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