A Secret Ingredient Gives This 45-Minute Ragu All the Flavor of a Slow-Simmered Sauce

TIMEJanuary 12, 2022

When it comes to Italian comfort food, a bowl of spaghetti tossed with a tomato-rich meat sauce ranks high. If I’ve got the time, I love spending the afternoon slowly simmering a Bolognese sauce.

More often than not, though, a packed schedule means dinner needs to be a much faster affair. This quick and easy spaghetti sauce is a total weeknight win. It’s as satisfying as a slow-simmered pasta sauce but comes together in less than 45 minutes—including the time it takes to boil a box of spaghetti.

How Do You Make Spaghetti Sauce?

Simple is the name of the game here. To make this spaghetti sauce, you’ll sauté chopped onion, minced garlic, lean ground beef, and classic Italian spices like dried oregano and red pepper flakes in a large skillet until the meat is browned and cooked through. Then you’ll pour in a large can of crushed tomatoes and let the mixture simmer gently while you cook the spaghetti.

The Secret Ingredient

A quick simmer means you’ll miss out on the depth of flavor that comes with slowly simmering a pasta sauce for hours. However, stirring a splash of balsamic vinegar into the sauce right before you toss it with the spaghetti might make you forget the whole thing came together so quickly. Balsamic vinegar’s richness amps up the meat sauce, giving it the body, sweetness, and balance of a sauce that’s cooked for much longer.

What to Serve on the Side

A comforting spaghetti dinner doesn’t need much else besides a shower of grated Parmesan on top and a glass of Italian red wine. However, it’s nice to round out the meal with a little something on the side. Here are five of our favorites.

Easy Garlic Bread
The Ultimate Classic Caesar Salad
Every Pizza Place Salad
Sautéed Broccoli Rabe
Slow-Cooked Kale With Smashed Garlic & Red Onions

Spaghetti With Meat Sauce

Serves 4 to 6

  • 1 medium yellow onion
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 pound lean ground beef
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt, divided, plus more for the pasta water
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)
  • 1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 pound dried spaghetti
  • 2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
  • Freshly grated Parmesan cheese, for serving

Finely chop the onion and mince the garlic cloves. Heat the olive oil in a large high-sided skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add the onion, garlic, ground beef, 1 teaspoon of the kosher salt, dried oregano, black pepper, and red pepper flakes, if using. Cook, breaking the beef up into small pieces with a wooden spoon, until the beef is cooked through, 5 to 7 minutes.

Carefully pour in the crushed tomatoes and season with the remaining 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and gently simmer uncovered until the sauce is slightly thickened, about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add 1 pound dried spaghetti and cook for 1 minute less than the package instructions for al dente, about 9 minutes. Reserve 1 cup of the pasta cooking water and drain the spaghetti.

Return the pasta to the pot. Add the sauce, reserved pasta cooking water, and balsamic vinegar, and toss to combine. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, tossing continuously, until the sauce coats the pasta and everything is evenly combined, 1 to 2 minutes. Serve in bowls topped with lots of grated Parmesan cheese.

Recipe Notes

The sauce, without the pasta water, can be made a day in advance and stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Alternatively, it can be frozen for up to three months. Let the sauce thaw in the refrigerator overnight. Rewarm the sauce in a saucepan over medium heat while you cook the pasta.

Leftovers can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to three days.

Sheela Prakash is a senior contributing food editor at, a nationally known blog for people who love food and home cooking. Submit any comments or questions to Copyright 2021 Apartment Therapy. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC