How I wish you could smell my house right now. There’s an enormous pot simmering away on the stove, and the aroma of pork, fennel and white wine is sneakily wafting around the corner into my office. It’s all savory and comfort-foody and yummy. And when I say an enormous pot of sauce, I mean I six-times’d (sextupled?) the recipe so in addition to feeding my gang, I could feed the freezer and have a bunch of those magical moments when there’s no ambition to make dinner — and then you open the freezer and see a container of this scrumptiousness sitting there and there are angels’ voices singing and the swirling freezer frost adds to that heavenly aura.
“So who’s George?” you’re asking. “And what’s so good about his meat sauce?”
George is George Germon, the husband half of the husband-and-wife chef/owners of celebrated Al Forno Restaurant in Providence, RI. George and his wife, Johanne Killeen, opened Al Forno in 1980, and with their extensive use of wood-burning ovens and open-flame grills, are credited with inventing grilled pizza. Their internationally acclaimed cuisine is always fresh and inventive. Inspired by Northern Italian cooking, among other magnificent dishes they serve are luxurious baked pastas, sublime fruit tarts, and “dirty steak” — lusty ribeyes cooked directly on top of hot coals.
According to Cucina Simpatica, the cookbook that reveals this recipe, George created the meat sauce from a memory of his favorite lunch in Florence: macaroni and meat sauce at Coco Lezzone. The sauce is rich and flavorful, and at least in my kitchen, it’s made with an abundance of love, care and patience. In the end, rather than drowning the pasta, the intensely-flavored sauce lightly coats it with a buttery, porky sweetness. (Actually, as many times as I’ve had the pleasure of dining at Al Forno, I have to admit that I’ve never had the namesake meat sauce at the restaurant. I don’t know if mine comes out even remotely like George’s, but it’s a long-time family favorite just the same.)
One key difference in my adaptation is the addition of ground proscuitto ends. It adds a salty fattiness that exponentially enhances the sauce in terms of both flavor and texture. I ask for the ends at the deli counter, and I grind them using my Kitchen Aid mixer with the grinder attachment, but often if you ask nicely, they’ll grind it for you right at the grocery store.
Seeing a pot of this bubbling on the stove cures all that ails grumpy, school-worn Reisers. No matter what my kids are doing, they’ll always pull themselves away so they can join us at the dinner table for this comforting, hearty, truly delicious autumn/winter favorite. Hope your family enjoys it as well!
George’s Meat Sauce
Adapted from Cucina Simpatica, ©1991
- 1 large onion, peeled
- 1 carrot, scraped
- 1 bulb fresh fennel
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 12 tablespoons (1½ sticks) unsalted butter
- 1 tablespoon ground fennel seed
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 pound ground pork or beef (I use the ground proscuitto as a small part of the meat)
- ½ cup dry white wine
- ½ cup tomato puree
- 1½ pounds dried pasta (our favorite with this recipe is rigatoni, but you could use penne or a noodle as well)
- Small wedge Parmigiano-Reggiano for grating
1. Finely mince the onion, carrot and fresh fennel. You may do this by hand or in a food processor.
2. Heat the olive oil and 4 tablespoons of butter in a heavy-bottomed pot. Add the minced vegetables. Sauté over low heat, stirring occasionally, until they are very soft and have almost melted into a puree. This can take about 30 minutes and requires patience. The vegetables must be soft before proceeding with the recipe.
3. Add the ground fennel and salt. Sauté for 2 minutes and then add the meat. Raise the heat and sauté, stirring, until the meat is no longer pink.
4. Add the wine and cook gently, stirring occasionally, until almost all the wine has evaporated, about 30 minutes. Add the tomato puree and cook for an additional 15 minutes, until it is absorbed into the sauce.
5. Bring 5 quarts of salted water to a boil in a stockpot.
6. Drop the pasta into the hot water and cook until it is still quite firm, about 3 or 4 minutes less than the prescribed cooking time. Drain well and add the pasta to the sauce, toss for 1 to 2 minutes, until al dente. Cut up the remaining 8 tablespoons of butter and add to the pasta. Continue to toss until the butter melts and combines with the sauce. Serve immediately. Pass the Parmigiano-Reggiano for your guests to grate over their pasta.
Serves 8 to 10 as a first course or 4 to 5 as a main course