I love pasta. It has been a staple in my diet for as long as I can remember. Tomato-based pasta sauce has always been something that I love.
A couple of years ago, I was watching a television show where a chef was making a pasta sauce. This particular recipe caught my eye because it was not the traditional Italian flavours. The chef was Aarti Sequeira, and the flavours were Indian. Although not a lover of Indian food, this recipe seemed appealing, in large part I think because of the way she described garam masala as being a “warm spice blend”, made with spices like cinnamon, cloves, black pepper and cardamom. Cinnamon and cloves in a pasta sauce? That sounded intriguing, and good. As chef Aarti demonstrated the recipe, it also seemed to be easy to make, which is always a good thing in my view.
It took a few months, but eventually I went to the website and obtained the recipe. I tried it out for my family, and it was an instant hit. They really loved it, even more than a traditional Italian style pasta sauce. As a result, this recipe has become my family’s go-to pasta recipe. I never go wrong with this one. The reaction I get when I tell them I will be making this for dinner, as I did today, is always: “Oh yay, I love that pasta sauce!”
The website from which I got this recipe no longer exists, so I am sharing the recipe here with you. I’ve made some minor modifications to it, but not any that alter the flavour of the original recipe.
If you’ve never thought about trying pasta sauce with something other than Italian flavours before, you are missing out. Although these are Indian flavours, this sauce is not hot and spicy; it is simply a wonderful blend of warm flavours, with ginger, cumin, and garam masala creating a surprising sense of comfort food, even though I did not grow up with any of these flavours in my food.
Aarti Sequeira’s Spiced Beef Ragu
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- ½ teaspoon cumin seeds
- 1 cup chopped white onion (about half of a big one)
- 2 cloves of garlic, minced
- 1 ½ tablespoons of minced fresh ginger
- ½ teaspoon garam masala
- 1 teaspoon paprika
- 1 pound lean ground beef
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1 can (796 mL or 28 oz) crushed tomatoes
- ¼ cup brown sugar
- ¼ cup whipping cream
- Small Pasta, like fusilli or shells
1. In a Dutch oven, warm olive oil over moderate heat until it’s shimmering. Add cumin seeds, and sauté for 30 seconds to a minute, until they’re fragrant and darken in color. Add onions with a good pinch of salt; sauté a few minutes, until softened and translucent. Add garlic and ginger and sauté a minute longer.
2. Add the garam masala and paprika, and cook, stirring often for 30 seconds. This is called blooming: cooking spices in warm oil to wake them up and cook out their “rawness”.
3. Now add the beef with another pinch of salt, and cook, breaking up lumps until no longer pink. Then stir in tomato paste, and cook another 2 minutes. Add tomatoes. Stir, bring to a boil, then turn down to a simmer, and cook, partially covered for 15 minutes.
4. While that’s cooking, boil water for pasta and cook pasta.
5. Finish ragu with sugar and heavy cream. Taste for seasoning and adjust accordingly. Serve over pasta.
Tips: One can of tomato paste provides much more than two tablespoons. In order not to waste the extra tomato paste, place one tablespoon-sized dollops of tomato paste onto a wax paper lined metal tray and place in freezer. Once the tomato paste dollops are frozen, take them off the wax paper and put them in a labeled freezer bag. Now you have pre-measured tomato paste, ready to use the next time a recipe calls for it.