Snow and cold and freezing rain and more snow and more cold...a good old fashioned Minnesota winter. I've kinda missed it the last few years, call me sick. But I'm sure by the 150th snowfall in March I'll be climbing the walls with the rest of you. Without a team to cheer for in the NFL playoffs, and a hit and miss NBA team, there just aint a whole lot to do on Sunday's beside spend all day reading the papers and maybe catching a movie or two. When this part of winter hits...I cook. Sure its a busman's holiday for me, but I'm sure there are plenty more "normal" people dusting off their Dutch ovens and crock pots on weekends as well.
When I was a kid I grew up in a house of two working parents. Not so unusual these days, but in the late fifties and early sixties, I was the kid with the house key tied around his neck. One of the reasons I got so interested in cooking was the Sundays I would spend in the kitchen with mom and dad cooking. Mom loved to make her own "T.V. Dinners" among other things. She would have her friends and neighbors drop off their empty (and cleaned, I hope) aluminum trays from their own Swanson nights. She would fill them with all manner of stews and casseroles. She even took a stab at turkey and stuffing, though I liked the Swanson version better. My job after school was to start dinner for the family by tossing a few of these MTVD's (Mom's TV Dinners) in the oven. But my favorite Sunday activity was Sunday Gravy day. It was a day long event of cooking that wound up with a great dinner of spaghetti, meatballs, braciole and sausage on Sunday night and then many variations of it for a week or more to follow.
We were not the typical family when you think of this quintessentially New York Italian American feast. In fact we were so far away from typical we were actually a Jewish family in suburban Chicago. But both my mother and father had many Italian friends and loved Italian food. I'm not quite sure where this recipe comes form, other than my mother's tattered recipe book. I'm sure some Sicilian grandmother grudgingly gave up the goods after being hounded by my mother for weeks. (She was good at getting things she wanted) It did our family well in good times and bad. I'll haul it out once or twice a year for friends, especially when I'm expecting a crowd. I love the way it fills the house with aromas and smells that to me mean warmth and home. When I talked comfort food last week, this is it.
So pick a Sunday soon and give it a test drive. Gather the family to help cook and eat. And before you take your first bite, raise your glass of cheap Chianti to Ruth, my mother, who taught me this recipe that I can now pass on to your family, and to the many other lessons she taught me about food, family and home.
Makes about 1 ½ gallons
Enough for 6-12 people
¼ cup Good Olive Oil
1 lb. Italian Sausage, links spicy
3-4 cloves Fresh Garlic, smashed
1 ½ cups Onion, diced fine
1-6 oz. Can Tomato Paste
1 cup Red Wine
¼ cup Sugar
4-28 oz. Cans Whole Plum Tomatoes, drained and crushed, reserve the juice
1 Tbsp. Dry Leaf Oregano
1 recipe Braciole (recipe below)
1 recipe Meatballs (recipe below)
3 cups Water (optional)
Fresh Ground Black Pepper
Crusty Bread (for tasting the sauce while it cooks)
Heat the oil in a heavy-bottomed 8-quart Dutch oven over medium high heat. Cut the sausage in about 2 inch lengths and brown in the hot oil along with the braciole. Cooking the sausage and braciole in smaller batches will actually be faster. Just brown the sausage and braciole, actual cooking will come later. Remove the browned sausage and braciole pieces to a platter or baking sheet and reserve.
Reduce the heat to medium low and add the crushed garlic. Brown the garlic in the oil then remove it to the platter with the meat. If it looks like there is more than ½ cup of oil and fat in the pot, drain off excess and discard. Add the onions to the pot and cook over medium low heat until the onions are softened completely but not brown. They’ll pick up some color from the oil, but don’t let them get any darker.
Add the tomato paste and sauté in the oil with the onions about 3 minutes. Add the wine and sugar. Increase the heat to high. Scrape the bottom of the pot to release most of the brown bits. Let the wine reduce slightly, about 5 minutes. Add the crushed tomatoes, reserved juices, salt, pepper and oregano. Keep the heat on high until the sauce begins to come to a boil, then reduce the heat to low.
Gently place the browned, sausage and braciole into the sauce. If the sauce seems thick, add a little water. Cover the pot and cook over very low heat about 1 ½ hours. Stir occasionally and taste the sauce (with torn pieces of bread), adjust the seasoning or add water if needed. Add the meatballs and cook for the 30 minutes more.
To serve, lift the meats from the sauce to a warm serving platter. Top with a little sauce and tent with foil. Toss warm cooked spaghetti with a little sauce. Serve extra sauce in a sauce boat at the table along with the platter of meats. Have lots of grated parmesan on hand for the pasta.
Makes about 25 Meatballs
1 lb. Ground Beef
1 lb. Ground Pork
1 lb. Ground Veal
1/3 cup Parsley, chopped fine
2-3 cloves Garlic, chopped fine
3 large Eggs
2/3 cup Parmesan Cheese
1 cup Fresh Breadcrumbs
2/3 cup Milk
1 Tbsp. Black Pepper
2 ½ tsp. Kosher Salt
Combine all the ingredients well. Portion the meatballs onto a parchment lined baking sheet. Roll each lightly with moistened and while placing them on the pan.
Bake at 350° for 20 – 30 minutes or until 180° internal temperature. Cool slightly before placing in the meat sauce.
Makes 6 rolls
1 1/2 lbs. beef (chuck or round steak), sliced to 1/4 inch
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
1 cup Fresh Parsley, chopped
½ cup Fresh Breadcrumbs
3 cloves Garlic, chopped
2 large Eggs, hard cooked and chopped
Kosher Salt and Black Pepper to taste
Pound steak with mallet to tenderize, cut into six equal pieces.
Combine cheese, parsley, garlic, breadcrumbs and eggs. Season the steak with salt and pepper. Divide the filling between the pieces of steak.
Roll steak fillets in jelly roll style, starting with short side. Tie meat securely with string. Brown the braciole with the sausages and follow recipe for the Sunday Gravy.