I’m a huge list-maker. When I’m stressed, you can surely bet the post-its are splayed across my desk like confetti on the street after the Macy’s Day Parade. Little neon yellow and pink squares, each imploring me to do something different. My favorites are the lists I make of things I’ve already done, or am about to do, so I can cross them off right away and feel better about myself.
This is also how I kick off the kitchen work when I don’t feel like cooking. I look at the recipe and start with the easiest task to get myself in the groove. This usually does NOT involve chopping onions.
Today’s recipe, spaghetti and meat sauce, doesn’t actually have an unsavory element. This is my comfort food, my I’m-stressed-and-need-something-familiar-to-get-me-through-the-evening food.
This dish also got me through both of my pregnancies, which must partly explain why my kids like it so much. It’s an automatic home run, an added benefit when I don’t feel like negotiating with them to eat their dinner.
My Italian grandmother would turn over in her grave if she knew I was making this iconic dish tonight with canned sauce. I have found a decent one for crazy days like this one, and refuse to feel bad about it. There is plenty of time for me to share every variation of meat and red sauce that I have ever made (and I promise I will), but tonight is not the night.
If I’m not pressed for time, I’ll add bits of other vegetables like small-diced onions, eggplant, or mushrooms to the sauce. Tonight, I don’t have any of those extras because I was distracted at the grocery store by the persistent images of neon note paper swirling around in my brain.
So, I am going to make a quick dinner, get the kids to bed, and work on getting rid of every last one of those notes. Because sometimes, dinner takes a backseat to the rest of my life.
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 pound lean ground beef
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 cup diced onion, eggplant, peppers, and/or mushrooms (optional)
- 1 bottle of good-quality canned marinara, like Rao’s
- 1 pound ziti or penne or other kid-friendly pasta shape
- Chopped fresh basil or parsley for garnish
- Put the pasta water on to boil. While you wait, add the olive oil to a 12” sauté pan, warmed over medium-high heat. Add the beef, vegetables (if using) and salt. Sauté the meat, breaking it up in the pan as you stir, until it starts to brown and the vegetables begin to soften, about ten minutes.
- Add the pasta to the boiling water and cook for about 10 minutes, or until al dente.
- Add the sauce to the beef and vegetables, stirring up the browned bits on the bottom of the pan. Bring the sauce up to a simmer, cover partially, and let simmer slowly for about 10 more minutes. The pasta and the sauce should be done at about the same time. Stir chopped fresh parsley or basil into the sauce if you have it.
- Drain the pasta and pour into a serving bowl, coating it with some of the sauce. Pass the rest of the sauce at the table with some freshly grated Parmesan cheese. Serve with a green salad and red wine.