The Best Ingredient To Simplify Any Meat Sauce

You may go to your favorite Italian restaurant and drool over their perfect bolognese, but if you want that great flavor out of a quick weeknight dinner, you'll be under some pressure. When it comes to making meat sauce at home, if you don't have hours to stand at the stove, layering flavor after flavor, your sauce can come out flat. However, there are some nights when you simply need dinner to be on the table within a half hour. 

If you're in the mood for pasta with meat sauce, but time is of the essence, consider reaching for Italian sausage in addition to, or in lieu of ground meat. Traditionally, both sweet Italian sausage and hot Italian sausage are heavily seasoned, and pretty much all of the seasonings used to flavor them are perfect in an Italian-style meat sauce. Rather than pulling several jars out of your spice cabinet in the hopes of doctoring up a simple meat sauce made with ground meat, slicing open a couple of Italian sausages can be the perfect shortcut that will still send your sauce to Flavortown. 

How it works

Depending on how much fat you want in your sauce, you can decide to exclusively use Italian sausage, or mix it with a lower-fat ground meat like ground turkey, or lean ground beef. 

Buying raw Italian sausage is ideal as you can brown it similarly to how you'd brown ground beef. Many butchers will sell sausage out of the casing which makes it simple, but if your only option is to buy the sausage still in the casing, you can cut the casing with a pair of kitchen sheers and squeeze it out. Most sausages have a lot of nice fats incorporated in them so you won't need to add any butter or oil to the pan when browning your meat.

Once the sausage is nice and browned, pour out some of the rendered fat and then mix the meat with your favorite jarred marinara sauce, or you can build the sauce from scratch using canned tomatoes, garlic, and additional seasoning. Still looking to add more depth of flavor? Head to the produce section of the market.

Other ways to beef up a quick sauce

If you want to further enhance the flavor of your quick meat sauce, adding other fresh ingredients can get the job done. Simply adding in some fresh chopped garlic or onions when you add in the sausage can give a jarred sauce a really nice flavor. Before doctoring up a pre-made sauce, be sure to check the seasoning levels. You don't want to add too much salt, pepper, chili, or garlic to a sauce that might already be very well seasoned. If you like adding your own garlic and onions you can purchase "sensitive" marinara sauces, which are free of alliums like garlic, onions, or shallots.

Veggies can also brighten up the flavor. After browning your sausage, remove it from the pan and add fresh chopped celery, carrot, or bell pepper with a bit of additional butter or oil if needed. Sauté the veggies until they're tender and then try deglazing the pan with some broth or wine. Adding all of these fresh flavors — plus the meat — into your sauce pot will really give it a homemade feeling. 

You can also add flavor by sprinkling fresh herbs like minced parsley, rosemary, thyme, or chopped basil into your sauce right before serving. With all that said, if you're short on time, Italian sausage is all you need to add to make a simple and delicious meat sauce.