I was probably about 12 and this was my very first experience with the flavours of Italian cuisine and I have to say it was love at first bite. I simply had to have the recipe so I could make it. Now…my parents and siblings were not big into garlic and certainly nothing spicy…so that cayenne was quite the surprise and had everyone gulping plenty of water while consuming their spaghetti! Next time I had to leave out the cayenne…not any more! We lived a couple of doors from my friend Colleen and her family and I spent a lot of time there when I was growing up. Her mom, Mary, a great cook, got the recipe from one of her sisters-in-law (both were of Italian heritage.) Over the years the original has been tweaked but the basic taste I fell in love with is still there!
Since those days I’ve learned lot more about Italian cooking I have wondered if the long simmered chunks of beef were originally intended to be removed from the sauce, set aside to be served as the secondo (second course) with the remaining sauce tossed with spaghetti for the primi (first course).
Makes Enough Sauce for 1 1/2 lbs. Spaghetti
1 ½ lbs. stewing beef, chuck is a great choice
4 Tbsp. EVOO
2 large onions, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 – 28 oz. tin Italian plum tomatoes, crushed with your hands, slosh tin with 1 cup water to rinse & add to sauce OR a bottle of passata
2 Tbsp. tomato paste
¼ tsp. ground cinnamon, or more to taste
¼ tsp. ground cloves, or more to taste
¼ tsp. cayenne pepper or peperoncino
Salt & freshly ground black pepper
Heat a large pot over medium heat. Add EVOO and heat until hot but not smoking. Add the beef and turn the meat in the EVOO until coated. Cook for 5 minutes until all the meat is no longer red. Add the onions and sauté until softened but not browned. Add the garlic, sauté for 1 minute. Add the cinnamon, cloves and cayenne pepper or pepperoncino; sauté for a minute; stir in the tomato paste, cook for 1 minute. Pour in the crushed tomatoes and the water from the tin; season adding with salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer, partially cover the pot, simmer for 3 – 4 hours or until the meat is very tender.
Note: you can substitute lean ground beef or a mixture of ground beef and ground pork for the stewing beef. The sauce will take 2 hours to cook instead of the 3 – 4 hours for pieces of beef.
If you choose, you can add some or all of the following: chopped green pepper, sliced mushrooms, finely chopped celery, grated carrot, oregano, parsley and ½ cup or so of red or white wine wouldn’t hurt either.