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This is my family recipe — a deliciously rich, meaty pasta sauce you can make in an electric pressure cooker that tastes like it simmered all day.
Remember that old cliché “Like a fine wine, some things take time” — was that from a 1970’s commercial or what?
Of course I bring that up to make a point about traditional Italian pasta sauces — the longer and slower they simmer, the better they seem to taste.
Classic Sunday sauce
I grew up on a classic, all-day simmered sauce (aka: The Gravy) that my grandmother would serve for Sunday dinner.
That sauce was incredibly rich, flavorful and the color of oxblood, full of braised beef, pork sausages and other bits of meat.
As an adult with a family of my own, I never even came close to recreating the taste of my grandmother’s sauce. And to be honest, I didn’t really try that hard.
Like a lot of busy moms — and a professional cook on top of that – I figured out how to get the most flavorful bang out of not-so-much time.
Cooking pasta sauce in a pressure cooker
Until recently, my tools for everyday dinner shortcuts haven’t included an electric pressure cooker.
Well guess what? Since then that thing hasn’t moved from a prime spot on the kitchen counter and it has something cooking in it nearly every day.
I’ve been testing everything from tried-and-true family favorites like this pasta sauce, to some new dishes that I’ll be sharing here with you.
If your weekly menu is anything like ours, it always includes some kind of pasta with homemade tomato sauce or a quick pizza sauce on top of prepared dough.
Sometimes it they’re lucky, I’ll make a batch of Classic Italian Meatballs. too.
In fact, I think my kids would actually move out for good if it were missing from the menu!
This recipe is in the wheelhouse of my weeknight Italian meat sauce and this basic quick marinara, but tastes like it simmered on the stovetop for a couple hours rather than 15 minutes in the pressure cooker.
The sauce isn’t as rich as an “authentic” bolognese, which often includes fattier cuts of meat along with carrots, celery and butter or cream among the ingredients.
Instead, with this recipe you get a hearty, versatile sauce with loads of flavor that you can use in a variety of ways.
Italian meat sauce is perfect on lasagna, to serve over weeknight pasta or as the filling in a stuffed skillet pizza (yum!)
For a lower carb meal, serve the sauce over zucchini noodles or riced, cooked cauliflower.
Ingredients for the best Italian meat sauce:
The base of the sauce is made with canned tomatoes, ground pork (or Italian sausage for even more flavor) and some red wine to pack a bigger savory punch.
- Canned Tomatoes: I highly recommend seeking out good quality canned tomatoes. They’re not a very expensive pantry ingredient to begin with, but the difference between watery, unripe tomatoes and ripe, red sweet ones packed in puree is huge.
Genuine San Marzano tomatoes can be fantastic, but there’s confusion and sometimes actual fraud surrounding them. Just because tomatoes are labeled with the words “San Marzano” doesn’t necessarily mean they’re amazing.
While real, authentic San Marzanos must come from that exact region near Naples, Italy and need to be DOP certified, there are plenty of products labeled “San Marzano” that might just be the type of tomato (a type of Roma known as San Marzano), not where they’re grown.
There are a handful of supermarket brands I much prefer to the elusive and often overpriced San Marzanos, authentic Italian or not.
In general, look for bright red tomatoes throughout the can that are plump and sweet-tasting, and buy either whole or crushed tomatoes, not diced.
- Passata: In addition to whole or crushed tomatoes, I use a strained tomato puree (passata) to thicken the sauce and brighten up the flavor.
- If you can’t find passata, use an unseasoned canned tomato sauce.
- Tomato Paste: Thanks to the magic of condensation, cooking in a pressure cooker or a slow cooker produces lots of liquid.
That’s where tomato paste comes in handy, as it will help thicken the sauce and contribute a more concentrated flavor.
I recommend buying tomato paste in tubes and keeping them in the refrigerator — it’s so much easier than opening up a can when you only need 1 or 2 tablespoons. Trader Joe’s sells a good one.
- Meat: I really like the taste of pork in this sauce because it melds so deliciously with the tomatoes.
If you can get your hands on some tasty Italian sausage in bulk (or removed from the casings), use it instead for more layered flavor.
However, a mixture of lean ground beef and pork, or all ground beef or dark ground turkey will make tasty sauces, too.
Pressure Cooker Italian Meat Sauce
- 3 tablespoons (45 ml) extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 pound (500 g) ground pork or bulk Italian sausage meat
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 3 garlic cloves, chopped
- 1/2 cup (125 ml) full bodied red wine, such as merlot, Chianti or zinfandel
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
- 1 teaspoon whole fennel seeds
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
- 1 28- ounce (822 ml) can crushed tomatoes
- 1 (250 ml) cup strained tomatoes (passata) or plain unsalted canned tomato sauce
- 2 tablespoons (28 g) tomato paste
- 1/4 cup (5 g) chopped fresh parsley or basil
- Press the “Saute” button on a 6-quart or larger pressure cooker and allow to preheat on high.
- When the insert is heated, add 1 tablespoon of the olive oil and the pork. Cook the meat until is lightly browned and no longer pink, stirring occasionally to break up the meat. Drain any excess fat out of the insert, if desired.
- Stir in the remaining olive oil along with the onion and garlic. Cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Pour in the wine let in bubble for 2 minutes, then add the remaining ingredients.
- Lock the lid in place and pressure cook on high for 15 minutes. Let the pressure release naturally.
- Taste the sauce and season with more salt and pepper to taste. Stir in the parsley or basil and serve.
Karen’s Notes and Tips
- The recipe makes more than enough sauce for 1 pound of pasta.
- This sauce freezes well for 1 month. Let the sauce cool and pack in containers before freezing.