Monday, January 31, 2011

My Sunday Gravy and a visit to the "Cake Boss"

I was not born into an Italian family.  I just adore Italian food in any way, shape or form.  I've had enough Italian neighbors and friends that have passed on some of their "family secrets" to me for a good "Italian Gravy".  It does take a little time, but that's what Sunday's are all about; what you always remember growing up, relaxing and having a special meal on Sunday.

One thing I do add to my gravy is a basil pesto cube.
I grow fresh basil every year in my garden.  Towards the end of the summer when the basil is overflowing, I cut nearly the whole plant down and make my basil pesto cubes.  In a food processor, pack as much fresh basil as you can, add fresh garlic, parmesan cheese and olive oil to make a thick paste.  Transfer the paste into ice cube trays.  When frozen, pop them out and store in zip-top freezer bags.  Add one cube (or more if you prefer) to your simmering sauce, or use it just as is for a quick pesto pasta.  As the cube melts into the sauce, you immediately get the fragrance of the fresh basil as if you just picked it.  They last me all winter long, depending on how many times you make your gravy.  I only have two left :o(.

One more special addition before we get on with the gravy.  When you buy a wedge of Parmigiano Reggiano, or Locatelli Romano, and you can't grate any more from the wedge - you are down to the rind of the cheese - add the rind of the cheese to the simmering gravy.  This cheese is very expensive and you can get the last bit of goodness out of the cheese and add more flavor to your gravy.

Each family has their own traditions for Sunday Gravy, passed down from generation to generation.  I took bits and pieces from everyone I knew - tried everyone's method, and this is my version.

Sunday Gravy
  • 1/4 cup Extra-Virgin Olive Oil
  • 2 medium onions, chopped
  • 4-5 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 2 cups dry red wine
  • 1- 6 oz. can tomato paste
  • 5 to 6- 28 oz. cans whole plum tomatoes (San Marzano if available or Tuttoroso )
  • 4 Tb. chopped parsley
  • 2 tsp. dried oregano
  • 1 basil pesto cube
  • 5 to 6 meaty pork neck bones
  • 1/4 - 1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes
  • 2 lbs. ground veal, pork and beef (sometimes called meatloaf mix)
  • 1 cup bread crumbs
  • 1/3 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
  • 1/4 cup fresh italian parsley, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced fine
  • 2 large eggs
  • Salt and Pepper to taste
Sausage - 3 lbs. Hot or Sweet Italian Sausage or a mixture of both

Pass tomatoes and their liquid through a blender and set aside.

Heat 1/4 cup olive oil in a large 5 quart pot of medium heat.  Stir in the onion and cook, stirring until wilted about 4 minutes.  Add garlic and cook until just fragrant, about 1 minute. Add red pepper flakes and oregano. Add tomato paste and cook, until the tomato paste loses its raw flavor (as you would flour in a roux) about 2-3 minutes.  Add wine, bring to a boil and cook until reduced by half.
Now the tomatoes.  I pass all the tomatoes through a food mill to remove the seeds.

It does take a little extra time, but the picture below is what will NOT go into your gravy.

Bring sauce to a boil, adjust the heat to a simmer and cook, uncovered, stirring often until the sauce takes on a deep, brick red color, 2 to 3 hours.  Add basil pesto cube and salt and pepper to taste.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.  While sauce is simmering, place sausage and pork neck bones on a baking sheet.  Drizzle with a little olive oil and bake until golden brown - 30-40 minutes.

Add sausages and pork neck bones to the simmering gravy.  Drain the fat from the baking sheet.  Add a few ladles of sauce to the baking sheet to pick up any browned bits from the sausage.  Add to the gravy.

Mix all ingredients for the meatballs.  You can bake the meatballs along with the sausage, or as I sometimes do, I form them and put them directly in the sauce.  Just give them a chance to cook a little before stirring.

After about 30 minutes to an hour - you can start dunking.  This should be done in half hour intervals, or if your really hungry, about every 15 to 20 minutes.  White bread, italian bread - take a chunk and dunk.  As the gravy simmers you may need to adjust seasonings.

Serve with lots of crusty Italian bread and butter and a nice dry red table wine. This recipe makes about 16 cups, enough to dress about 4 lbs. of pasta.  Refrigerate up to 5 days, or freeze up to 3 months.  You will never buy a jar of pasta sauce again.

Now onto dessert.  My son and I took a trip to Hoboken, NJ to visit Carlo's Bakery.  This is the famous bakery on Food Network - Cake Boss.  Surprisingly, the bakery is very small, but from talking to some of the patrons, the line is usually out the door.  This was a snowy, cold, day and everyone was packed inside.  The line went smoothly, everyone taking pictures.  We even saw a camera man filming!  I didn't see any familiar faces from the TV show, but it was worth the trip.  I have never had a better cannoli.  They fill them fresh when you order them, so the shells are fresh and crisp.  The cannoli filling has just the right amount of cinnamon to make them irresistable!  There would be a picture of them for you to see, but unfortunately they have vanished.  A little on the pricey side, but if you are ever in the area, make a stop.  I took as many pictures as I could without looking obnoxious. It's for the cause!
Lo ama la cucina Italiana! Buon Appetito!


  1. Delicious looking "gravy". I like a hearty spaghetti sauce.

  2. MMMMM I want to go to your house on Sundays.


Thank you for visiting!

Artisan Cast Iron Dutch Oven Bread

This recipe is a typical one with two rising periods.  Most of this time it's the yeast working and not you! 2 cups water 1...