Spaghetti sauce is a staple food in our house. We eat it with spaghetti, use it to make lasagna and baked macaroni, and also turn it into chili. We also often use spaghetti sauce as a starter for Spanish rice, stuffed peppers, homemade pizza pockets, and sloppy Joes.
Quebec-style spaghetti sauce is a thick sauce – much thicker than a marinara sauce. Although it works beautifully with spaghetti, spaghettini, or vermicelli, it is even better suited to thicker types of pasta. Think tagliatelle, pappardelle, fettuccine, or any other broad noodles. Most Québécois cooks add green peppers to their spaghetti sauce, often in fairly large chunks. But this can sometimes give the sauce a bitter taste. I’ve found that many of these sauces are also runny, perhaps because the cooking is rushed and the cook hasn’t allowed for the juices from the vegetables to reduce with a longer, slower cook time.
The better sauces add carrots, which add sweetness to the recipe. The peppers are cut into smaller dice, and the two vegetables are cooked slowly before the tomatoes are added. This prevents the peppers turning bitter and gives a deeper, more finished taste to the spaghetti sauce. No extra liquids are accumulated from the aromatic vegetables, and the sauce is allowed to simmer a long time. So the consistency is thick and rich, and the sauce sticks to your pasta rather than forming a puddle on your plate.
The zucchini and mushrooms in our 24 Carrot spaghetti sauce recipe are less than traditional. But we love our mushrooms, and we also like to add extra veggies to any recipe. These ingredients aren’t going to add tons of extra nutrients to your spaghetti sauce, so if you don’t like them or can’t get them fresh when you make this recipe, it’s fine to leave them out.
Carrots: The Not-So-Secret Ingredient
Carrots in a spaghetti sauce? Absolutely! You may not have encountered the combination of carrot and tomato before, but it is a classic one. Carrots are actually part of the Italian soffritto (cousin to the French mirepoix) which you will find in an authentic Bolognese sauce. What’s in a soffritto? Although you may find it described slightly different, it’s usually a simple combo of diced onions, celery, and carrots.
“Soffritto” is just Italian for cooking something slowly over moderate heat. In the case of our aromatic vegetables, what we want is to dice the onion, celery, and carrot and saute them gently. We want them to caramelize slowly, rather than to brown quickly. As with the tomatoes that go into a spaghetti sauce, this kind of cooking brings out a greater depth of flavour in the aromatics, which we can be attributed to the Maillard reaction.
As the sweetest of the three aromatics used in the soffritto, the carrots mellow the acidity of the tomatoes and make the sauce sweet without the addition of sugar. Since I started adding carrots to my spaghetti sauce on a regular basis, I have rarely had to add any other sweetener. The really cool part of adding carrots instead of sugar (or even honey, maple syrup, or agave nectar) is that it’s super healthy. Carrots bump up the fibre and vitamin content of your spaghetti sauce, and supply a whole ton of health carotenoids. On the other hand, one large carrot adds only 30 calories to your sauce.
At the 24 Carrot Diet, we rarely cooked with canned vegetables. There are only a few cases where I will generally default to a canned vegetable. One is creamed corn, because corn on the cob has a very short season here in Canada and I honestly don’t even want to think about trying to turn frozen niblets into creamed corn just so I can bake a shepherd’s pie! The other time that I regularly used canned vegetables is when I need diced or crushed tomatoes for a spaghetti sauce, soup, or Jambalaya.
Why canned? It’s mostly a question of availability and price. Fresh tomatoes have a fairly short season in our valley and although they can be frozen, that would take more space than we have available. Canned tomatoes are also less expensive than buying fresh at the grocery store or farmer’s market. And starting with cans of diced and crushed tomatoes cuts back on the cooking time a little. That’s a good thing, because the soffritto does take a while to cook, as does the meat.
Did you know that the lycopene content of tomatoes increases when the fruit is cooked? Lycopene is a carotenoid with antioxidant properties. It helps to reduce the risk of both cancer and heart disease, and also helps to keep your brain, eyes, and bones healthy.
Some recipes for Quebec-style spaghetti sauce incorporate tomato paste, and you can surely add that if you like. Some also use commercially prepared tomato sauce and even canned tomato soup. While we do have a few recipes that include these ingredients, we prefer to leave them out of our spaghetti sauce. For my American friends, the 796-millilitre cans of tomatoes are the same as a 28-ounce can.
