Other people’s recipes: Martha Holmberg’s Risotto with Very Meaty Tomato Sauce

Yes! A cookbook author who understands how to do metric conversions!

Far too many cookbooks give metric conversions in volumetric units that no metric-using cook would ever use for measuring that sort of ingredient. It’s great to see at least one person understands that chopped onion belongs on a scale! (As a bonus, that also allows the cook to easily determine how much onion to chop in the first place.)

This is the first recipe I’ve attempted from Martha Holmberg’s cookbook Modern Sauces (Chronicle Books, 2012). Risotto with tomato sauce sounds like an odd thing, but when you use the proportions and serving sizes indicated, the result is quite tasty and not nearly as calorific as you might think. It’s also a lot of work, but the way the recipes in this cookbook build upon one another, it would be easy to spread the work out over three or four nights. As it was, I had to do it all in one day, and it took about four hours of work. The process starts with making a simple marinara sauce — and could end there, if that was what you wanted. Once the marinara is finished, the next step is to turn it into a meat sauce (the “Very Meaty Tomato Sauce” of the title), and again, the process could stop there; indeed, for most of the meat sauce, it does stop there, because the meat-sauce recipe makes eight cups of sauce, but only two cups are required to accompany the risotto — which is part of Holmberg’s point in the book, that these sauces are versatile and can all be used for more than one purpose. I probably won’t have much else to do with the meat sauce this week (I should get four meals out of the risotto), but I can freeze it and bring it out another time for a simple spaghetti dinner. Similarly, the basic marinara is used as a base for several other of Holmberg’s tomato sauces, and it can also be used directly on pasta or pizza, so there’s no waste.

(Incidentally, I consistently get Holmberg’s given name wrong, making her “Marie” rather than “Martha”. Perhaps that’s some heretofore hidden Scandinavian stereotype coming into play.)


The marinara sauce starts with a fairly standard mirepoix. I don’t think it’s called mirepoix in Italian. The recipe said I could grate the carrots, so I did, but I used the wrong grater (should have been the coarse holes) — not that I think it made a difference.

Half a cup of extra virgin olive oil looks like rather a lot when you measure it out. It’s a lot darker, too, when it’s not in a glass bottle.
Olive oil

The mirepoix is now in the pan with the olive oil, sweating away.
Mirepoix sweating

After sweating the mirepoix, canned crushed tomatoes (I used Muir Glen’s “fire roasted” style, because I like the flavor) and chopped basil complate the sauce. It has to reduce for about 20 minutes before it’s ready for the next step.
Marinara reducing

Putting a splatter guard on the pan helps to keep my rangetop from becoming even more of a mess than it already is. The fine mesh screen allows water vapor to escape while keeping larger oil (and tomato!) droplets inside the pan.
Splatter guard

The marinara sauce recipe makes about six cups, but all of it goes into the meat sauce. I had to get it out of the pan so I could rinse the pan off and start cooking the meat for the meat sauce. (No fan of unnecessary dish-washing am I, so the same plastic container will be used to hold the finished meat sauce as well, at least until I portion and freeze it.)
Finished marinara sauce

Very meaty tomato sauce

The recipe starts with mincing a quarter-pound of frozen pancetta in the food processor, after which it is cooked separately (along with more olive oil) to render its flavorful fat. In addition to the pancetta, the recipe calls for half a pound of ground beef and half a pound of mild Italian sausage to be cooked and crumbled — all, like the pancetta, to be cooked without browning. I got the pancetta at Formaggio along with the sausage (I used their fresh fennel sausage, which is certainly close enough to “mild Italian” for my taste), since I was already going there to buy chocolate, but given the nature of this dish I did not consider it worth buying a (more expensive) artisanal pancetta — I just stuck with the national brand Fra’mani.
Meat cooking

After cooking the meat, more herbs and the entire batch of marinara are added to the saucepan, along with some chicken broth, and cook for nearly an hour, with the last few minutes uncovered so the sauce can reduce to the desired consistency.
Meat sauce cooking

