Pasta with Meat Sauce

Pasta with Meat Sauce

So, who gets tired of eating meatless/vegetarian/seafood pasta at Italian restaurants? Pasta and meat in a tomato sauce is an awesome combination, and we shouldn’t miss out on it just because we can’t eat it at restaurants!

Growing up watching cricket in Pakistan, I always wanted to visit all those beautiful countries- Australia, South Africa, New Zealand, the Caribbean. And, of course, everyone wants to go to Europe and see all the historic… civilizations… and… art… and natural beauty and… Paris. I did too, although I think South Africa was always number one for me… but all that changed after we went for hajj. Now, I would just like to go on a vacation to a Muslim country. I know, I know!!!!!!!!! That sounds so pretentious and holier-than-thou!!!

But hear me out! I am all for exploring God’s beautiful world- and no doubt Europe etc, are wonderful places one should not pass up the opportunity to visit them. But here’s the thing- food and enjoyment are very, very closely related for me. And in Saudi Arabia, we did not have to stop and consider for one second if we could eat that food or not. We ate everywhere- from the hotel, to roadside restaurants, to international chains like Pizza Hut and KFC to local chains like Al Baik Fried Chicken. And it was a sort of freedom that I haven’t experienced in a long, long time. And I don’t mean to say that every meal has to be five star. Visiting a new country means a lot of exploring, and just grabbing a snack and visiting all the tourist spots- I get that. But I don’t want to have to worry whether they have something halal, or where I can find halal food, or if it has pork or alcohol added to it, etc etc etc. On top of that my gluten free daughter doesn’t even eat seafood. So, basically, she has no options.

That is why Saudi Arabia was so liberating. Anytime we were hungry, the first place we saw, we could go in and order anything from the menu. Awesome! Now that’s what I call a vacation! And there’s so much to explore in the Muslim world too- Egypt, Turkey, Morocco, the UAE and Indonesia for example. Not that I’m going on a vacation anytime soon! But it’s fun to think about it!

Penne Pasta with Meat Sauce

Penne Pasta with Meat Sauce

But just because I’m not going to Italy in the near future, doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy fantastic Italian food!  I love how this recipe has shaped up, and everyone who has had it has also enjoyed it.

I won’t say it’s the easiest recipe because I suppose the easiest way to make pasta would be to toss it with a jar of store bought spaghetti sauce.  But when I came to America, I was under the impression that spaghetti sauce has some non-halal ingredients. So, I always made spaghetti sauce from scratch at home. If I had known, would I have bought it, or made it myself anyway? Even though I’ve been told that vegetarian spaghetti sauce is available, I have never even considered buying it. I quite like my sauce- my recipe has evolved over time and now I feel like I’ve reached a good balance.

It’s so easy! It’s not desi style pasta. But I use desi style cooking and Italian ingredients! For the classic Italian style pasta sauce, you have to simmer the sauce for a long time to reduce it and blend all the flavors together. I don’t have the time. I don’t make the sauce separately, to use whenever I make pasta. The mince meat and sauce are all made it in one pot. Toss it with the pasta! Done!

If you don’t like desi style pasta, then this dish works for you because it only has Italian seasoning. And if you’re only fond of desi style cooking, then you’ll enjoy it too because  the few Italian ingredients used in this dish add some really good flavor to it. It is not bland tasting at all.

My baby cousin was visiting recently, and I made this for her. She quite likes pasta, and I think she was enjoying watching me make it. Just when all the fresh herbs started giving off their wonderful aroma, she said to me, “Take a picture! Put this on your website! This is what people want!”

Penne Pasta with Meat Sauce

Penne Pasta with Meat Sauce

Ok, so she’s not a baby anymore, but she’s the youngest cousin and will always be a baby to the rest of us. So, for all the pasta loving newlyweds like her, I hope this recipe becomes a staple in your house like it is in mine!

Feel free to substitute penne with your favorite pasta. But for serving guests, I feel like penne makes for a pretty presentation and is easy to eat. Otherwise, I use this sauce with spaghetti, angel hair, elbow macaroni, or shells, whatever I have on hand.

For the gluten free version, simply use any gluten free pasta of your choice.

Gluten Free Macaroni with Meat Sauce

Gluten Free Macaroni with Meat Sauce for my little princess.

Pasta with Meat Sauce


  • 1 lb lean ground beef
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 1 large onion
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 large carrot, grated
  • 1 6 oz can tomato paste with basil, garlic and oregano
  • 1 14.5 can diced tomatoes OR 5 roma tomatoes
  • 2 sprigs fresh oregano
  • 1 sprig fresh rosemary
  • handful fresh basil + more for garnishing
  • 1 tbsp salt
  • ¼ tsp heaped red chili pepper flakes
  • ½ tsp heaped black pepper
  • 1 lb penne pasta


Fry the onion in the olive oil until soft and translucent. (I always add a little water and cover and cook to speed up the process.) Add the garlic, finely chopped herbs and seasoning and stir fry for a few seconds.

Fry the onions

Add the carrot and stir fry for a couple of minutes.

Add the carrots

Add the ground beef and stir fry on medium high heat until no longer pink, about 4-5 minutes.

Add ground beef

Add 1 cup of warm water and bring to a simmer. Cover and cook on medium low heat for about 20-25 minutes or until the meat is tender.

Add water

Stir fry for a few minutes after all the water has evaporated.

Puree the diced tomatoes until smooth. (If you like your sauce to be chunky, then use diced tomatoes.) Add the tomatoes and tomato paste to the meat. Add a ¼ of a cup of water and simmer for about 5 minutes. Adjust the seasoning.


Cook the pasta according to the package instructions and toss with the meat sauce.

Step it up!

But it doesn’t end there!

The basic meat sauce recipe is great, but another cousin of mine gave me a tip that will just take it to the next level! Especially great if you want to step it up a bit to serve to guests.

  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 8 oz sliced mushrooms
  • ⅔ cup heavy cream

Melt the butter and sauté the mushrooms until done and all the liquid has evaporated,about 10-12 minutes.


Add the heavy cream and just a touch of salt and pepper. (The pasta has already been seasoned, so you don’t want to overdo the seasoning.) Simmer 5 minutes.

Simmer the cream

Pour over the pasta and toss.

Toss with the pasta

Garnish with fresh basil or parsley.

Penne Pasta with Meat Sauce

Penne Pasta with Meat Sauce


The key really is to use as many fresh ingredients as possible. The taste of the canned tomato paste can be countered with fresh garlic and herbs, and I’m sure that you will enjoy the flavor. Oregano (ajwaein) and basil (niaz bo) are commonly used in Pakistani cooking as well.

Usually, celery is also added to the tomato sauce but it’s not my favorite so I leave it out.

Do not let the onions brown. I feel like that gives it a very desi aroma.

You will have more sauce than appears in my pictures because I always take some out to mix with gluten free pasta for my daughter.

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