This is the real stuff, a family meat sauce recipe from the Veneto region of Italy, handed down to my wife Ditalini from her family, the della Fagiolis. I’m sure the recipe changed as it adapted to life in the United States, but when Ditalini and I visited the old folks in Vittorio Veneto back in the 1980s, we thought their sauce tasted just like ours, so it can’t have changed too much!
1 lb ground beef
small roast or 1 lb Italian sausage (optional)
1 large onion
6-7 large cloves garlic
1 tsp olive oil
2 regular (14.5-oz) cans tomato sauce
1 small (6-oz) can tomato paste
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp dried basil
pinch of sugar
Brown the ground beef in a frying pan over medium heat, drain off any fat, and save. Brown the Italian sausage (or roast), drain fat, and save. While the meat is browning, peel and cut up the onion and garlic, then saute same in olive oil in a large stock pot over medium heat, stirring with a wooden spoon. Once the onions and garlic are slightly browned, add the browned meat to the stock pot. Add the tomato sauce and tomato paste. Use the empty tomato paste can to add three cans’ worth of water to the sauce (that’s 18 oz if you already threw the can away). Last of all, add the salt, pepper, spices, and sugar, then stir. Let the sauce come to a gentle boil, reduce heat, cover, and simmer for a couple of hours. Half an hour before serving, remove the lid and let the sauce continue to simmer (this will thicken it).
Use as much garlic as you like – there’s no such thing as too much. The pinch of sugar helps neutralize the tomato sauce’s acidity. You can make the sauce using only ground beef, but it’s better with two kinds of meat (we use either Italian sausage or a small beef roast).