- 4 ounces mushrooms (white, cremini, or shitake), cleaned, stemmed and minced as fine as possible (or pulsed in a food processor)
- 1 large slice white sandwich bread, torn into small pieces
- 2 tablespoons whole milk
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
- 1 pound ground beef, 85% lean (avoid using ground round if possible), if using frozen beef, make sure it is completely thawed
- 1 tablespoon plain olive oil
- 1 large onion, minced
- 6-8 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
- 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 1/4 cup sun dried tomatoes, minced fine (if using oil-packed tomatoes, drain and rinse well)
- 1 can (14 ounces) diced tomatoes, drained with the liquid reserved
- 1 tablespoon each fresh basil and oregano, minced (or use 1/2 teaspoon each of dried herbs)
- 1 can (28 ounces) crushed tomatoes
- 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
- balsamic vinegar (optional)
In a small bowl, mash together milk and bread with a fork until a paste is made. Mix bread paste, salt, pepper, and beef together in a medium bowl until well combined (your hands are the best tool for this, but you could also use an electric mixer, just make sure not to over-work the meat).
Heat oil in a large skillet or saucepan (I use a big stir-fry skillet) over medium-high heat until the oil just starts to smoke. Saute onions and mushrooms with a large pinch of kosher salt, stirring frequently, until onion is mostly browned and a fond (stuck-on brown bits) has started to form on the bottom of the pan. Add the sun-dried tomatoes and cook for a another minute. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes, stirring frequently until the garlic becomes fragrant. Reduce heat to medium and add reserved diced tomato liquid, scraping the bottom of the pan to dissolve the fond (i.e. deglaze the pan). While deglazing, add half the fresh herbs (if using dried herbs, add the full amount). Add the meat and cook, breaking it up into small pieces. Cook to remove the raw red color (about 2-4 minutes), but do not let the beef brown (that would make it tough - reduce the heat if necessary).
Add both kinds of canned tomatoes and bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to a low, gentle simmer and cook, uncovered, until the flavors have married together, about 20-30 minutes. Add cheese and remaining herbs. Season to taste with salt and black pepper. Optionally, add a little balsamic vinegar if you like your sauce a little richer. Serve over linguine or penne.