On Sunday mornings when I was a little girl, we were usually wakened at 6:30 am. to a cacophony of clanging and clambering coming from the kitchen. It was apparent to us what was going on because this was a weekly tradition. My father was making sauce—spaghetti sauce that is. No Italian home I ever knew of would think of having anything but spaghetti and meatballs, or some variation of it on Sunday, and still call themselves Italian. Today it has become chic to call it pasta, but back then it was plain old spaghetti or macaroni, if it took on different shapes.
The sauce, or if you lived in New York, gravy, had to be started early in the day to have it ready by 1:00 pm. The last mass let out at 12:00 pm. and the main meal was always taken at one o'clock. The whole family gathered around the table and savored the sauce like it was the first they had ever had. After dinner, (in Canada, lunch was dinner and dinner was supper), we usually went for a Sunday drive, or relatives and friends came to visit. I'm sure that many folks nowadays with their hectic lifestyles would think these rituals archaic, but I find them enchanting and continued them with my children. To me, sitting together as a family for a meal is a necessary element when raising children, although I realize the difficulty this can impose for some. Wouldn't it be wonderful though, to gather at least once a week for “Sunday dinner?”
I will try to break this down as best I can, but you need to know that I have been making this for so long, that I never use measuring utensils when preparing this meal. I learned with my eyes and nose. Because I have a 12 quart pot I make a large sauce for leftovers or the freezer. So let's get started.
You will need:
2 cans 28 oz. plain tomato sauce
1-2 cans 28 oz. crushed tomatoes
1 small can of tomato paste
2-3 garlic cloves chopped
1 onion chopped
1 large carrot, left whole to absorb acid. Check to see if the carrot is too sweet. If it is it will make your sauce sweet, but you may like that. I don't.
basil, oregano, Italian parsley(fresh if possible)
salt and pepper
Pork! You have to have pork to make a good sauce, spareribs, fresh pork hocks, neck bones, whatever you like. Trust me, you will never taste such good ribs. You may also add sweet or hot Italian sausage or both if you like.
If you make meatballs you will need:
1-1/2 lbs ground beef, but not real lean
1 lb ground pork
fresh bread crumbs—not dried
1 large clove of garlic minced
Parmesan or Romano cheese finely grated
basil, oregano and fresh Italian parsley
salt and pepper
To make the sauce:
Saute the onion and garlic in a little extra virgin olive oil, but don't let the garlic brown or it will be bitter. If you are using sausage, prick it a little with a fork and brown those too. Add the pork, cutting the spareribs into about 3 or 4 ribs each. Pour all the sauce into the pan. To get all the sauce out of the cans, swirl under the faucet filling each to about half way and add that to the pot too. Stir the paste into the sauce.
Using your palm as your measure fill it with basil, let's say this is about 2 rounded tbsp. When you add it to the sauce, rub your hands together to release the flavor of the basil. Do the same thing with the oregano.
If you use fresh parsley, which I hope you do, chop up at least 1-11/2 cups and add to sauce. If using dry, add a heaping palm full rubbing it between your hands as before.
Add about 2 tsp. salt and pepper.
Bring to a boil, then turn down the heat and simmer as it is for about 2 hours.
In a large bowl place all the meat and mash it up a little with a fork making a well in the middle.
1-11/2 cups fresh crumbs
about ½ cup grated cheese
the minced garlic
Small handful of basil rubbed between your hands
An even smaller amount of oregano. Oregano is a strong herb and you don't want it to overpower the meat.
About ½ cup chopped fresh parsley
Salt and pepper.
1 ladle of the sauce that is simmering
Mix all of this together with your hands just until it comes together. This will make tender meatballs. If it sticks too much to your hands add extra bread crumbs. Or vice versa, if it is too dry. At this point you may make a small patty and fry it to check for seasonings. This step actually does help.
Shape the meat into balls and add to the sauce, moving the other meat around a bit so the sauce covers the balls. I don't fry my meatballs first. I've never felt it was necessary, and they have never broken up in the sauce. Just be careful for the first half hour or so when you stir so as not to break them up.
I always start cooking with the lid off the pot because the sauce is thin. You will know when to add more water or to put the lid on tilted at an angle. One more thing to remember is that if you make meatballs, you need more sauce, because the balls absorb more.
Many times I let my sauce cook for 5 or so hours. I'm sure I don't have to tell you to taste it all day to check the seasonings. Sometimes I make it the day before eating, removing the meat, and placing in fridge overnight so that I can skim the fat off before using. It's actually better the next day!
So there you have it. Serve with pasta of your choice, cooked al dente of course, extra grated cheese and salad. No Italian meal is complete without salad, served after the main meal to aid in digestion.
© Christine Geery 2013
photo courtesy of google