It’s an argument that will probably go on forever among Italian-Americans. Is it sauce or gravy? Most non-Italians couldn’t care less and it doesn’t really bother me but I’m going to add my opinion anyway.
In any dictionary, gravy and sauce have almost identical definitions although it seems that to be called “gravy” there must be some meat, or meat juices or drippings involved.
In Italian, there’s sugo (thin sauce/gravy made with meat) and ragu (thick sauce/gravy made with meat). Then there’s salsa, not made with meat and which I would translate as sauce.
When people think of gravy it’s usually brown and often made with meat drippings and a bit of flour to thicken it. Well, why can’t it be red and made with meat drippings and tomatoes instead of flour?
When my mother had a pot of bubbling tomatoes on the stove filled with meatballs, braciole, and sausage she called it “gravy.” When she made marinara, that’s tomatoes with no meat, it was “sauce.”
So that’s my take on the unending sauce-gravy argument. And here’s a recipe for a ragu. You can call it what you like.
Sweat one cup of trinity in oil and then add and lightly brown the pork. Add the crushed tomatoes and sachet. Simmer for at least one hour.
Put on a pot of water for the pasta. Add the peas to the tomatoes and pork and simmer for another 10 minutes while the pasta is cooking. Taste for seasoning.
When the pasta is almost done drain and add it to the ragu to finish cooking. If it’s too dry add some pasta water. Serve with grated cheese.
There are a lot of variations for this one – but always meat and tomatoes. Here’s a simple, basic recipe which you can vary.
Sausage – hot or sweet
Dried sausage or soprasade
Garlic (2 chopped cloves)
Salt and black pepper
Brown the sausage and oxtails in oil. Do it in batches and don’t crowd the pan. Remove and add the dried sausage and garlic. Don’t burn the garlic. Add the tomatoes and bring to a boil. Lower heat, taste for seasoning and simmer for at least one hour.
In the past, I’ve done the gladiator diet and the sumo diet. Today it’s the ninja diet. The ninja were pretty much vegans. They avoided meat, fish and dairy. They also avoided foods that have an odor so no one could smell them when they were sneaking around in the dark.
What they did eat was mainly whole grain rice and wheat, potatoes, mushrooms, chestnuts and pine nuts.
To quench their thirst the had “thirst balls” made of plum pulp, rye ergot and sugar. For hunger, they used hunger balls – carrots, flour, yam and licorice root steeped in sake.Ninja Encyclopedia
All in all, I think it was easier and tastier to eat like a gladiator or sumo wrestler than a ninja.
If you’ve ever spent time in a hospital you’ll know that the food they serve isn’t exactly gourmet. It’s far from it. The best you can say is that it’s well-balanced and nutritious. But it’s bland, tasteless and unappetizing. It’ll get you through you stay at the hospital without starving but it’s nothing to write home about. Most patients, if they’re not on a restricted diet, have friends and family bring them real food when they visit. It looks like this would be unnecessary in Japan.
Recently an American woman gave birth in a Japanese hospital and was so impressed by the food she was served that she photographed it.
“Chicken with mushroom sauce, braised pumpkin and pork, daikon carrot salad, rice, miso soup, chawan mushi.”
Paul Scorvino slicing garlic in Martin Scorsese’s Good Fellas
Cooking with Garlic
Lots of people think that all Italian food MUST be made with tons of garlic. That’s a myth started by Italian restaurants that served mostly non-Italians. Garlic is a useful aromatic. It makes certain recipes taste better but it should never overwhelm the dish.
Sauteing it slowly and over low heat is the best way to get its flavor. It softens but doesn’t brown. A hint of golden color is fine but brown means burnt and bitter. Minced garlic cloves burn more quickly then sliced, so sliced is easier to work with. Large chunky slices are useful sometimes because you can see them and avoid eating them (if you want to).
Everybody knows I’m into kitchen gadgets so at Christmas and birthdays I get some interesting ones. Here are two that are basically miniature mandolins for garlic. They both work well and make easily make thin, even slices.
A micro-plane is quick and convenient. It makes a fine pulp. A garlic press does the same but eliminates the garlic fibers and adds a more gentle flavor.
. . . or you can do it like Paul Scorvino with a razor or use a standard utility knife the old fashioned way like my mother and aunts did. A sharp knife and years of practice is all you’ll need.
Somehow, a tradition started a few years back, where every Father’s Day my daughter Kristina takes me to Coneys Island. The amusement area isn’t as big as it used to be but it still has that good old Coney Island feel – a little seedy and not gentrified.
We meet at Ruby’s Bar on the boardwalk for lunch. They have traditional Coney Island food – hot dogs, clams, onion rings, etc.
After lunch we spend the rest of the afternoon on the beach. There must have been a crack down on vendors. You used to be able to buy just about anything on the beach – water, beer, ice cream, loose cigarettes, loose joints and nutcracker. One of my favorites was fresh mango sprinkled with hot chili powder – sounds strange but delicious. All we could get this year was lime ice.
After a day on the beach we’d walk down to Brighton Beach and have dinner at one of the Russian restaurants but since Kitchen 21opened we’ve been eating there.
Once you try this you may not go back to instant oatmeal. Steel-cut oats includes the whole oat kernel, cut up. These take longer to cook. Instead of cooking it for an hour or more, ignore the package directions and try it this way.
For 2 servings –
The night before – boil 2 cups of water with a little salt. Add one cup of oats (maybe with a handful of pomegranate seeds or dried currents), stir, turn off the heat and cover.
The next morning – add one cup of water (or ½ and ½ water and milk), stir, bring to a low boil then simmer for 10 minutes.
A while back my daughter Kristina gave me a frying pan. It wasn’t just any frying pan, this one was hand crafted by a friend of hers, Marsha Trattner. Masha is a metal worker of the first order. She’s a welder and blacksmith making both functional and artistic items. Her site – She-Weld
Bridget and I recently went to one of Marsha’s forging classes. We started small, making some simple hooks to get a feel for the forge and tools.
Then we started on the main project – making a knife out of a rail road spike. Wei was our instructor and a natural blacksmith. He thoroughly explained every step and checked-in on us often to see how we were doing.
The basic idea is to heat the metal to make it malleable and then hammer it to draw it out and shape it. Sounds simple but it takes a hell of a lot of hammering, enough to leave me with a sore arm the next day.
After the forging the next step is fine tuning. That’s the grinding. You start with the blackened piece of metal that was once a railroad spike and finish with a shinny and sharp knife.
Sumo wrestlers want a weight advantage. They average over 400 pounds and work to keep that bulk. They do it by eating Chanko Nabe almost every day. It’s a sort of stew or hot-pot with lots of protein, a delicious broth and varying ingredients. In itself it’s not particularly fattening but in the quantities that it’s eaten, plus lots of beer and a nap after each meal, it does the job.