A secret ingredient makes this meaty sauce SUPER meaty tasting: mushrooms!

This recipe

By America’s Test Kitchen

Many meat sauce recipes begin by cooking chunks of meat until browned bits stick to the bottom of the pot. Those browned bits are called fond, and they’re absolutely packed with savory umami taste. But this recipe uses ground beef rather than chunks of meat, which will turn dry and pebbly if cooked long enough to create a fond.

So, we turned to mushrooms! Mushrooms are packed with umami flavor compounds, too. As you cook them, they begin to brown and form flavor-packed fond on the bottom of the pot. Scraping up all that fond adds loads of umami flavor to your sauce. Bonus: Mixing the ground beef with baking soda helps keep it tender and moist.

Pasta with Meat Sauce Serves 4 to 6

1 pound 85% lean ground beef

2 tablespoons water

1 teaspoon plus 1/2 teaspoon salt, divided, plus salt for cooking pasta

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

4 ounces white mushrooms

1 onion, peeled and chopped

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

3 garlic cloves, peeled and minced 1 tablespoon tomato paste

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1 (28-ounce) can tomato puree

1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes

1 pound pasta

1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese (1/2 ounce), plus extra for serving

1. In a medium bowl, combine beef, water, 1 teaspoon salt and the baking soda. Mix until well combined. Set aside.

2. Trim off the ends of the mushroom stems and discard. Cut mushrooms in half if small or into quarters if large. Add mushrooms and onion to food processor. Pulse until vegetables are chopped fine, about eight 1-second pulses.

3. In a large pot, heat oil over medium heat for 1 minute (oil should be hot but not smoking). Add mushroom mixture to pot. Cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are softened and well browned, 8 to 10 minutes. Stir in garlic, tomato paste and oregano, and cook for 1 minute.

4. Carefully add beef mixture. Use wooden spoon to break up meat into small pieces.

5. Carefully stir in tomato puree, diced tomatoes and their liquid, and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Use a wooden spoon to scrape up browned bits on bottom of pot. Bring to simmer then reduce heat to low. Cook, stirring occasionally, until sauce thickens, about 30 minutes.

6. Meanwhile, set a colander in the sink. Add 4 quarts water to a second large pot. Bring to boil over high heat. Carefully add pasta and 1 tablespoon salt to pot. Cook, stirring often with wooden spoon, until pasta is al dente, 10 to 12 minutes.

7. Drain pasta in the colander, reserving 1/2 cup cooking water. Return drained pasta to now-empty pot.

8. Stir Parmesan cheese into sauce. Add sauce and 1/4 cup reserved pasta cooking water to drained pasta. Toss until pasta is well coated with sauce. If needed, add remaining 1/4 cup pasta cooking water, a little bit at a time, until sauce is loosened slightly and coats pasta well. Serve with extra Parmesan cheese.

Recipe notes: If you don’t own a food processor, you can chop the mushrooms and onions very finely by hand using a chef’s knife. This sauce makes enough for 1 pound of pasta. Sauce can be frozen for up to one month.

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