I grew up in South Jersey, where everybody was Italian by extension (if you weren’t, you had at least one friend who was and whose parents would unofficially adopt you). My part of Jersey was all but invisible to anyone who lived north of Trenton, so the only time we’d attract the stereotype (see: any one of the douches featured on Jersey Shore) was during the summer. People are surprised when I say I’m a Jersey girl, because I’m the anti-stereotype – no accent to speak of, very Midwestern polite (i.e. I may think it but won’t say it). But we grew up with an old school pizza/pasta/sub shop on just about every block, so I’ve had my share of both good and bad Italian food. This recipe? An example of the good. I was looking for a recipe that would approximate the “Sunday gravy” my friends parents would make – what sets “gravy” apart from “sauce” is the amount of meat in it – this one is a gravy if ever there was one. This is an all day affair, one that many families do every single week. This is definitely a dish you want to make in the winter (because to me, red gravy is one of the cornerstones of comfort food) – mainly because this will heat (and humidify) your kitchen up something fierce. This? One of the better of the recipes I’ve seen over the years. I saw this on a Chowhound board a while back – and the reading through of the initial recipe amused me so much that I left it intact. If I didn’t know any better I would swear that the original poster was channeling just about anyone I ever asked in Jersey for a recipe. I followed the directions to the letter and was quite pleased with the results.
recipe by John Fodera
First thing to note: This is not sauce. This is not marinara. This is gravy and it must be referred to as such. Capisce? Yes it’s red, yes it’s for pasta, but all the meat is what makes it gravy. So…..this is not my recipe for marinara sauce, or sauce with other accoutrements, but this is a recipe for what???? GRAVY….that’s right! Here goes.
First, you need a BAP (Big Ass Pot) The BAP must be at least 10 to 12 quarts or you are in for trouble. I do not recommend making gravy in pots smaller than 10 quarts – you’ve been warned.
Assemble the meat: For this rendition I used the following –
1 lb. chopped beef which yielded about 10 meatballs. If you don’t know how to make meatballs, either get someone to do it for you, stop reading now, or crush up the meat into bits and brown it that way.
4 links of sweet sausage. A good store bought version could work. Jimmy Deans don’t count. If you have an Italian market, get it there. Can also use hot sausage if you like, but be warned, your entire batch of gravy will taste hot if you do – not simply the sausage.
1 package beef short ribs – Probably about 8 ribs in total
1 package pork ribs – Probably about 8 ribs total
3 Osso Bucco Veal Shanks
Modifications: You are free to add brachiole as well, but see meatballs above. Do not use Lamb, do not use chicken and don’t include anything dumb like feet or ham or tripe. Capisce? Do not use carrots, never add sugar, never use red wine, and Good God!! no friggin potatoes!!!
Brown the meat : Get some olive oil going in the BAP and brown all the meat until nicely brown, except for the meatballs . Brown the meatballs separately in a fry pan. When done, set all meat aside.
Now get some garlic and onions going in the pot. I used 12 cloves of garlic (method to calc. later on) and 2 medium onions. If your definition of these items includes the word powder , read no further. Spank yourself with the wooden spoon you should be using and go buy Ragu.
After these items are sweating and or browning a bit nicely, deglaze the pot with a tiny bit of white wine. Probably just a few tablespoons is all that it will take. No 1/2 cup pours allowed here! Now crank the heat!! and boil off all of that white wine flavor.
Return meat to the BAP! – make sure all juices in dish go with the meat. DO NOT put the meatballs in yet.
Now begin the tomatoes – using fresh tomatoes is a waste of time and too much work. Get this martyr crap out of your head! Excellent canned tomatoes are available and should be used. But don’t go buying Hunt’s here either. You need good tomatoes. San Marzano are far and away the best tomatoes you can get. This is not a brand name, but a specific tomato grown in San Marzano, Italy. They are never sour and are always delicious. If you look carefully at the can, it will say somewhere on there “San Marzano”. The brand I always use is Cento . Progresso is good as well although not SM’s. And the organic Muir Glenn are nice too, but also not SM’s and a bit more expensive.
For this you will need 8 35oz. cans of tomatoes – whole, peeled tomatoes, including basil leaf! NO FREAKIN PUREE Capisce? Put the tomatoes into a blender a can at a time and zap them into a liquid. I use the “chop” setting. You don’t want to liquefy them, just mash them into a runny mess! As you mash them up, into the BAP they go. Calc: I figure a clove and a 1/2 of garlic per can of tomatoes.
When done adding the tomatoes, add S&P to taste along with fresh basil leaves (I used about 20) and some dried Oregano. Cover, set on low to medium heat, and begin simmering.
After 2 or 3 hours of simmering, remove the cover from the BAP and get rid of it. Wash it, let your kid use it for a cymbal, just lose it. Cook the gravy for another 4 to 5 hours until it thickens up. Sunday I added two cans of Stop and Shop tomato paste to speed the thickening process along. It’s thick enough when a wooden spoon does not fall when inserted in the center of the BAP. NO SPOONS OTHER THAN WOOD ALLOWED!!! Capisce?
Now, I cooked my gravy Sunday from 9:30 AM (began prep. at 8:00AM) and cooked it until 5:00 PM. All the meat fell off the bones (a good thing) and the gravy had thickened up and reduced by about 3 or 4″ in the pot. Clear so far?
Then just make whatever pasta you like and spoon the glorious concotion over the top. Remove all meat (that can be removed) from the BAP and serve on the side. Meat that stays in the gravy is a good thing. But do remove and discard the bones.