the life and times of J T Frey

Abby's Spaghetti Meat Sauce

Question: how do you know your kids don't watch much television? Answer: when they happily sit and watch episodes of "Good Eats" on a Saturday afternoon. We recently saw Alton's classic episode on spaghetti with meat sauce (as an American classic dish) and Abby's love of spaghetti led us to give it a try. The original recipe uses a dutch oven for a long cook and some ingredients that were tough to find during a pandemic; I decided to pare it down and use a slow cooker for an unattended cooking. Abby ground the beef herself and helped me put together the sauce.


  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 - 1.5 lb coarse-ground chuck (chili grind)
  • 1 tbsp Italian seasoning (dried oregano, marjoram, basil, parsley)
  • 1 large sweet onion, diced
  • 1 tbsp beef base (optional)
  • ½ cup dry white wine
  • 5 oz evaporated milk (1 small can)
  • 8 cherry tomatoes
  • 20 oz canned tomatoes or tomato sauce
  • salt and ground black pepper to taste
  1. Place a pan over medium-high heat. Add olive oil and ground beef. Keep the beef moving to promote browning (not steaming) until fully cooked (about 5 minutes). Use a slotted spoon to move the meat to a slow cooker crock (I used a 1 quart cooker).
  2. Reduce the remaining liquid and fat in the pan until the moisture is nearly gone, then drop heat to medium and add onion, black pepper, and the Italian seasoning. Saute until the onions soften and begin to brown slightly.
  3. Add the beef base to the pan and stir to combine with the onion. Keep the mixture moving in the pan for about 2 minutes, then add the white wine to deglaze the pan. Stir until reduced by half. Add the contents of the pan to the slow cooker crock.
  4. Add the evaporated milk and the whole cherry tomatoes to the crock and stir to combine. Season with salt to taste (probably about 1 or 2 tsp). Set the cooker on high and cover for 3 to 4 hours.
  5. If the cherry tomatoes are still whole, use a spoon to crush them. Then add the canned tomatoes/sauce and stir well. Continue to cook uncovered for another 1 to 2 hours.
  6. Taste the sauce and adjust with additional salt and pepper as necessary.

The sauce should work well with any pasta, but we like it with thick spaghetti (no. 8) and lots of freshly-shaved parmasan cheese.

Written by Jeff Frey on Tuesday May 26, 2020
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