artichoke hearts, sweet green and red peppers, or hot chilies with shallots and lime juice, Thai style.
Which one of the 400 pasta?
And more if you account for regional specialties! Like for the sauce, there is no rule either, but there is a trick: Choose the pasta shape and surface that will stay married to your sauce! Sauce made with canned peeled tomatoes plus paste works best with medium spaghetti, sold as #5 or #7. If your sauce is made mostly from fresh tomatoes, you need thinner spaghetti, spaghettini, because the sauce is more fluid, more runny. Wider pasta, like fettuccine or linguine, are best for creamy sauces, like Carbonara, because the creamy sauce likes the flat surface of the pasta keeping it all nicely mixed on the plate. Short, cut extruded pasta like penne or conchiglie (shells) are most popular in Minestrone or salad recipes. Then you have all fun pasta that kids love, like the alphabet soup!
Top it off!
Grated cheese is traditionally Parmesan, but Romano is excellent, or a mix of the two; consider aged Asiago to bring a very distinct flavor to your sauce. Like fresh herbs, you can't beat freshly grated cheese instead of packaged.