Making sauce on Sunday is a tradition in my big Italian family, and I can't think of anything more satisfying to my palate, or my soul. My grandmother made sauce every Sunday, one only had to show up and she happily fed you her homemade macaroni of the day. It was always a treat, and a great way to catch up with relatives that I didn't see on a daily basis. Oh how I loved gathering around the table, eating delicious homemade food, and listening to the wisdom of a woman who raised fifteen children. Grandma was pragmatic and she had a great sense of humor. Yes, she was a bit loud, as Italians can sometimes be, but she was also kind, thoughtful, and very generous with the little that she had. I'm pretty sure that nothing made her happier than serving her family a delicious meal. You felt the love in every bite, and the memory of that happy, boisterous voice coming from the kitchen continues to inspire me.
My mother, who married into the Italian family, took to the weekly ritual and it's her sauce (or a slight variation of) that I make today. We always had meatballs, and sometimes she threw in a pork chop. She added a whole onion, which adds a wonderful flavor, and if you're an onion lover it's quite tasty to eat along with your pasta. While my mother never had any fresh basil lying around in those days, we both use it now. We also like to add some good Italian sausage, as it adds more flavor, and you'll have a variety of things to pick at while the sauce is cooking. The evolution of the sauce, which happens over a 4.5 hour period, offers several opportunities to sample a meatball, or a piece of sausage, and enjoy the unique tastes that occur at each stage of the cooking process. Stay tuned and I'll point them out as we make the sauce.
Sauce with Meatballs and Sausage:
1.5 lbs of good ground beef, or sirloin (naturally raised meat is best)
1/2 lb ground pork
1 cup grated Pecorino Romano Cheese
1/2 cup breadcrumbs
3 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
2 cloves of chopped garlic
2-3 tbs of water
salt and pepper
1.5 lbs of high quality Italian sausage
3 cans of San Marzano tomatoes (28 oz)
1 whole sweet white onion (peeled)
1 can tomato paste
Fresh basil leaves (8)
Saute the sausage in a little bit of olive oil until browned on both sides. Then set aside.
Place the ground beef, pecorino cheese, breadcrumbs, chopped parsley, chopped garlic, eggs, water, and salt and pepper (about a tsp of each) into a bowl, and mix well. Roll into meatballs, then saute in olive oil until golden brown on all sides. Set aside with the cooked sausage.
Add the canned tomatoes to a heavy pan and crush with a potato masher, or your hands. Rinse the cans with a little bit of water to collect the remnants of tomatoes from the sides and bottom. Add this to the pan.
Add the onion, meatballs, and sausage (cut them in half) to the tomatoes.
Gently stir the sauce using a wooden spoon, as this will prevent the meatballs and sausage from breaking apart. Cook, covered, over medium to low heat (a nice gentle simmer) for 3.5 hours. Stirring occasionally, with the wooden spoon.
Here's the first taste of a meatball that's cooked in the sauce for about an hour. The sauce is still young and the meatballs have not quite absorbed the tomatoes, but it's tasty, and confirms that we're heading in the right direction.
Oh, I forgot to mention the smell. If you want to have dinner guests swooning the minute they walk into your house, then make this sauce. While I offer you pictures that I hope whet your appetite, you'll have to make it to experience this olfactory bonanza. Believe me, it's worth it.
At about 2 hours you might want to taste a sausage. Be sure to sprinkle with your favorite grated cheese.
Once the sauce has cooked for 3.5 hours, add the can of tomato paste. Use a rubber spatula (this prevents the meat from breaking apart) to mix it into the sauce, then simmer, covered, for one more hour.
Add the basil leaves, salt and pepper to taste, and let it sit for 1/2 hour. Serve with your favorite pasta.
Couple of important things to note:
- We NEVER put oregano in our sauce. While I know it's common in store bought sauces, most Italians don't use it in their homemade sauce. My family is from Abruzzo, and for them it's a big no-no. Personally, I think the taste of oregano is too strong when paired with cooked tomatoes. Basil is much better.
- Sauce should always be a bright, vibrant red color. If your sauce is dark red, bordering on maroon, then you've overcooked it and the taste will be bitter. Just because Nonni was in the kitchen all day, doesn't mean that the sauce was cooking the whole time. A good sauce is a red sauce, so be sure that if you are taking on this labor of love that you don't over do it.
- And that brings me to the love part. That comes from you, the cook. Putting your heart into what you cook for family and friends is what touches their soul when they devour every delicious bite. Make a sauce, invite some family and/or friends over, and let me know what happens.