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Under 30 Minutes

Pasta and Easy Italian Meat Sauce

Here is a meaty tomato sauce that doesn't need to cook for a long time to be delicious. The sauce is based on the famed Ragu alla Bolognese (sauce in the style of Bologna). The addition of milk might seem unusual, but it's traditional in northern Italy -- where butter and cream, as well as milk, are essential to the cuisine.

  • Prep:
  • Total Time:
  • Servings: 4
Pasta and Easy Italian Meat Sauce

Source: Everyday Food, January/February 2003


  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 carrot, grated (about 1/2 cup)
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 3/4 pound ground beef
  • 1 can (28 ounces) whole tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 dried bay leaf
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • Coarse salt and ground pepper
  • 1 pound fettuccine
  • Grated Parmesan, for serving


  1. Heat butter and oil in a large saucepan over medium. Stir in carrot, onion, and garlic. Add ground beef, and cook until it turns from pink to brown, about 5 minutes.

  2. Add tomatoes and their liquid, crushing them with the back of a large spoon. Stir in milk, bay leaf, thyme, nutmeg, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/8 teaspoon pepper. Simmer 20 minutes.

  3. Meanwhile, in a large pot of boiling salted water, cook fettuccine until al dente according to package instructions, about 12 minutes. Reserve about 1/2 cup of the cooking water; drain fettuccine, and return to the warm pot. Add meat sauce, and toss. Add pasta water as needed if the sauce seems dry. To serve, sprinkle with Parmesan.

Cook's Note

Reserve some of the pasta cooking water, and add a little to the sauce if it seems too thick. The water is ideal for adjusting the consistency of the sauce, and the starch in the water helps the sauce adhere to the pasta.

Reviews (25)

  • sheehansr 21 Jan, 2015

    A greasy mess, sadly. I even halved the butter called for. It was so unappetizing!

  • Jeanette S 20 Sep, 2014

    I have made this twice and everyone LOVES it. My family says this is the best spaghetti sauce I have ever made. The recipe is super easy & quick. I make this now when my sons show up with a whole crew of friends who are hungry. I will try it with some italian sausage in it next time just to see. Thank you!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • cookeverydayfood 2 Aug, 2012

    I really enjoyed the flavors of this sauce. For something that simmers 20 minutes I felt it was a great option for a quick dinner after work.

    The leftovers the next day were awesome!

  • gitinoam 20 Jun, 2010

    I just made this and it came out very nice!

  • abhlove 14 Jun, 2010

    Everyone really liked this dish. I also took the suggestions and added a small can of tomato paste... I did have to add a little of the pasta water. But - I will make it the same way next time. I added some basil. Very yummy - it is on the keep list.

  • bakingbella 9 Jun, 2010

    This turned out really well! I followed some of the suggestions of others - a little more nutmeg, a tin of tomato paste - and the results were great. Would definitely make this again.

  • varneyj44 24 Mar, 2010

    This was so good, I had to come back and get the recipe to make it again! It's very simple. I left out the nutmeg (not a fan), and this go-round I'll be adding a bit more tomatoes and bought low-fat ground beef to use. It was very fatty the first time. Perhaps ground turkey would be good as well.

  • gracieb83 8 Nov, 2008

    This was SO good. I did a lot more seasonng cause that's what I do. I added more nutmeg, 2 sage leaves, oregano, basil, tarragon, crushed red pepper. I would like it to be a little more tomatoey - maybe with some tomato paste, But really so good.

  • Tryingsomethingnew 12 Oct, 2008

    This turned out great! We used farfelle pasta instead of fettuccine. My boyfriend loved it!

  • dcoulthart 28 Aug, 2008

    Love this pasta, it has become a staple in our home. Quick and easy.

  • rouncer 29 Jun, 2008

    I loved this! It is easy and makes a lot for lunch or dinner the next day. I added a couple more things like salt and pepper, red pepper flake and some grated parm and it was awesome.

  • sandygluck 25 Mar, 2008

    sorry that some of you didn't like this. Hard to compare a 30 minutes sauce with the real deal but I think adding some red-pepper flakes, wine, enough salt, and Parm would make everyone happier.

  • artgirlri 14 Mar, 2008

    This was nothing like I know of this sauce. I altered it. You need a true trinity, carrot, onion and celery to start, finely chopped, 2 cups full mixed, then garlic. Next should be a mixture of sausage and beef. Before adding tomato there should have been a good wine, simmered and reduced, then tomato puree, not whole tomatoes. After simmering 20 min the milk (or cream) goes in to sweeten the sauce and simmer till reduced. Adding chopped basil at the end adds to the flavor as does the wine.

  • bdearth 27 Jan, 2008

    I also found this recipe very bland, with not much flavor.I felt it needed more tomatoes,sauce or something. I shared with my adult children who thought it was okay. I've never had a Martha recipe that I wasn't thrilled with. I tossed the recipe in my paper recycling.

  • clumsykitchen 8 Jan, 2008

    Bland Indeed! This was so much fun to make, the ingredients held so much promise, but fell completely flat in the end. I went back to the pot and added another clove of garlic another small handful of salt and 3/4 can of tomato paste to add some punch. Needs more improvements. Maybe italian sausage? Hey Martha!?

  • cookinglover 2 Jan, 2008

    Very bland. Was nothing like what I was expecting. Is more like a chili without the chili powder.

  • TinaGangemi 19 Dec, 2007

    As with my daughter she hates onion, she'll find the tiniest little bit and spit it out...mind you she is 27yr old.
    So just after I've added the tomatoes, just whiz it with a hand held wand/bamix and no onion.
    You need to keep the onions because when the onions cook they caramalise and sweeten and reduce the acid in the tomatoes.
    Hope you find this helpful.

  • TinaGangemi 19 Dec, 2007

    As with my daughter she hates onion, she'll find the tiniest little bit and spit it out...mind you she is 27yr old.
    So just after I've added the tomatoes, just whiz it with a hand held wand/bamix and no onion.
    You need to keep the onions because when the onions cook they caramalise and sweeten and reduce the acid in the tomatoes.
    Hope you find this helpful.

  • winifredzb 17 Dec, 2007

    Not a favorite. We didn't think it had enough tomatoes. It was good, but missing something.

  • cjcsmom3 16 Dec, 2007

    This is one of my weekly staples when it comes to dinner. So easy and delicious! My family and frieinds LOVE It. One thing....I don't like onions, so I reduce the onion by at least half, you may want to reduce the oil and butter if you aren't going to use the correct amount of veggies. First time I made this, it was quite oily. Now that I've got it down, it's awesome!

  • hoosfoos 28 Nov, 2007

    This recipe looks delicious and I plan to try it this week. I've followed other recipes in the past, and I thought the meat was simmered in the milk, and then the other ingredients were added? (just making sure I get the taste right).

  • mamina51 28 Nov, 2007

    easiest dinner i have ever done and everybody liked it

  • cbodine 27 Nov, 2007

    We had this for dinner tonight and it was great. Even the kids liked it. I used non-fat milk but I think next time I would use whole or half and half. It was also a little watery so I would put in less of the juice from the tomatoes and add it in as needed.

  • SNOWLION88 27 Nov, 2007

    WOW! I absolutely loved this sauce, Martha. I had some time off from work and decided to make something special. Used your sauce with my homemade pasta and it was delish! Thanks so much! Johnny Yeung - Toronto, Ontario

  • playdoug 27 Nov, 2007

    real good

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