What turns ground meat + tomato sauce into a taco filling? Some Latin-spices, like cumin, coriander, and / or ancho chili powder.
What turns ground meat + tomato sauce into an Italian pasta sauce? Some Italian-spices, like oregano, basil, or fennel seeds.
What turns ground meat + tomato sauce into a Greek-inspired pasta sauce? Some Greek spices, like allspice and cinnamon.
While today’s recipe is for a Greek-inspired meat sauce, the larger takeaway of this post is to illustrate the transformative power of spices. I’ve been asked time and time again by readers and students how to get more out of their spice drawer. This previous post titled “Can You Teach Me How to Use Spices?” is a good start, and today’s recipe is also another great lesson on how to use spices in your cooking.
The inspiration for this Greek-inspired meat sauce came out of a craving moussaka and pastitsio. However, I was trying to avoid oven use during these hot summer months. Luckily, I had an “AHA!” moment though. I really was just craving Greek flavors, so I could easily turn a traditional Italian meat sauce into a Greek-inspired one by swapping in a few spices.
This pasta sauce starts out like any other; there are tomatoes, ground meat, some onions and some garlic. However, by adding a bit of allspice and cinnamon with more traditional thyme and oregano, I give this sauce an injection of Greek flavors. The addition of eggplant makes it feel a bit like moussaka, and topped with feta and parsley, and served over orzo pasta, this meat sauce easily travels from Italy to Greece.
- Not sure how to cube eggplant? We’ve got you covered in our latest “How-To” post
- I’ve said it once, but I’ll say it again. Salt that pasta water like the ocean. It’s your only opportunity to inject pasta with flavor.
- I love topping pasta with cheeses but keeping several cheeses on hand can be expensive and wasteful (because that cheese often goes bad before we finish it all). I solve this problem by dividing my cheeses up into serving portions and then freezing them. That way I can lots of different cheese on hand without any waste.
- Ground beef – 1 lb.
- Garlic – 3 cloves, minced
- Onion – 1, diced
- Italian eggplant – 1, cubed
- Orzo – 1 lb.
- Olive oil – 2 tbs.
- Cooking oil – 1 1/2 tbs.
- Crushed tomatoes – 1 28 oz. can
- Thyme – 1 tbs., dried
- Oregano – 1 tbs., dried
- Allspice – 1 tsp.
- Cinnamon – 1/2 tsp.
- Lemon – 1/2, juice of
- Feta – 4 oz.
- Parsley – leaves of a few sprigs
- Ground beef – Season with salt & pepper. (Can be done the night before)
- Garlic / Onion / Eggplant – Prep as directed
- Bring a saucepan of water to boil. Salt heavily (that water should taste like the ocean!) and add orzo or other pasta. Cook until al dente, tender but not soggy. Drain and toss with 2 tbs. of olive oil. Set aside.
- Heat a skillet over medium-high heat. Add cooking oil and then garlic and to heated oil. Once you can smell the garlic, add the diced onions with some salt. Saute until softened, ~3 minutes.
- Next add ground beef. Break up with a wooden spoon and brown for ~5 minutes.
- Next add in eggplant with a dash of salt. Saute for another 5 minutes.
- Add in crushed tomatoes and thyme, oregano, allspice, and cinnamon. Lower heat to a simmer and cook for another 10 minutes. Finish with some lemon juice, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Enjoy sauce with orzo and top with feta and parsley leaves and your house salad.