Between midterms, finals, work, and some holiday shopping, a quick go-to dinner can be a game changer that doesn’t have to mean frozen packages of who-knows-what. I usually opt for a low and slow meat sauce to simmer, but this recipe can truly be done in 30 minutes or less considering the fact that the pasta is cooked right into the sauce to absorb all the hearty flavors. The starch from the pasta gives the sauce unctuousness and thickness so make sure it’s on the thinner, looser side before adding whatever shaped pasta you desire. If things are looking too thick, add a splash of stock or water. There’s always room for adjustment. Don’t forget the glass of pinot noir! Enjoy!
- 1 yellow onion, finely diced
- 4 garlic cloves, minced
- 3/4 lb. whole grain penne pasta
- 1 1/2 lbs. ground beef
- 1- 28 oz. can whole tomatoes (preferably San Marzano), pureed
- 1 heaping tablespoon tomato paste
- 2 cups chicken stock (or water)
- 1 1/2 teaspoons Italian seasoning
- 1 1/2 teaspoons granulated garlic
- 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
- several handfuls of baby spinach leaves (optional)
- basil, Parmesan for garnish
In a large deep-sided skillet, saute onions in 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium heat. Season with salt and cook until water has evaporated and onions are translucent and starting to caramelize, about 4-5 minutes. Add garlic, Italian seasoning, granulated garlic, and red pepper flakes. Cook for 30 seconds then add meat, breaking it into finer pieces with the spatula. Increase heat to medium-high and cook the meat in a single layer until all the water has evaporated and the meat begins to develop a brown, caramelized crust (there’s also a fond on the surface of the pan) after cooking in the fat left in the pan. Stir in tomato paste and cook for an additional 30 seconds. Then pour in pureed tomatoes and stock or water. Stir in brown sugar and pasta until thoroughly combined. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for approximately 15 minutes or until pasta is tender. Just before it is done, stir in spinach and cook until wilted. Serve with a generous dose of freshly grated Parmesan and chopped basil leaves.