This delicious meat sauce is an update to my Mom’s recipe, which she learned to make from an Italian friend as a young military wife. Instead of all ground beef, I use half pork and half beef, but I’ve resisted the urge to embellish or complicate the sauce too much, as it was always a winner with both friends and family. (However, as long as you don't tell me, feel free to sneak in mushrooms or carrots, to use some sausage in place of some of the pork, to crank up the oregano, add thyme....It's your call.) The secret is long, slow cooking.

This is a good sauce to make and freeze. To serve with pasta, do as the Italians do and mix the pasta and the sauce in a pan before serving, adding a little pasta-cooking water to loosen up. Think beyond spaghetti, too, and try bucatini or rigatoni instead.

Makes 8 servings 

  • 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1 pound ground pork
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • 2 slices bacon or pancetta (about 2 ounces), chopped
  • 2 cups medium-diced onion
  • 2 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 teaspoons ground paprika
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • ½ cup red wine
  • 2 29-ounce cans crushed tomatoes
  • 1 6-ounce can tomato paste

1. In a large Dutch oven over medium heat, heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil. Add the beef and the pork, season with 1 teaspoon salt and freshly ground black pepper, turn the heat to medium-high and break up into small pieces with a wooden spoon. Stirring frequently, cook until cooked through (the meat will be crowded so it won’t really brown). Remove the pan from the heat and use a slotted spoon to transfer all of the browned meat to a bowl or tray. Pour off all the remaining liquid (fat and juices) into a glass measure.

2. Return the pot to medium heat, add the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil and the bacon or pancetta. Cook, stirring, until somewhat shrunken and starting to brown. Add the onions and ½ teaspoon salt. Stir, reduce the heat to medium-low, cover, and cook for 5 to 7 minutes, stirring from time to time, until the onions are softened and beginning to turn golden. Uncover and continute to cook, stirring, until the onions have lost their opacity and are somewhat golden. (You’ll most likely need to scrape the bottom of the pan.)

3. Add the garlic, paprika, and oregano and stir until well-combined and fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the red wine and cook, stirring and scraping the browned bits off the bottom and sides of the pan, until reduced to a few tablespoons, 3 to 5  minutes.

4. Return all the meat and its juices to the pot. (Skim the fat off the juices you poured into the glass measure and add those back in as well.) Add the crushed tomatoes, the tomato paste, and 3 cups of water. Bring to a simmer (you can cover the pot loosely to make this happen more quickly, then uncover), reduce to a very gentle simmer, and cook for two hours, stirring occasionally, until very reduced and deeply flavored. (If the sauce thickens up too quickly, add a cup or two of hot water and keep cooking. Keep an eye on the simmering; often it speeds up and you can drop the heat down a little more to maintain a gentle simmer.)

5. If making ahead, cool completely and distribute into several small to medium containers. Freeze what you like and keep the rest in the fridge. Otherwise serve as much as you like when you make it, then cool and refrigerate or freeze the rest.