Sunday gravy is not your typical brown beef gravy around here. Sunday gravy is actually spaghetti sauce. “Marinara” if you’re feeling fancy. “Red sauce” if you’re not.
I must have been Italian in my last life because I love the food and according to my Irish husband from Massachusetts; which we all know makes him an Italian food expert; he says my Italian is the best.
I picked up most of my Italian cooking skills from keeping my eyes,ears and nose open.
For example I learned to make lasagna from watching someone’s sister who happen to be making it when I stopped by. I watched her add 1 egg, salt, pepper, grated parmesan and dried oregano to the ricotta. This is what made that layer in the lasagna flavorful and just the right texture. Of course they layered it with homemade sauce and noodles. I never got a bite of her lasagna, but I filed away those observations for later. It wasn’t until several years later that I started making my own lasagna using her techniques.
One day our Italian dry cleaner came out from behind the racks of shirts with some homemade sauce on a chunk of Scali bread. “Taste this, it’s the best!” he said. It was. And without asking, he told me that the secret to a great slow cooked “gravy” was to put a big piece of beef chuck into it. Gives it a meaty richness. He knows what he is talking about since he cooks gallons of “gravy” every year for the local Italian festival. You can bet I put some pork or beef in mine every time. They even sell “gravy boats” (pieces of meat) at the butcher around here just for cooking in the sauce.
One summer I worked off and on for a family friend in her Italian restaurant located in Northern NH. I actually got to observe her making huge vats of red sauce. She told me she had learned the recipe from watching her Italian mother-in-law back in Providence, RI when she was married. The extended family still makes the 2+ hour trip get a taste of the family recipes. What I learned from her was the importance of texture. I saw that she didn’t just use all one kind of tomato but some crushed, some whole, and some already sauced. After adding all the usual spices and flavorings known only to her – she blends the sauce to just the right consistency and it will simmer on the stove all day.
Around my house “Sunday gravy” is a bit of a cabinet stew. Most folks make something traditional the same way every time. But I like to tinker. And I like to use up odds and ends. And leftovers. So my “gravy” starts with the usual items of a large can of crushed tomatoes, a small can of tomato paste, garlic, onion and Italian seasoning. But that is where tradition ends and the sauce starts getting tinkered with. And I never write it down.
Sometimes I have a piece of pork roast in the freezer – trimmed off before cooking from a bigger roast to save for sauce. Thanks to my friend Lydia I now freeze the rinds of my Parmesan cheese pieces to throw in the simmering sauce to thicken and flavor. Sometimes I have a few ounces of leftover homemade beef “jus” from the last time I made a pot roast. Many times I throw in a small container of leftover red sauce that I made before.
I like to call this my “clean out the freezer” gravy!
That is what I made today. I added a quart of frozen homemade beef broth, some homemade sauce from another day, a frozen parm rind and of course the usual items of onion, garlic and seasoning.
Here is a tip – if you want a rich meaty taste from your store-bought sauce because you don’t have all day to simmer a piece of meat in your homemade – add a couple of tablespoons of A-1. It gives it a subtle, yummy, beefy flavor. (A-1 please send the royalties care of this blog!)
I let my gravy simmer slowly all day while I decide on a pasta. Maybe even make meatballs. And guess what I will do with the leftovers? Yep I will freeze it for another day. Maybe I will use it for a different dish or maybe I will throw it in my next sauce. Kinda like how sourdough starter is kept and starts every loaf in a bakery. My gravy has its own starter. That makes it a different, yet traditional cabinet stew every time.