As an Italian-American, I love marinara aka spaghetti sauce aka tomato sauce. For most Americans, pasta and sauce is a staple of the dinner table and so it is in our household. When I was a teen, my best friend Ric and I used to make pasta sauce for dinner all the time (at his house or mine) and it was so good, we had to keep ourselves from just eating out of the pot.
When we married, I showed Melanie how I make my sauce and she ran with it, adding her own particular spin and we've developed the sauce together. For herbs and spices, we often add oregano, thyme, basil, rosemary, and fennel. Sometimes we put in vegetables like mushrooms and peppers. Sometimes we'll add briny olives and even anchovy paste for a huge umami blast. Red wine is a staple as well since much of tomato flavor is alcohol soluble.
And while I think the sauce is really good, only some of our kids would put it on their pasta. Three of the five wanted plain pasta or cheese only, a fourth would only take a small dollop of sauce, and the fifth liked it just fine.
But of course, the sauce we offered was meatless. The reason for that is because we often had so much sauce leftover that we would keep it in the fridge to have ready for other dishes, quick pasta dinners or lunches, or as the base for the next pot of sauce. If there was meat in the sauce, it would only keep for so long in the fridge before we had to use it or toss it.
The problem is that I missed having Sunday gravy. Ah yes, Sunday gravy. If you're not Sicilian, you may not understand what I mean. For Sicilians, Sunday gravy is spaghetti sauce elevated with slow-simmered meat. I don't just mean meatballs thrown into the pot of sauce. Sunday gravy usually has multiple meats, including pork, beef, and even chicken, all slow-simmered over the course of hours, releasing the meaty flavor and tons of umami into the pot, making it so rich and delicious it transports you. It's called Sunday gravy because it takes so long to simmer that it was started on Saturday and served on Sunday after it had simmered for hours and then the flavors were given time to meld and when the whole extended family would gather around the table.
Ah yes, Sunday gravy. If you're not Sicilian, you may not understand what I mean.
I decided to see if my family would enjoy a little something like Sunday gravy. We had some sweet Italian sausages in the freezer and in the winter I can't grill them and cooking them on the stovetop is nowhere near as good as on the grill. So I made our sauce as usual, browned the sausages in a skillet and then put them in some of the sauce in a baking dish in the oven and let them braise that way for a while.
They loved it. Even the kids who don't usually like tomato sauce were raving about it.
So I made it again, but this time I went a little further. This time I picked up some beef ribs at the store to go along with the Italian sausages, browned all the meat, cooked the sauce as usual, then nestled the meat into the sauce and put the whole Dutch oven into the oven for a couple of hours of slow simmering. By the end, the meat was falling of the bone and the sausages were super tender. They raved even more.
To compensate for the "keeping meat sauce in the fridge" problem, I did segregate some of the pre-meat sauce in a separate smaller sauce pan just to store away at the end, and we didn't have top worry about leftovers for the rest of it because most was gone after Sunday dinner and what remained was eaten up during lunch on Monday.
So it looks like Sunday gravy is our new standard pasta sauce and I couldn't be happier. I will continue to experiment with variations, including choosing meats that are on sale. Some times I may use meatballs. Other times, perhaps a small chuck roast or pork spareribs or beef stew meat or pork neck bones. I think I'll stay away from ground beef for the time being, mostly because our kids for reason aren't big fans of ground beef dishes (except tacos). But maybe this dish will change their minds.
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