One batch of the meat sauce is about eight cups, which is far more than the two cups required for the risotto. (Good thing it can be frozen! It will get portioned out and frozen in individual packages.)
Two cups of meat sauce


The process of making the actual risotto is fairly boring and in any case hard to photograph as one is supposed to stir pretty much constantly. I used Carnaroli rice, because it was what I already had. Chopped onion is sweated in the pan with butter, then the rice is added and fried for a minute or so. The pan is deglazed with a half cup of white wine (thanks to the folks at the liquor store for stocking those tiny little single-serving bottles of wine, which make many recipes like this one accessible to non-drinkers), and then the laborious process of adding chicken stock, stirring, adding stock, stirring, and so on, begins. After twenty minutes of pouring and stirring, stirring and pouring, the risotto is finally done: creamy in texture but still slightly toothy when chewed. It’s thick enough to leave a clear spot behind in the pot when the spatula is dragged through.
Finished risotto

This recipe calls for the grated Parmigiano Reggiano (also from Formaggio, because what’s a cheese shop for, anyway?) but just puts it on top of the finished dish — it’s not stirred into the risotto, which was so surprising to me that I had to double- and triple-check to make sure it really said that. (I just checked it again, and that is absolutely how Holmberg wrote it.)

Finished dish

While the risotto is cooking, the meat sauce is being reduced. The recipe starts out with two cups of meat sauce, but I didn’t measure the volume after reduction, so I can only say that it cooks down to about 12 ounces avoirdupois. A quarter of the risotto (6½ ounces) is placed on the dish with a well hollowed out in the center for the reduced meat sauce (3 ounces), and the whole thing is topped with the grated Reggiano. I didn’t have the sort of wide, shallow bowl the recipe calls for, so I just used a plate. It seemed to work OK. Had I not spent the past four hours over the stove making this dish, I would have whipped up a quick serving of steamed spinach to accompany this dish. Here’s an overhead view of my plate:
Overhead view

And here’s the side view:
Plate up!

UPDATE 2014-07-30: I portioned out the rest of the meat sauce for freezing today and found that I had made 9 2/3 cups originally (about 19 servings); I’m assuming that it probably didn’t reduce quite enough during cooking. The numbers below have not been adjusted to reflect that.


It’s really not as bad as you might expect, provided you stick to the suggested serving sizes.

Complete recipe

Nutrition Facts
Serving size: 6½ oz risotto, 3 oz sauce, ½ oz Parmigiano Reggiano
Servings per container: 4
Amount per serving
Calories 508 Calories from fat 221
% Daily Value
Total Fat 25g 38%
 Saturated Fat 10g 49%
 Polyunsaturated Fat 2g
 Monounsaturated Fat 8g
Trans Fat 0g
Cholesterol 51mg 17%
Sodium 985mg 41%
Potassium 357mg 10%
Total Carbohydrate 49g 16%
 Dietary fiber 3g 13%
 Sugars 3g
Proteins 17g 34%
Vitamin A 27%
Vitamin C 21%
Calcium 17%
Iron 12%

Very meaty tomato sauce

This is for the sauce alone, and unreduced. I suspect it would make a great accompaniment for cheese-and-veggie ravioli (and will report back once I have had a chance to try), although obviously one would want to have fewer ravioli with this sauce than one would with a regular (much lower-fat) pasta sauce.

Nutrition Facts
Serving size: ½ cup
Servings per container: about 16
Amount per serving
Calories 211 Calories from fat 141
% Daily Value
Total Fat 16g 24%
 Saturated Fat 4g 21%
 Polyunsaturated Fat 2g
 Monounsaturated Fat 7g
Trans Fat 0g
Cholesterol 28mg 9%
Sodium 436mg 18%
Potassium 331mg 9%
Total Carbohydrate 10g 3%
 Dietary fiber 2g 9%
 Sugars 1g
Proteins 9g 18%
Vitamin A 23%
Vitamin C 18%
Calcium 5%
Iron 10%
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