Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Spaghetti with Tomato-Turkey Ragu and Garlic Bread

Spaghetti with Tomato-Turkey Ragu

Last weekend was pretty rotten as far as D.C. winter weekends go. It was cold, but not freezing cold and it was raining. That's pretty much the worst kind of winter weather around here. It's not so cold that it's snowing (like it did yesterday). With the just-above-freezing kind of cold and rain, if you step outside, you get wet, then you get wet and cold, and it's just the worst feeling. Couple that with the fact that my husband picked up the other type of cold, and it was pretty much a recipe for a bummer of a weekend. Cold outside and a cold inside. Time for some comfort food.

Spaghetti with a tomato-meat sauce with a side of garlic bread is about as comforting as food can get. This is the kind of pasta dish my mom--and I imagine many other moms--made when I was a kid. It's the kind of recipe that everyone has a slightly different variation of, and in fact, I've made it several different ways myself (see, for example, here and here).

For this variation, I had bolognese on my mind, but not the all-afternoon cooking time bolognese needs. So I improvised something that's a bit like bolognese and a bit like the Spaghetti with Meat Sauce I've made before. It's not a super-quick dinner: it took about an hour and a half. But it's not an all-afternoon meal either. Even if you've had a busy Saturday, this is a perfect way to end the day.

I started with mushrooms, which I sautéed in a little olive oil. Then I browned the ground turkey and added diced onion and garlic. From there I did a step that's common to bolognese: simmer the meat in a little milk. Although bolognese is usually made with beef and pork, the technique still works to add tenderness and richness to ground turkey. In her Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, Marcella Hazan advises to cook the meat in milk before adding wine and tomatoes to protect the meat from the latter ingredients' acidity. I'm not sure about the science behind that, but I am sure that Ms. Hazan knew what she was doing.

For the wine, you can use a white or red wine. I've done both, but opted for red for this dish. Although I love to drink cabernet sauvignon, I wouldn't recommend it for pasta sauce, since its tannins, when concentrated, can add bitterness. I still opted for a fairly bold wine though, the Chateau Ste. Michelle Indian Wells Red Blend, which is mostly syrah and merlot.

To go with the spaghetti, I made garlic bread. This is the old-school kind of garlic bread that accompanies large bowls of pasta at no-frills Italian restaurants. It's warm but not toasted and coated generously with salted garlic butter. Although you could use a fancy baguette for this, I recommend the simple grocery-store variety that are more likely labeled as "French bread." Once it's out of the oven, you can keep it wrapped in foil to stay warm, although from my experience, it doesn't stick around long.

Spaghetti with Tomato-Turkey Ragu and Garlic Bread

Spaghetti with Tomato-Turkey Ragù

3 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
8 oz. white or cremini mushrooms, thinly sliced
Salt, to taste
1 1/4 lb. ground turkey (dark meat preferred)
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 yellow onion, diced
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
1/2 cup whole milk
2/3 cup dry red wine (I used Chateau Ste. Michelle Indian Wells Red Blend)
28 oz. can of diced tomatoes
15 oz. can of tomato sauce (note: because I had it on hand, I used leftover homemade pizza sauce in about the same quantity)
6 oz. can of tomato paste
1 tbsp. dried oregano
2 tsp. dried thyme
1 bay leaf
Pinch of red chili pepper flakes
1/2 cup water (or more if needed)
1 lb. dried spaghetti
Grated parmigiano-reggiano cheese

1. Heat 1 tbsp. olive oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat. Add mushrooms, season with a small pinch of salt and sauté until the mushrooms have given up their liquid and browned, about 10 minutes. Remove mushrooms from pot.

2. Add remaining 2 tbsp. olive oil to pot and, when hot, add the ground turkey. Season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the meat is browned. Add onion and garlic and stir to combine. Cook until the onion has softened, about 10 minutes. Add Worcestershire sauce and stir to combine, then add the milk. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the liquid has mostly absorbed or evaporated, about 5 minutes. Add the wine and cook, stirring occasionally, until the wine has been mostly absorbed or evaporated, about 5 minutes.

3. To the pot with the turkey, add the cooked mushrooms, diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, tomato paste, oregano, thyme, bay leaf, red chili pepper flakes, water, and salt and pepper to taste. Increase heat to medium-high. When the mixture bubbles, reduce heat to simmer, uncovered, while the pasta cooks.

4. Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Cook pasta one minute less than package directions for al dente (i.e. the pasta will be quite chewy). Drain the pasta, then add it to the pot with the simmering sauce. Stir the noodles into the sauce and cook for an additional minute or two. Remove the bay leaves.

5. Serve the pasta and sauce in shallow bowls topped with grated parmigiano-reggiano cheese.

Garlic Bread

1/2 loaf of French bread (baguette)
2 tbsp. unsalted butter, softened (but not melted)
1/2 tsp. garlic powder (finely ground)
Pinch of kosher salt
Dash of sweet paprika (optional)
Dash of dried oregano (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 350 F.

2. Split the baguette down the middle like a giant sandwich. In a small bowl, combine the butter, garlic powder, salt, paprika and oregano. Spread evenly on the cut sides of the bread. Place the loaf back together, then slice the loaf three times to create 8 pieces of bread. Leave the loaf together and wrap it in aluminum foil.

3. Bake the wrapped loaf in the oven for 5 minutes, then open the foil and back for another 5 minutes. Remove from the oven but keep wrapped in the foil to keep warm.


Cook In 101: Spaghetti with Basic Meat Sauce

Spaghetti with Meat Sauce

Lasagna, Bolognese Style


  1. Interesting tip about the milk - Never heard that before, but will definitely try that out sometime. We actually made a vegetarian mushroom bolognese this week, so it appears we're all in the mood for warm comfort foods!

    1. That Sounds really good. I've got black bean soup on the docket for tonight.

  2. ".... although from my experience, it doesn't stick around long." I think that's a reference to me.

  3. Lovely combination of flavors here.This looks so yummy! Can’t wait to try it! I’m cooking the next 2 weeks dinner using all your recipes!

    1. Thank you so much! I really appreciate the feedback. This spaghetti recipe is a nice classic "comfort" recipe. I hope the cooking goes well. If you have time, please let me know how the dishes turn out.

  4. Being that it is really simple to make, there are many variations of Garlic recipes available out there, you can be wild and creative and add your own twist to any garlic based bread recipe because there are no rules when it come to this tasty bread machine