My grandmother Nicolina was from Salerno but her husband was Calabrese so this is how she made meatballs.
1 lb. mix of ground pork, veal and beef chuck
1 clove of garlic finely minced
2/3 cup of plain breadcrumbs
1/3 cup of grated Parmigiana cheese
2 tbs. of olive oil
Salt and black pepper
A handful of chopped Italian parsley
5 tbsp. tomato sauce
Mix all the ingredients thoroughly. It’s easier to mix the 3 meats first and then add the other ingredients. You can really only do it with your hands. Shape the mix into small balls (I use an ice cream scoop to get them the same size) and let them rest for 15 – 20 minutes. Fry them in a good amount of olive oil over medium heat in a heavy pan. Keep rolling them to brown on all sides. Drain and serve with tomato sauce. They’re very good plain too.
Let me start by saying that there is no such thing as spaghetti sauce. It’s a term of art and means too many different things to different people. Whatever sauce you put on spaghetti is, of course, spaghetti sauce. I think what most people, i.e. those not brought up in an Italian household, mean by spaghetti sauce is tomato sauce that can be used on not just spaghetti but other types of pasta as well. Even that title isn’t specific enough to cover the many variations of the use of tomatoes in the making of pasta sauce. So let’s be a bit more precise and talk about some the various kinds of sauce made with tomatoes.
I’ll start with the most basic – marinara sauce. Not all Italian tomato sauce is marinara sauce. This three ingredient sauce is simple enough to make on a small fishing boat, hence the name – mariner. It’s supposed to be fresh and simple so don’t feel something is missing because there are no herbs and spices to sprinkle in. Also it uses just one aromatic, garlic, so no onions.
Marinara sauce has multiple uses: delicious with pasta (we used to have this meatless sauce when we were kids on Friday nights when meat wasn’t an option), the perfect sauce for eggplant parmigiana, eggs in purgatory, etc.
Cut garlic in large pieces so they can easily be avoided or removed. Very lightly brown it in the olive oil. Add one large can (28 oz.) of crushed tomatoes (or about a pound and a half of cored and chopped fresh tomatoes). Add salt, black pepper and red pepper flakes. Simmer 1/2 hour on medium heat and it’s done. Maybe simmer a little longer if you’re using fresh tomatoes. It’s so simple and fresh tasting, you should try to keep it simple but if you must, a little cheese
The next step, using the basic marinara sauce above –
For Seafood Sauce – double ingredients. While sauce is simmering add some sliced filet (use something inexpensive like scrod rather than sole) to thicken it and about a teaspoon dried oregano. Ten minutes before it’s done you can add clams, mussels, shrimps, scallops, lobster tails, or any combination.
Another variation for Seafood Sauce – start with marina sauce. Add, in order for cooking time – clams, mussels, shrimp & scallops. Dissolve ½ teaspoon of saffron in a little warm water and add and simmer for a few minutes before serving. No oregano in this version.
Still another variation – Pasta All’Amatriciana Same as the marinara recipe above but start with browning about a ½ lb. of chopped pancetta and use an onion instead of garlic.
One that’s familiar to lots of people is what’s commonly known as Sunday Gravy. I can’t explain why it’s “gravy” and not sauce but that’s just the way it is and I accept that. SUNDAY GRAVEY
This is just the beginning. Tomato sauce variations are almost limitless.
It’s more than acceptable to use canned if they are San Marzano and there are no other ingredients added to the can.
If you’d like to use fresh here are a few hints -To peel and seed fresh tomatoes,place the tomatoes in boiling water and wait until the outer thin skin cracks. Peel it with your fingers. Cut it on the equator and take each half, squeeze and shake out the seeds. Cut off the stem end and remove some of the core.
Since we’re talking about pasta sauce, here’re a few things to know about pasta:
Use more water than you’d think you’d need – about 4 quarts for 1 pound of pasta.
Add a lot of salt (it can only absorb so much), at least 2 tablespoons for 4 quarts of water.
Try to have the pasta shape compliment the sauce.
Cook until it’s done the way you like it and don’t worry about the Al Dente Police raiding your kitchen.
It’s a good idea to reserve a cup cooking water in case you need to thin the sauce.
Use Parmigiana, Loccatelli, Romano or whatever you like but don’t use too much or think you can put it on everything because it can overpower a delicate dish. If you really want cheese, eat a piece of cheese. Instead of the hard grating cheeses, try dry ricotta salada sometime or maybe a tablespoon of fresh ricotta in your dish before you put in pasta with tomato sauce. Instead of any grated cheese at all, trytoasted bread crumbs, especially on seafood sauces. Type of cheese can vary according to the sauce but NEVER, NEVER with sea food.
Happy Sunday – This is about the Sunday gravy I grew up with. It’s tomato sauce with meat but really much more. My mother started it in the morning and simmered it on a very low heat until the last of the family was home from the 12:30 Mass. My father and I went to the 9 o’clock mass and brought home something for breakfast – usually Danish, crullers and jelly donuts. After we ate, my father would grate enough parmigiana for the meal and my mother would begin by browning the various meats in lard – usually meat balls, sausage, short ribs and beef braciole. It would vary sometimes with ox tail or a pig skin braciole called cotechinata or in my family’s Napolitano dialect – gaudiga. It wasn’t my favorite. I always imagined I was eating a cooked football.
After talking to my sisters Nicki and Rochelle I came up with the following preparation for one pound of pasta:
Heat some olive oil (or lard if you don’t mind high cholesterol) and lightly brown whatever meat you’re using adding salt and black pepper. Do it in batches so it browns and doesn’t get crowded and steam. Remove the meat, add and lightly brown garlic (no onions) in the same pot. Return the meat and add one large can each, crushed tomatoes and tomato puree and stir. Add two small cans (6 oz.) tomato paste. Fill the two cans with water (you can use red wine instead although my mother never cooked with wine)to remove any paste remaining in cans, add to the sauce and stir until it’s smooth. Add 3 or 4 basil stems with leaves, either fresh or preserved in oil, some red pepper flakes and simmer for as long as it takes for the toughest meat to be done.
For most people this is a big meal but we ate it between an elaborate ante pasta and a roast meat and vegetable course. Sunday dinner was served at 2 PM so at about 7 or 8 in the evening my mother would serve re-heated lunch leftovers.
A few words about tomatoes and pasta…
It’s more than acceptable to use canned tomatoes if they are San Marzano and there are no other ingredients (spices/flavorings) added to the can.
If you want to use fresh you have to peel and seed them. Put them in boiling water and wait until the outer thin skin cracks. Run them under cold water and peel with your fingers. Cut it on the equator and take each half, squeeze and shake out the seeds. Cut off the stem end and remove some of the core. Chop and you’re ready to cook.
For the pasta use more water than you’d think you’d need. Add a lot of salt (it can only absorb so much). Some chefs say no oil in the water because it is absorbed by the pasta and prevents the sauce for adhering. Others say a few drops of oil helps prevent the pasta from sticking and adds a little flavor. I’ll leave it up to you. Cook until it’s done the way you like it and don’t worry about the Al Dente Police raiding your kitchen.
Ravioli – My mother, aunts and grandmother never used anything but a ricotta mix for stuffing. Since we never ate in Italian restaurants I didn’t know they could be made with meat or anything else (pumpkin?) until I was almost an adult. My family’s ravioli were square, large, sealed by crimping with a dinner fork, then laid out on a clean sheet on the bed to dry before cooking. If you’re in New York you can get good ones at Piemonte on Grand near Mulberry Streets or http://www.pastosa.com/.