I grew up in an Italian household, and every Sunday we had ‘macaroni and gravy.’ We never called it ‘pasta sauce.’ There’s also the false belief that you absolutely have to use fresh tomatoes. You do not. With canned tomatoes, someone else does all the hard work. This is not marinara; this is thick. It cooks slowly for about 8+ hours. So, here’s my original recipe for ‘gravy.’
4 tbsp. olive oil or extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO)
1 can tomato puree
2 can crushed tomatoes
1 can whole tomatoes
4 cans tomato paste
8 garlic cloves, chopped
1/2 sweet (Vidalia) onion, chopped
6 Italian sausages (I prefer hot; you can use sweet or hot, or a combination of both)
3 boneless country-style pork ribs
Homemade meatballs (recipe follows)
4 tbsp. dried oregano
4 tbsp. dried basil
2 tbsp. dried parsley
6 bay leaves
1 tsp. salt (I prefer sea salt)
1/2 cup ‘old’ red wine or 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
Put olive oil in a very large sauce pan (and I’m not kidding about the size) over medium high heat. Add chopped garlic cloves and chopped onion. Sauté until transparent and/or slightly browned and you get the aroma. Add Italian sausages and boneless country-style pork ribs. Brown on all sides, turning intermittently. Add ‘old’ red wine or red wine vinegar. (I don’t know about you folks, but I can rarely down a bottle of red wine in a couple of days. However, it doesn’t have to go to waste. Set it aside. It will age and develop a bit of a ‘vinegar’ essence. I keep all my old red wine and routinely use it for cooking.)
Allow this concoction to simmer for about 15-20 minutes over low heat, then it’s time to add the canned tomatoes. Add all four cans plus one can of water. Start simmering over medium heat, but move it to low and simmer for about an hour. It’s important that you stir this continuously so that nothing gets stuck and burns on the bottom of the pan.After an hour, you’ll add the meatballs (recipe follows this) and simmer for another 40 minutes.
After 40 minutes, add the first two cans of tomato paste. Again, you’ll add one can of water after. You can use the water to rinse all of the paste out of the two cans. Simmer for 20 minutes more, then add the last two cans of tomato paste, repeating the rinsing process. All in all, you’ll be adding two cans of water to four cans of paste. Then, please taste the gravy and adjust the seasonings. I’m giving you measurements for the seasonings (parsley, oregano, etc.), but you should add more to suit your flavor preference. There is no magic formula here.
Once the paste is added, you’re going to put the cover on and leave the gravy and meatballs on a low simmer for a few more hours. Again, it’s not necessary to simmer for the full 8 hours, but I made this at Christmas and basically let it simmer on low for the full 8 hours, stirring occasionally to make sure nothing burns to the bottom. It’s worth it. As it cooks, the paste helps it to thicken. Remember, this is not marinara. Thick is better. I always buy an extra can of paste in the event that I want to add more. That’s a good policy.
By the way, it’s a good idea to taste your gravy several times during it’s creation. It’s never too late to adjust your seasonings.
Now, here are a couple of myth busters: It is not necessary to add sugar to your gravy. I never do. Some people insist this takes the acidity out of the tomatoes. Not necessary. The process of simmering will take care of that. And, when it’s time to cook your pasta, you absolutely should not put a teaspoon of olive oil in the water. A lot of people recommend this to prevent the pasta from sticking together. This doesn’t happen if your water is at a high rolling boil and you keep stirring it (or if making spaghetti, moving it around the pan with a spaghetti implement). Adding oil will prevent the gravy from sticking to the pasta. That’s not what you want. If using commercial pasta, I love Orichiette (often referred to as ‘pigs ears’), Cavitappi (often called ‘corkscrew’), Farfalle (or ‘bow ties’) or Medium Shells. On the ‘spaghetti’ side, I love Fusilli (the long version; not the short) and Linguine. They hold the gravy so well..
Meatballs can be made with ground beef, a combination of ground,beef and ground pork, turkey or chicken. For Christmas, I made mine with ground turkey.
1 lb. ground beef, pork, turkey or chicken or any combination of the four
3 tbsp. minced garlic (feel free to buy this in the jar)
1 tbsp. oregano
1 tbsp. thyme
1 tbsp. dried basil
1 tbsp ground parsley
1 tsp. sea salt
1 tbsp. ground black pepper
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 to 1/2 cup Italian style bread crumbs
2 large eggs (add more if needed)
This is an uncomplicated recipe. Simply mix all these things together in a big bowl. Yes, use your hands (but wash them first). Size is relative. I don’t like mine too small or too large. The ones in this photo are the right attitude.
Many people bake their meatballs in the over before putting them in the gravy. I only do this if I’m making them to be added to ready-made gravy for the kids. Otherwise, carefully put them in the gravy you’re making on the stove and allow them to cook slowly. Nothing special needs to be done. They will be absolutely delicious.
Cook’s Note: In the next few days, I’ll be putting up several recipes for home made pasta. Keep an eye out!