October 11 – October 17, 2021
Monday: Midnight Bolognese with Rigatoni
Wednesday: Zucchini-Parmigiano Soup with Soda Bread
Friday: Salt and Pepper Shrimp Roll
Saturday: Chicken Tamale Casserole
Sunday: Sunday Gravy with meatballs, county ribs, sausage and pappardelle
Actually, for those of us who are retired, Sunday itself, the very day, is gravy. Church, brunch, football, family coming for dinner, final round of the Masters, no need to prepare for work the next day, NYT crossword puzzle, every reason to argue that the next chore your significant other places on your to do list is better tackled after a good night’s sleep, on Monday.
But “Sunday Gravy” is also a term for part of the reason that Sunday meant so much to Italians, back in the day – this “Sunday Gravy” refers to a long-simmered pot of tomato sauce in which various meats are cooked and which is voluminous enough to feed all 8 children, their spouses and the grandchildren. At the last minute, a good pasta (pappardelle suggests itself) is boiled and served with the sauce alongside sausages, meatballs, pork chops, etc.
If there is a finer way to end a Sunday, I haven’t found it. On the other hand, if you can’t lure the family and some friends to dinner, that “Sunday Gravy” will be ending the next several days for you – its mere presence in the refrigerator will crowd out the possibility of other dishes. All of which is to say, I’m not cooking Sunday Gravy again until we have a minimum of 10 people to eat it.
Last Sunday, inspired by the memory of our favorite cuisine (Italian) and particularly of that wonderful Sunday ensemble of meats and tomato sauce and pasta known as ‘gravy,’ we spent about half the day searing sausages and country ribs while we constructed a sort of lighter version of Bolognese (all of the ingredients but with less garlic and carrot) and prepared to boil some egg pappardelle (it took just 4 minutes to soften this silky, straplike pasta). But Billy couldn’t make it to dinner (Steelers game) and Andrew was out of town, and we ended with just Beez, Uncle Rick and me attacking this gargantuan pile of food.
We did our best. But even our best led to leftovers for lunch and dinner on Monday and Tuesday. On Wednesday we needed a break and cooked a small frittata – but we still had a good bowl of the ‘gravy’ in the back refrigerator, though we didn’t have the stomach to look at it.
So here’s the deal – Sunday Gravy is a wonderful dish with as many versions as there are imperious Italian grandmothers, but do not attempt to make this unless you have a large pot and a large family or guest list.
Still – you need to know how to make this most delectable of dishes. If you ever find yourself entertaining Haitian refugees (you should, you know), or your extended family or the local church choir, this is the easiest way to satisfy lots of people.
(modified from several recipes and cut down to serve about 8 people)
Timing: About 5 hours
Ingredients: Feeds 8
Note: To feed 12, increase the ribs or chops, the sausage, the carrot and garlic, the tomatoes, the wine, the water, the oregano and basil and rosemary by 1/3. You must use a large stock pot, if you’re going to cook this amount. With the quantities below, a large Dutch oven will work
1 ½ lbs of Country Style Ribs or pork chops
1 ½ lbs. of Italian Sausage (we like hot, but you can use sweet if you’re a wimp)
½ lb. each of ground beef and ground pork
1 lb. of meatballs (make your own or buy premade at Labriola’s or some good Italian specialty store)
Large Spanish onion, chopped
¾ tablespoon of minced garlic
1 ½ large carrots, grated
2 cans of whole tomatoes with their juices
4 cans (6 oz.) of tomato paste
1 cup and a splash of red wine
¼ cup olive oil
2 bay leaves
6 cups of water
1 tablespoon dried oregano
¾ cup of basil, julienned
3 teaspoons of chopped rosemary
1 ½ teaspoons of salt
1 teaspoon of black pepper
1 lb. of pasta – egg pappardelle is perfect and takes only 4 minutes or so to cook to al dente.
Preheat oven to 425 F and line two rimmed sheet pans with foil – drizzle olive oil on the foil.
Arrange the country ribs or pork chops on one pan, the sausage on the other and brush the meats with olive oil.
Cook in the preheated oven until well browned on all sides, turning as needed. The sausage should take about 45 minutes, the pork about 60 minutes.
While the meats are cooking, in a very large pot (or a stock pot, if cooking for 12), brown the ground beef and pork over medium, breaking up the meat as you would for meat sauce. Remove the meat to a plate.
Make sure you have about 2 tablespoons of fat in the pan (remove excess or add some olive oil, if there is not enough). Now add the onions, garlic and carrots and cook over medium for about 6 minutes or a little more, until softened and beginning brown.
Add the wine and deglaze (scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pot. Cook until the wine is reduced by half.
Now add the whole tomatoes with their juices,* the tomato paste, the water, bay leaves, oregano, basil, rosemary, salt and pepper. Add the ground meats back into the pan and about 4 cups of the water. If you can add all 6 cups while leaving a least an inch of clearance, fine. If you add less, simply top off the gravy with the remainder from time to time.
* I use kitchen shears to cut up the tomatoes and then a wooden spoon to crush them a bit. But you can leave them whole.
Bring the whole shebang (the gravy) to a boil, then reduce the heat to a gentle simmer.
Simmer the gravy for about 4 hours. There should be a gentle bubbling. You’ll have to watch the temperature for a bit to achieve this – and do check it from time to time. After 4 hours, add the meatballs – stirring down to the bottom to distribute them. Cook for another 30 – 40 minutes.
Before serving, boil water and cook your favorite pasta – I’m telling you egg pappardelle is the deal.
Sauce the pasta and serve with some of the meats alongside.