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/.