We used to eat spaghetti pretty often because we both love it so much. But recently we've really been working hard on eating well and portion control, and spaghetti always tends to turn into quite a hefty meal. So it's been quite a while since we had some, and in our weekly grocery shopping yesterday we decided to make some this weekend.
I cooked it all up last night, and it was the first time we'd had it in a long time... and I swear I think it was the best version yet. The sauce was so tantalizing even while just stirring it on the stove... yummm. Jason happened to eat the first bite, and his eyes opened wide while his spaghetti-filled mouth muttered "mmm-MMM!!" I think I had the exact same reaction as soon as I had my first bite. Maybe we just haven't had it in so long that we just forgot how good it was, or maybe this really was the best batch yet.
The back-story here is that when we first met, we knew we were both fans of spaghetti. We learned the specifics of how each other likes their spaghetti... such as the fact that J likes a lot of extra sauce, and he hates watery sauce oozing liquid onto his plate under his noodles. He will choose homemade sauce every time over storebought sauce in a jar, and he will always prefer meat (preferably ground beef) in his sauce over just marinara. He doesn't like other types of pasta besides spaghetti, and he likes parmesan cheese on top of his sauce. I think he's also incapable of having spaghetti without some type of bread... gotta have that bread to sop up the extra sauce (hence the purpose of the extra sauce). I, on the other hand, prefer the perfect ratio of sauce to noodles - I can easily do without bread most of the time, and I don't like to have a lot of sauce left over with no noodles to use it up with. Even though I wouldn't choose it purposely, watery sauce doesn't bother me so much - but I definitely don't want sauce that's so thick it lacks moisture and is hard to get down. I don't mind switching up pastas, and I actually love a little cheddar cheese melted up under my sauce. I don't mind meat, but sometimes a nice smooth marinara with chunky tomatoes is sooo good too.
So every time we made spaghetti for a while, we experimented with what we liked. And this "spaghetti experiment" has been going on for quite some time. We had some meatless sauces, some with beef (even different types of beef) and some with ground turkey, various types of pasta, various brands of pasta, different sauce brands, different ingredients, different spices, different ratio mixtures, sometimes with tomatoes, sometimes with spinach or zucchini blended in, sometimes with beans. Sometimes a salad on the side, sometimes Texas Toast, sometimes loaf bread with butter and garlic.
A few things always remained constant from the beginning of our experiments. We avoid "white" food whenever possible because we try to stick to low GI foods. So we always go with either a brand we like that has lots of fiber and low net carbs, or a whole wheat brand, which was an experiment in itself to find one that actually had some good flavor to it. And with the exception of one of the very first times, we have always made the sauce mix ourselves - no jars of ready-made sauces. At one point I was using a canned sauce as one of my ingredients that was flavored with various spices, but I've since moved on to regular sauce and adding the spices myself. And I think we've come up with what seems to be the perfect spice mix.
Last night's version was a mix of both types of pastas since I had a box of each available. But we're on our way to using all whole wheat, because I'm really making an effort to eliminate preservatives from our intake. And these other pastas that still taste like white pasta but have low net carbs still have some preservatives in them. But really, even the whole wheat pasta we like has some additives in it. So until the day that I get the ultimate mixer and learn to make my own pasta... this will have to do.
I can also say with utmost certainty that the meat makes a huge difference. Whether you want to use ground chicken, turkey, or beef, the quality needs to be good. We were buying a lot of very high quality ground meat for a while at the grocery store, which was also the lowest fat content possible, and it was putting a big dent in the grocery budget. So we found one day that our buy-in-bulk warehouse carried 93% beef, which was great compared to the only previous choice of 80/20. I have a vacuum sealer, so for a few months we bought the 93% 4lb container and divided it up into 1lb sections for sealing and freezing. The freezing and cooking never adversely affected it, but we both definitely noticed a quality difference in our sauce due to the meat itself - much more grit found in our bites, and the meat was a lot greasier and watery when cooking. So we've since gone back to purchasing the best beef I've ever tasted - the cows are fed a purely natural diet, and I wholly believe that has a huge part to do with how good the meat is. This meat even smells better when cooking. When we were experimenting with other meats, we made sure we used quality ground turkey breast or ground chicken breast as well.
The final version has kidney beans in it, as a result of us trying to work in more fiber and make the meal a little more filling when we were taking it as lunches to work a while back. Sometimes I like to add in a can of tomatoes, and I don't think J prefers this, but sometimes even some spinach leaves thrown in towards the end are really good. The beans/tomatoes definitely add more bulk to the meal, and the 4 servings it makes are already pretty large in my opinion. But they're filling without making you feel overly full, which is what's great about fiber and low GI meals.
So, in light of the "spaghetti experiments" we worked on together and pretty much years put into perfecting it, I've dubbed this recipe...
Makes 4 hefty servings.
(Updated to actually add the numbers I had published without and had to go look for...)
4 servings (224g/8oz) dry spaghetti (we've been liking Ronzoni Healthy Harvest Whole Wheat Blend)
EV Olive Oil
1 lb ground beef
1 15oz can Hunt's regular tomato sauce
1 6oz can Hunt's regular tomato paste
1 16oz can Bush's dark red kidney beans
Put water on the stove to boil for pasta. Also put a large pan on medium-high heat.
When water is boiling, add a little sea salt, then break spaghetti in half and add to the pot. Add a few drops of EVOO to water and give everything a stir. Turn heat down a bit and let pasta cook, stirring occasionally.
When pan is hot, add the beef. Cook beef fully, and make sure that it is broken up enough that there are no large chunks remaining.
Add the can of tomato paste to the pan, then add the can of tomato sauce. Use a little water to get the extra sauce out of the can and add to pan. Use a large spoon to break up the tomato paste and mix everything together. It will take a few minutes of the heat and stirring to disperse the paste.
When the paste, sauce, and beef are smoothly mixed, turn down the heat to about medium. For the spices, you'll have to learn how much you prefer, but ours is not overly strong or spicy by any means. I sprinkle the garlic powder into the sauce, probably using a good 1/4 tsp, if not more. Then I add the oregano and basil, probably using at least a good full tsp of each. Stir in the spices. (Add in tomatoes or spinach leaves here if used.)
Rinse the kidney beans in a colander under cool water until bubbles no longer appear on the beans. Drain well, add to the sauce, and mix everything together. Keep it on the heat for another minute or two, then remove from heat.
When the pasta is cooked, drain and separate into 4 servings. Then add the sauce to the pasta servings until all of the sauce is used. Top servings with parmesan cheese.
Serve with preferred sides... salad, bread, etc.
We like to treat ourselves to New York brand texas toast every now and then - sooo good, and suits the spaghetti perfectly. (Not exactly non-white and non-preservative, but hey - it's a treat.) This recipe does have what most people would probably consider "extra" sauce, but the noodle serving is actually a great portion size. And the sauce really isn't that much once you mix it on your plate - the beans take up a lot of the room that you'll see.