This recipe is one of TFD’s most requested – if you’ve seen any mob movie or “The Sopranos” or have any passing familiarity with the Italian-American community, you know this recipe occupies a nearly holy status. Everyone is convinced their grandmother or mother makes the best version of this, an extremely long-simmered tomato sauce so rich in meats (classically pork, veal and beef) that it is more solid than liquid!
New York Italian-Americans and others on the East Coast as well as Chicago refer to tomato sauce as “gravy”, “tomato gravy”, or “Sunday gravy”, especially sauces with a large quantity of meat simmered in them (similar to the Italian Neapolitan ragù). The term “Sunday gravy” derives from the Italian tradition of having a large, family dinner on Sunday afternoons, when everyone would pitch in to help stir this magnificent pot of meaty goodness that was the centerpiece of the meal. “Gravy” is a poor English translation from the Italian “sugo” which means juice, but can also mean sauce.
I had the privilege growing up of having many Italian-American friends and I learned many secrets from them on how to properly make this most sanctified of meals, complete with all the love and admonishments from several Italian nonnas (grandmothers). One secret is cooking the sauce with grated cheese in it as it simmers, which adds richness and flavor. Another is using pigs feet to make the sauce thick and rich with porky flavor and goodness.
Of course, I’ve added my own touches – for example, my version of the recipe uses Braciole (a rolled-up, cheese-stuffed piece of thin beef) in place of meatballs. I do this because I think braciole adds a lot more flavor to the sauce and it’s just incredibly tasty (many versions of the recipe do the same, BTW). I also add a touch of balsamic vinegar and smoked paprika for extra flavor and I’ve adjusted the herb/spice balance to suit my palate.
In closing, allow me to share one of my favorite scenes from one of my favorite movies to showcase the Italian-Americans love for this sauce (and food in general)!
Citizens – you NEED to make this recipe, just once for a Sunday. Invite over family, let the good feelings and wine flow freely and experience the joys so many others experience every week!
Battle on – The Generalissimo
2 pigs feet (about 1 ½ to 2 lbs)
1 pound braciole (about an 8 inch long piece – recipe below)
1 pound country-style pork spareribs
1 pound veal shoulder (in chops form or cut into 3 inch pieces)
1 veal shank (bone-in)
½ pound sweet Italian sausage
½ pound hot Italian sausage
1 large onion
10 cloves of garlic, minced
1 cup red wine
1 28 ounce can of tomatoes (preferably San Marzano – I prefer pureed over whole)
28 ounces of homemade beef stock (preferred) or water (fill the empty can)
salt and pepper
¼ cup roughly chopped basil leaves
¼ cup roughly chopped flat-leaf parsley leaves
2 tsp. dried oregano
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp smoked paprika
¼ tsp. red pepper flakes
1 cup finely grated pecorino romano cheese
A pound of thinly cut Flank Steak
A few cloves of garlic
As much Olive Oil as you need
A handful of Basil
A handful of Flat Leaf Parsley
3 ounces Prosciutto
3-5 ounces of Fresh Mozzarella
Season meats with salt and pepper and, with a bit of olive oil in a heavy-bottomed pot (a dutch oven, preferably), brown all sides of each piece of meat. Remove and set aside on a plate.
After all the meat is browned, add the onions and use the meat fat already in the pan to cook till soft (about 6-8 minutes), adding more olive oil if necessary. Add ½ the minced garlic and stir, cook for about a minute.
Add the wine and deglaze, scraping up the bits of goodness that have accumulated on the bottom of the pan. Allow to reduce for a few minutes until it has reduced by about half.
Add tomatoes and stock or water. Stir.
Add back the meat except the sausage and braciole (which won’t be added until the last hour). Bring to a simmer, cover and allow to cook for five hours. Yes FIVE hours. Every 10-15 minutes, stir – do not let the sauce burn!
At hour number four, add back the sausage, remaining garlic, herbs, red pepper flakes, cheese, balsamic, smoked paprika, braciole and allow to simmer for one more hour.
Taste and season with salt and pepper and add more hot pepper if you’d like. Remove all the meat, take meat off any bones, chop into medium pieces and throw away bones. Serve separately from the gravy. Cut the sausage lengthwise and then into 2 inch pieces. Serve some of the gravy over pasta and enjoy.
Let the meat come to room temperature and pound it out as thin as you can get it. Sprinkle with sea salt.
Place the stuffing ingredients in a food processors and make it into a paste. Don’t use too much olive oil in the paste, you want it to be pretty thick and sticky. The cheese provides the thick base.
Rub the herb/cheese paste across the meat.
Slice the meat into strips, about 3-4 inches wide. Roll them up and tie them off on the top, bottom and around lengthwise. Put some olive oil in a dutch oven or another heavy pan that can later be covered and placed in the oven. Brown the outside on all sides, top and bottom as well, quickly in the pan on high heat.