A Bite Inspired by… Rome, Italy:
Maintaining a dairy-free diet while I was in Italy meant that I was eating a lot of Spaghetti with Meat Sauce for dinner. Lucky for me, I was able to pick up a thing or two on my trip about creating the perfect dairy-free meat sauce! My recipe for “The Easiest, Tastiest Meat Sauce” is– well, the title says it all, doesn’t it? Read about my trip and learn the recipe secrets I picked up from an Italian chef I met in Rome!
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Hands up, if you loved going on school field trips growing up? Who didn’t? Field trips were a way of breaking out of the monotony of learning in the same, stuffy classroom day-after-day. They gave us a chance to go on an adventure and learn hands on in an exciting, new environment. This rang especially true, if your school field trip was a 10-day tour of Italy. Let’s see… Reading a used textbook in one of those tiny desks that has the chair attached to it (seriously, what was UP with those things?) versus touring one of the most beautiful countries in the world? Hmm… let me think about that for a second. NO BRAINER.
When I was a senior in high school, my Chamber Singers group received the opportunity to travel to Italy for 10 days and sing at various different venues throughout Rome and Florence. I was ecstatic—I had never been to Europe before. I was also nervous because, duh, I HAD NEVER BEEN TO EUROPE BEFORE! Needless to say, the nerves dissipated the second we walked out of the airport and into one of the most breathtaking cities in the world: Rome, Italy.
We went to SO many amazing places in just our first day there, including, of course, the Colosseum. Now, I wish I had gorgeous photos of all these sites to share with you like I usually do in travel posts. However, I was an excited high school student who didn’t realize the value of taking photos at the time, so, unfortunately, I don’t have a single picture from my trip! Guess that means I’ll have to go back to Italy soon and take some, huh? In the meantime, please enjoy these gorgeous stock photos of the Colosseum that I WISH I had taken. 😉
So funny story from my Italy trip. Do you all remember how I mentioned that I’ve had a mild dairy intolerance my whole life in my Vegan Black Sesame Avocado Mousse post? While as an adult I’ve generally been able to eat dairy occasionally, when I was younger I really didn’t eat it much at all. As you can imagine, Italy is not the greatest place in the world to not be able to eat dairy with all the gorgeous cream sauces, pizzas, cheese, and, not to mention, the GELATO!
Every night that we were in Italy, we got an exciting two course meal that usually included pasta and dessert. My friends got to feast on fettuccine alfredo, cheese ravioli, pesto sauce, and other creamy, cheesy delights. For dessert, they had selections of chocolate cake, tiramisu, cheesecake… you name it. Me, on the other hand, I got the exact SAME meal every single night in every restaurant we went to. That meal consisted of Spaghetti with Meat Sauce and an apple for dessert. I’m not even kidding—AN APPLE. Every night that I was Italy, I had an apple for dessert, while my friends feasted on cheesecake.
Now, this may sound a little bit sad, but, honestly, my friends and I got a huge kick out of my daily non-dairy dessert apple. Here’s a picture of me, courtesy of my friend Lauren (who actually remembered to bring her camera, unlike me), enjoying my delightful, Italian apple. Because everything’s better in Italy, right? I like to call this one “Alyssa and Apple”—no, I’m just kidding. This photo is honestly totally embarrassing and doesn’t really capture me at my prettiest, but the sentiment is there.
While the apple may have fallen a bit short of my friends’ desserts, the thing that didn’t disappoint AT ALL was that Spaghetti with Meat Sauce they gave me every night. It was so rich and flavorful, I never even missed the creamy sauces and cheeses my friends were eating. If I could only eat one food for the rest of my life that meat sauce would have been it. Hands down. The sauce was slightly different at every restaurant, but the basic flavors of onion, garlic, and herbs were the same.
The last night we were there, I asked the chef what the secret was to creating a sauce that delicious with no dairy products. He gave me two tips, which I’ll now share with you (you’re welcome!) 1) The fat content of the ground beef you choose for meat sauce is super important. It needs to have some fat content to get that gorgeous, luscious flavor, but it can’t have too much or you’ll get an overwhelmingly oily, fatty taste. Since receiving this piece of advice, I always use 85 percent lean/15 percent fat ground beef in my meat sauce and it makes a world of difference! 2) Always start the sauce with onion, garlic, and olive oil. These rules may sound simple, but they really do make a difference in taste.
For me, a dish that I would want to eat everyday for the rest of my life can’t just be tasty; it has to be easy to make too! Who wants to make a complicated sauce every night? This meat sauce is super duper easy to make because I use jarred tomato sauce for the base of it. Now, I know what you might be thinking—jarred sauce? Yuck, you promised us authentic Italian meat sauce, Alyssa! But, I promise you, once you add all the herbs, it won’t taste anything like jarred tomato sauce anymore. This delicious meat sauce is filled with the amazing flavors of herbs like basil, oregano, bay leaf, and cinnamon stick. Yup, a cinnamon stick. That’s MY little secret to a good sauce. 😉 The cinnamon stick gives the sauce a really rich, warm flavor that you definitely don’t get from ordinary tomato sauce.
This meat sauce contains no dairy products, in honor of my dairy-free Italian adventure, but, trust me, this sauce is so flavorful, you won’t even miss the cheese, cream, and butter that these Bolognese style sauces usually have. Although, no one is going to stop you from topping it with Parmesan cheese, if you really want to. 😉 Make this easy and delicious sauce for a taste of Italy in your kitchen. It’s random-chef-who-cooked-meat-sauce-for-me-in-Italy-approved!
- 1 lb spaghetti, cooked to al dente
- 1 lb (85 percent lean/15 percent fat) ground beef
- 1 (24 oz jar) of your favorite tomato sauce
- ½ onion, diced
- 1 clove of garlic, minced
- 2 teaspoons olive oil
- Fresh basil, for garnish (optional)
- ½ teaspoon Italian seasoning
- ¼ teaspoon basil
- ¼ teaspoon oregano
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 cinnamon stick
- ⅛ teaspoon crushed red pepper (optional)
- Brown the beef in a large skillet. Put the beef aside on a plate. (You can drain some of the fat from the beef if you really want, but be sure to leave at least a little bit of the fat.)
- Once cool, clean out the skillet. Heat olive oil over medium-high heat.
- Add onion and garlic. Cook for 5 minutes or so until onions are soft and starting to brown.
- Add the tomato sauce. Stir well and reduce heat to low.
- Add all the spices. Stir well.
- Simmer on low for 5 minutes to allow flavors to combine.
- Add ground beef and stir well.
- Cook for 5 more minutes. Serve over hot pasta. Garnish with basil leaves, if desired. Enjoy!