Monday, September 7, 2009

Recipe: It-Doesn't-Necessarily-Have-To-Be-Sunday, Sunday Gravy

There's no bones about it, I found my cooking passion by making my own Italian food at home. It's not a recent thing either. It started when I was a teenager when I would "dress up" jarred sauces (often with chourcio - NATURALLY!), and it continued right on into my very first "from scratch" dinner recipes and it still goes on today.

I may cook all kinds of authentic world food for my family these days, but there's no world food I feel more comfortable preparing than Italian. It's one of the world cuisines I'm quite comfortable improvising with. Give me anything, as long as you include a few basic Italian ingredients, and I'm going to feel safe cooking something good for you. My cook's confidence is in Italian and to a lesser degree, Thai and Native American cuisine.

Which makes it kind of weird that I didn't have a proper, personal "Sunday Gravy" recipe after all these years. Anyone familiar with Italian cooking or gangster films (real ones not that Hip-Hop nonsense) knows what Sunday Gravy is. For those of you who don't know, allow me to direct you to Italian cookbooks and gangster films to find out. I'm not in a typing mood today.

Anyway, I never found a Sunday Gravy recipe that I really liked all that much. Everyone who is Italian or knows Italians or who cooks Italian is always going to crow about their Sunday Gravy or their friend's Sunday Gravy or their mom's Sunday Gravy or their aunt's or grandmother's Sunday Gravy and how it is the best in the world.

Well, as with most food, they are all right of course. The food you like best is the best in the world - to you! So up until a few days ago, I never had a Sunday Gravy that I could crow to the world about being the best. Then I flipped through the September 2009 issue of Esquire Magazine and I got an inkling.

The picture is what captured my imagination. I saw the photo of all that rich, glistening sauce with all those chunks of meat and well, it got my attention. I sought out the recipe on the following page. There, courtesy of Peter McAndrews (hey! He married an Italian!) I found the recipe and some important words that convinced me to try the recipe. Words like "spare ribs", "bones" and "hours".

That recipe was the basis for my own recipe below. I've made enough significant changes to the original recipe to confidently call this one all mine. (I'm not in the habit of changing recipes just to call them my own. If that were true, you'd see Giada De Laurentiis's Rosemary Roast Pork with Port Wine and Fig sauce in here under a different name! Search recipe out folks because it is FLAWLESS and delicious!).

Anyway, I made changes to suit my taste and preference. The most notable, was starting the whole thing with a onion-hefty mirepoix. Yeah, that's a French word in a classic Italian recipe, but trust me it helps make one hell of a good sauce. I also changed the kinds and amounts of tomatoes, added more garlic and tomato paste, as well as the addition of a pork tenderloin and a little GOOD QUALITY balsamic vinegar. Finally, the fact that your chucking in the World's Best Meatballs doesn't hurt either!

Without further adieu allow me to introduce my NEW, old-family recipe for Sunday Gravy:

It-Doesn't-Necessarily-Have-To-Be-Sunday, Sunday Gravy

1/2 cup olive oil
3 lbs. country-style or southern-style spare ribs
3 lbs. sweet Italian sausage
2 lbs. World's Best Meatballs
1-2 lb. pork tenderloin
3 lbs. large beef bones
4 cups chopped onions
2 cups chopped carrots
2 cups chopped celery
10 cloves garlic chopped
3 6 oz. cans of tomato paste
3 28 oz. cans of whole tomatoes (lightly crush the tomatoes with your hands)
3 28 oz. cans of ground tomatoes
3 large bay leaves
1 TBS turbinado or light brown sugar
1 TBS GOOD QUALITY balsamic vinegar (the syrupy type)
Sea salt to taste

Take a LARGE stock pot. A large one. A BIG stock pot. I mean BIG, like a 14 quart stock pot. Pour in the 1/2 cup of olive oil and coat the bottom and the sides of that stock pot really well. Place the stock pot on medium high heat. When the oil comes up to temperature and is hot and shimmering (not smoking), brown and remove all your meat in this order: spare ribs, Italian sausage, meatballs and tenderloin. Place the browned meat in a covered pan or dish and set aside.

If you need more olive oil at this point feel free to add it. Let it come to temperature and then brown your beef bones on all sides.

When the beef bones are browned, add your onions, carrots and celery and continue to saute until tender and starting to brown slightly. If the oil begins to smoke, lower your heat. You want the onions, carrots and celery to sauté evenly.

Add the chopped garlic and sauté along with the bones, onions, carrots and garlic for about 2-3 minutes. Be sure not to burn the garlic or it will turn bitter!

Add the tomato paste and mix it in well so that it coats the mix and bones. Continue to sauté until the tomato paste darkens. Again, be careful not to burn the mix.

Add the hand crushed whole tomatoes with their juice, the ground tomatoes, the bay leaves, sugar and the balsamic vinegar. Stir all together until it is well blended. Bring it slowly to a lively simmer. Special note: When you are cooking a quantity of sauce like this, it is always wiser to bring it up to temperature SLOWLY to avoid burning the sauce in the bottom of the stock pot.

When the sauce reaches a lively simmer and is an even, slightly thick mix, add your spare ribs and pork tenderloin. Reduce to a medium simmer and allow to continue like this for one hour stirring occasionally.

At the end of the first hour, add the Italian sausage and allow to simmer for another hour. Always be sure the simmer is low to medium to avoid any burning. Stir occasionally.

At the end of the second hour, add the meatballs and continue simmering for another hour. Stir occasionally.

At the end of that hour, you will notice a layer of red oil forming at the top of the sauce. If you're health conscious you can skim off some of this with a ladle. It won't reduce the fat all that much, but it'll give you a false sense of responsibility that will get you past the guilt of eating all this pork and beef fat goodness.

Season with the sea salt to your preference. Stir sauce well.

Remove from heat. Remove all the meat and bones to a separate serving platter and serve the sauce over your favorite pasta perhaps with a sprinkle of your favorite cheese (as long as your favorites are parmesan-reggiano or pecorino romano).

This sauce kicks ass and is the World's Best Sunday Gravy - TO ME, FINALLY!

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