Vegetable and Meat Sauce
Is there anything more classic and comforting than a bowl of pasta topped with a meat sauce? I mean those meatballs get all the attention but sometimes you need it a little simplified. When I am needing a dinner that gives me the warm and fuzzies, I reach for a box of spaghetti, a pound of ground beef, and a jar of marinara. I remember my grandmother making it for me as a child for easy dinners and I totally adopted it as my “I don’t really want to cook but everyone needs to eat” meals. My kids love slurping up the spaghetti and I can’t say I blame them. Sometimes if I feeling really frisky, I’ll add a dollop of sour cream and mix it up (another trick my grandmother turned me on to, just trust, it’s amazing).
As I learned more about nutrition and needing meals to be balanced for me to stay full and have even blood sugars, I knew I needed to add some veg into my old standby. The trouble is those pesky kids and their propensity to say they don’t like a certain vegetable, and of course they dislike different vegetables! But pickiness be damned, I was going to get these kids to eat a balanced dinner. The funny thing is, I have masked their hated vegetables in a variety of meals so I have a few tricks I employ. I don’t tell them what is in the sauce when they are eating, but rather wait until they are done and say it was yummy before divulging the fact that they did indeed eat and enjoy mushrooms and zucchini. I don't like taking the stance of secret or hidden veggies fully because then they will still refuse to eat them in other dishes, this way they can see that in different preparations, they might actually begin to like something they thought they did not.
This sauce has been made for several years, with tweaks and changes until I am fully satisfied. The thing that I love about sauces is you can swap things out. Hate mushrooms? Leave them out and add kale or spinach. Not a fan of cauliflower? Swap it for riced sweet potatoes or broccoli. Make this your family’s new favorite sauce. As a bonus, it makes a ton so you can prep this and have enough for two family dinners, one for that night and one stashed in the freezer for a night you just cannot pick up a knife again. I love it over pasta, spiralized butternut squash, riced cauliflower, or in a baked potato. You could even use it as the sauce for an epic lasagna or baked pasta dish. Ok, now I’m salivating….
Vegetable and Meat Sauce
8 oz mushrooms, finely diced
2 cups (1 large) onion, diced
1 1/2 cups (4 medium) carrots, diced
1 pound ground beef (leave out or use plant-based crumbles for vegan/vegetarian)
1 1/2 cups (1 large) bell pepper, diced
1 Tablespoon garlic, minced
2 Tablespoons tomato paste
1 1/2 cup (1 large) zucchini, shredded
12 oz (1 bag) frozen riced cauliflower
2 teaspoons dried parsley
2 1/2 teaspoons dried basil
2 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
3 teaspoons granulated garlic
1 teaspoon dried thyme.
15 oz (1 can) tomato sauce
24 oz (1 jar) pasta sauce of choice
1 cup milk of choice (I used almond milk)
1 Tablespoon Balsamic vinegar
3 teaspoons salt, divided
3 teaspoons pepper, divided
1/4 cup oil, divided
- In a large pot, heat 2 tablespoons oil on medium-high heat, add the mushrooms and cook until browned. Add an additional tablespoon of oil along with the onions and carrots. Season with 1 teaspoon of salt and 1 teaspoon pepper. Cook until the onions are starting to become translucent and the carrots begin to soften.
- Push the vegetables to the sides of the pot, creating a hole, drizzle in a tablespoon of oil and add the beef if you are using it. Break it up with a spoon and cook until it is browned, mixing it in with the vegetables. Once it is cooked through, season with 1/2 teaspoon each of salt and pepper. Add in the garlic and cook for a minute.
- Next, add in the peppers along with 1/2 teaspoon each of salt and pepper, stir until softened. Take your tomato paste and add it to the pot, cook for a couple minutes to add flavor.
- Drop in the shredded zucchini with 1/2 teaspoon each of salt and pepper. Lastly add the frozen, no need to thaw, riced cauliflower and stir everything together.
- Time to add the herbs, drop in all the herbs, parsley through thyme and stir the meat and vegetable mixture. Stir until all combined and smelling fragrant. Lower the heat and add the tomato sauce and pasta sauce, cover and let simmer for 15 minutes.
- Pour in some milk and the Balsamic vinegar and stir to combine, adjust the seasonings if needed. Serve with your favorite pairing.
First gather all your ingredients and get all that chopping done so you can just drop stuff in.
This recipe is very straightforward, the only thing to note is that you need to season each layer you add to the pot, that way you will have it pretty seasoned at the end and don’t need to make huge adjustments.
Serve it over your favorite, ours is spaghetti and get chowing. They have NO CLUE they are getting a bunch of veggies!