Last week I got a hankering for some good, old-fashioned Italian gravy. You know, the red kind. Thing is, my mom keeps her recipe quite guarded. Our conversations usually go something like this.
Joe: How do you make your gravy?
Mom: Oh, just some tomatoes, seasoning, and homemade meatballs.
Joe: OK… How many tomatoes? What kind of seasoning? Do you have a recipe for the meatballs?
Mom: I’m not sure, I usually just eye-ball it!
I feel like every time I ask for the recipe, I get just one ingredient or one step closer to the entire thing. I guess I’ll have to keep trying. Or, I could go my own route. Make something completely my own. Follow no recipe! This could could end poorly… but, spoiler alert, it was anything but when I tried it in our Montreal apartment (where we’re living for the time being).
Before I set out to pick up my ingredients I take a once over of the kitchen. Just to sanity check myself and make sure everything I need is there. You know, the staples. Olive oil, check. Garlic, check. Leftover pork bones, check. Food processor, check. Can-opener, … Wait, what? No can-opener? As new nomads, we’re quickly learning that each kitchen has different ideas of what stocking ‘the essentials’ means. Things are about to get interesting.
My grocery list is short, just some tomatoes and seasonings, but with the slightest twist – nothing can be in a can. Have you ever tried to buy tomatoes, or tomato sauce, or tomato paste without a can? Hell I tell you. Hell.
At the local IGA, Canada’s ShopRite or ACME equivalent, I eventually stumble across some tasty looking ‘strained tomates.’ But no luck on the paste. Instead, I pick up a tube of anchovy paste and continue to press my luck.
NYC-Sized Kitchen (in Montreal)
Our apartment is cozy, and the kitchen is no different. If I’m going to be cooking for a while I’ll need to keep things clean – and in order. Also, electric stove! I’ve always had terrible luck with these things — time to conquer my fear.
My luck: Montreal has been unseasonably warm this summer. Most of the time spent cooking was alternating chopping and dicing with cooling down on our shaded balcony off the kitchen. During of of my many breaks I spotted some gold — our airbnb host was kind enough to leave us some fresh herbs growing right off the side of the balcony. These will add a welcomed freshness to finish off the sauce.
Six Hours of Simmering Later
Wow – I think our entire block smells of this gravy. Its permeated its way through the walls of our apartment and covered the street. People are walking by turning their heads. Dogs are pulling their owners to our front door to get a whiff. Well, maybe not exactly, but you get the idea. This stuff smells good.
And it tastes just as good as it looks. Fresh, sweet tomatoes are balanced by the tang of the cheese. The pork and anchovies give the gravy a huge backbone, rich and deep. And the red is deep, almost mahogany. Oh yes, this is something I will be making again very, very soon.
Skill ≠ Time
I’ve always had this notion that Sunday gravies take a lot of skill, or at least knowledge and experience. “Minimum five years simmering sauces”, or “three family referrals from Sunday dinners” on the job description.
Turns out, the most important ingredient is time. All day and a little bit of patience is all you need to make one of the best gravies you’ve ever had.
Sunday Gravy (on a Thursday)
- 4 sausages
- 5 garlic cloves diced
- 1 onion chopped
- 0.25 cup red wine
- 1.5 cups strained tomatoes
- 1 tsp anchovy paste
- 6 roma tomatoes chopped
- .5 cup parmesan cheese shredded
- 2 leftover bones with fat* (see note below)
- 0.5 tsp red pepper flakes
- 3 cups water
Brown sausages in olive oil over medium-high heat. Remove and set aside.
Sweat garlic and onion in olive oil. Remove and set aside.
Deglaze pan with wine.
Add back garlic and onion with ½ cup strained tomatoes and one teaspoon anchovy paste. Stir and reduce until halved.
Add tomatoes and 1 cup strained tomatoes to food processor, pulse until the consistency resembles chunky salsa.
Add shredded cheese rind, sausages, bones, red pepper flakes, and water to reduced base.
Simmer on low for 3 hours with lid on then 1-2 more with lid off until desired consistency is reached.
* I used the leftover bones from the osso bucco that Adrienne made the other night - feel free to substitute for any cooked pork or beef bones.