This is an Italian meat sauce suitable for spaghetti, lasagna, ravioli, whatever. It uses an “Equalizer” technique I stumbled upon by accident. I doubt I actually invented it — I’m sure it’s just a riff on a long-known technique. But I have never seen it anywhere else.
Reducing a meat and tomato based sauce slowly over low heat brings out deep “Basso profundo” flavors but diminishes the brighter, fresher notes of the tomato. Reserving a significant portion of the sauce un-reduced to return near the end restores the “treble” flavors back into the mix without muting the “bass”.
I discovered this trick when making sauce for two large lasagnas using a too-small pot cooking away from home. I was forced to set some aside. Rather than waste it I figured why not add it at the end. The result was a thrilling surprise. Returning the lightly cooked sauce near the end restored the bright flavors without masking the deeper ones. It’s like turning up both the bass and the treble on your stereo, thus “Equalizer”.
Make a big batch! A couple of days in the fridge or a few months in the freezer will do the sauce no harm at all.
The baseline amounts are calibrated to produce enough sauce for one lasagna made in a standard 3 quart lasagna pan — It does NOT make 3 quarts of sauce.
- 1 lb coarse ground venison. — or lean ground beef if you must.
- 1/2 lb Italian pork sausage — Hot if that's ok with your crowd.
- 1 large diced white or yellow onion
- 2 cloves diced garlic — more if you like. I do.
- 2 diced fresh ripe tomatoes.
- 16 oz canned stewed tomatoes. — Optionally substitute half with diced and/or crushed tomatoes
- 6 oz tomato paste — small can is 6oz
- 1/4 cup fresh chopped parsley
- 1 tsp fresh cracked black pepper
- 1 Tbsp dried basil — better is to triple amount using fresh minced
- 1 Tbsp dried oregano " "
- 1/2 Tsp dried thyme " "
- 1/2 tsp dried rosemary " "
- 1/2 tsp fennel seeds — Crush them a bit.
- 1 Bay Leaf
- 1 Tbsp olive oil
- 2 Tbsp sugar
- 2 tsp salt — back off if you like. Don't go higher until final taste.
- 3/4 cup Full bodied dry red wine (e.g. Cabernet)
- 1 oz brandy
- Mix meats together, form into wide thin patties and brown well in hot skillet. Chop patties into small chunks and set aside.
- If there is much liquid left behind separate it and either discard the fat or return it to the pan. Reserve the remaining liquid.
- add oil to skillet and slowly saute the onion and garlic for 2 or 3 minutes,
- Return meat to skillet.
- Add tomatoes and tomato paste. If you feel like it, stage the stewed tomatoes in a bowl and snip the large chunks into smaller chunks with kitchen shears.
- Add the salt, sugar and ground pepper, and bring to a simmer.
- Once simmering nicely remove about 1/4 to 1/3 of sauce and set aside to cool, then stage in the fridge while the main batch reduces.
- To the remaining simmering sauce, add half of the parsley. Reserve the other half for later.
- Regarding the basil, rosemary, oregano or thyme: If fresh herbs were substituted for dry for any of them, add half the fresh now. Reserve the remaining half for later. Add all the dry herbs now.
- Add the fennel seed & bay leaf
- Add wine, brandy, meat glaze, and any reserved saute liquid.
- Simmer uncovered, stirring frequently (every 5 minutes or so - I set a timer every time to remind myself) until reduced to a good thickness. It takes a while. It goes fastest if you have a nice wide, shallow skillet or saute pan. When reducing anything, surface area is your friend. You can speed things up with more heat, but if it's hotter than a slow simmer you'll need to stir constantly.
- NOTE ON SAUCE TEXTURE: If you plan to use this sauce on fresh or "ready to bake" pasta (any noodles you don't boil) the sauce should be looser because the noodles will need to soak up some liquid. You can 1) stop reducing earlier, while it is still fairly loose, or 2) add liquid back after reducing using any combination of dry red wine, tomato juice or venison or beef stock after your reducing is completed. If you choose option 2, bring it back up to a simmer before continuing.
- Add the reserved parsley and any reserved fresh herbs.
- Mix the reserved sauce back in and return to simmer.
- Simmer not more than 10 minutes, remove from heat. Remove bay leaf. Taste and add salt/pepper as necessary. Enjoy!
Options: Add Roughly 1 Tbsp butter for each 6oz of tomato. Add a little olive oil to the sauce.
Tip: If mixing pasta and sauce together at the table or just before serving, reserve a ladle or two of the pasta water and mix it into the sauce just before serving. No need to do this for lasagna or any other baked casserole-style pasta dish. It helps the pasta and sauce bond a bit better.
If you can, mix in a ladle or two of your pasta water at the end.