Quebec-Style Spaghetti Sauce: The Recipe
olive oil and butter (optional) for cooking
1 large carrot, diced
2 small celery stalks, diced
1/2 medium onion, diced
a little white wine or balsamic vinegar (optional – water works fine too)
1-1/2 lb lean ground beef OR Italian sausage, casings removed (or a mix of both)
1 medium zucchini, diced
1-2 cups fresh white mushrooms, cleaned and chopped (optional)
1 green pepper, seeded and chopped coarsely (optional)
3-5 cloves garlic, minced (adjust according to personal tastes)
3 whole bay leaves (remove before serving)
2 tsp each dried basil and oregano
1 tsp each dried rosemary and fennel seeds
1/2 tsp dried thyme
salt and pepper to taste
1 can (796 ml) diced tomatoes
1 can (796 ml) crushed tomatoes
1/2 cup beef broth
OR 1/2 cup cold water and 1/2 tsp Better Than Bouillon beef concentrate (optional)
Heat a large stockpot or Dutch oven on high. Once a drop of water will dance across the bottom of the pot, add just enough olive oil to cover the bottom. Add a teaspoon of butter (optional.) Heat and stir until the butter is completely melted.
Add the onions to the hot oil, and reduce the heat to medium-low. Stir well to ensure all the onions are coated with the fat. Cook until the onions are translucent, stirring occasionally.
Add the carrot to the pot and stir. Continue to cook and let the vegetables caramelize, stirring only occasionally. This will take a good bit of time, so be patient. Don’t try to rush this step. (Note: If you’re in a hurry, dice the soffritto more finely to speed up the process. This is preferable to cooking over higher heat. You can also finish the sauce in your pressure cooker if desired. We find allowing the sauce to simmer slowly on the slow or cooking it in the crockpot produces a richer, more mellow flavour. But pressure cooking is preferable to overcooking the soffritto!)
Add the celery to the pot, again stirring to coat all the vegetables in fat. Continue to cook and stir about another ten minutes, until the aromatic vegetables are tender but not mushy. Towards the end of cooking, use a wooden spoon to scrape any browned bits that are sticking to the bottom of the pot. Stir these in with the rest of the vegetables.
Remove the cooked vegetables and set aside. Deglaze the pot with a little white wine, balsamic vinegar, or beef broth. Add the ground beef to the pot, breaking it up into small pieces with the spoon.
Brown the meat, stirring often to break up clumps. Watch the heat: if the meat cooks too fast it will shrink and dry out. This is another part of the process you don’t want to rush. If you have too much meat to fit in the bottom of your pot, cook it in batches.
Once the meat is browned, add the rest of the vegetables and seasonings to the pot. Stir in the tomatoes and add the cooked soffritto back to the sauce. Stir well and bring the sauce to a low boil, stirring once or twice.
Reduce the heat and simmer the sauce, partially covered, for about 2 hours. Watch for the colour to deepen and for the sauce to thicken as it cooks. Stir the sauce occasionally, as the denser ingredients will tend to settle to the bottom of the pot.
To cook this spaghetti sauce in a pressure cooker:
If you get good enough control on your “Brown” setting to cook the soffritto, go ahead and prepare it in your pressure cooker. Otherwise, prepare ahead of time and add it to the pressure cooker once the meat is browned and all the other ingredients have been added to the sauce.
Once the lid is locked, set the pressure cooker to “Cook” for 20 minutes. Allow the pressure to release naturally for about 10 minutes before using the quick release valve very carefully. If the sauce is too thin after stirring, you can return the pressure cooker to “Brown” and cook for about 10 minutes to reduce the liquid. Stir often so nothing sticks to the bottom of the insert.
To adapt this spaghetti sauce for slow cooking:
Saute the soffritto and brown the meat in a skillet on the stovetop. Assemble the rest of the ingredients in your crockpot and stir. Cover and cook on low for at least 8 hours.
Large batch cooking:
This spaghetti sauce is extremely versatile. The recipe can be doubled or even tripled or quadrupled. When we lived near a warehouse grocery store and had a reliable supply of oversized canned goods, we used to make one big batch of spaghetti sauce at the beginning of each month. We used two restaurant-sized cans each of diced and crushed tomatoes, multiple pounds of ground beef, and a whole lot of diced vegetables!
If you want to make a large batch for once-a-month cooking (OAMC,) feel free to multiply the ingredients in the recipe as much as you like. This spaghetti sauce freezes beautifully. We used to prepare it with just the soffritto and meat at first, and remove enough of the cooked sauce to make our chili, baked lasagna, Swiss steak, and other tomato-based recipes.Once that was done, we’d add the rest of the vegetables and allow the sauce to cook down a bit more.
Freeze your Quebec-style spaghetti sauce in gallon freezer bags for larger meals. Or ladle the sauce into muffin tins and flash freeze these smaller portions. Store the portions in freezer bags or rigid containers so you can better control how much sauce you are defrosting for a quick meal of sloppy Joes or small portions of pasta.
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Original content © 2017 Kyla Matton Osborne, aka #RubyWriter
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