It’d be cruel to dismiss this as some version of ‘spag bol’. It’d also be a travesty to think of this as an average pasta and sauce because this is so so much more than that. I absolutely love cooking Italian and our favourite dish is a traditional Ragu Bolognese; a deeply flavoursome and fulfilling sauce that packs a punch and puts those bastardised ‘spag-bols’ to shame. A plate of good ragu with pappardelle or fettuccine and a glass of wine is my true source of therapy and I’d take it over any fine dining meal.
It’s better than sex. There, I said it (nothing against The Captain but damn I love my ragus).
Therapy comes in a bowl
It takes a lot for me to look past the faithful ragu bolognese but I think I may have tasted something that’d knock it off its pedestal. The adorably named Sunday Gravy (as referred to by the Italian-Americans according to the Wiki-god) is similar to a Neopolitan Ragu, in that compared to its Bologna version, this is more tomato-heavy and does not use milk. Sunday Gravy also uses whole meats to cook in the tomato gravy rather than straight out mince and this results in something so ballsy and gutsy and with such a depth flavour that I’ve never experienced before. Speaking of (meat)balls… they were dee-licious
My poor wilting basil LOL!
This recipe, quite appropriately, comes from The Sopranos Family Cookbook and it’s thanks to a fellow Sydney Twitterer for introducing me to it. It’s a very worthy book to have, if only for the kitsch value of owning a cookbook from a drama series but that’s not to take away from the amazing Italian recipes. But trust me, they are delicious… and I’m not just saying it because ‘The Family’ ordered me to.
I can’t sing any more praises for this than I already have. It’s not just the kick-ass sauce, pasta and meatballs. It’s feasting on the leftover meats and sausages that flavoured the gravy. It was so tender that it just fell apart and oh, the flavour! My family could not stop raving about it, even through to the next day when The Sis came over and The (God)Father couldn’t stop prodding me to get her to taste it. Best of all, you don’t have to use the Sunday Gravy with pasta. Think lasagne or as a damn fine pizza sauce. Saucy, tasty, meaty and versatile – sounds like my perfect man.
Suffice to say that this was one heck of an awesome Easter Sunday dinner.
The Sopranos Sunday Gravy
(You can find the original recipe with Imperial-measurements here).
2 Tbl olive oil
500g meaty pork neck bones or spare-ribs
500g veal stew meat or 2 shoulder chops (I used 500g of veal osso buco)
500g Italian-style plain or pork and fennel sausages (I used a 450g packet)
4 cloves of garlic, crushed with a knife
1 x 140g tomato paste
3 x 800g tins of Italian peeled tomatoes
300ml of red wine
salt, ground black pepper and sugar to taste
fresh basil leaves
500g penne, rigatoni or shells (these hold the sauce the best)
Note: If you are using tinned crushed or chopped tomatoes then you’ll probably need to reduce the wine and water by half
250g veal mince (beef can be used instead)
250g pork mince
1 tsp of finely crushed garlic
1/2 cup of fresh plain breadcrumbs (dry will do in a pinch but reduce the amount slightly)
1/4 cup of finely chopped flat-leaf parsley (I like to use basil for the flavour)
1/2 cup finely grated pecorino or fresh parmesan – purely optional (I left it out and it still tasted fab)
1 tsp salt
black pepper to taste
2 Tbl olive oil
In a large pot or casserole dish (trust me, you’ll need a large one!), heat the olive oil over medium heat then cook the pork ribs for about 10 minutes, turning occasionally until browned all over. Remove the ribs, then brown the veal. Remove then fry the sausages, browning it on all sides.
Drain off most of the fat in the pot (leave a little), then fry the garlic until golden. Remove the garlic then add the tomato paste and fry for a minute.
Add the tinned tomatoes and with a potato masher or your wooden spoon, crush the tomatoes finely. Feel free to have a chunkier sauce if that’s what you prefer.
Add the wine and water then season to taste with salt, pepper and sugar (to counteract the tartness and acidity of the tomatoes but it’s purely optional).
Add the cooked meats back into the pot and bring to a boil. Simmer on low heat, partially covered for 2 hours stirring occasionally. If it looks like the sauce is getting too thick, add a little water or wine.
In the meantime, make the meatballs:
Place all ingredients in a bowl (except the olive oil) and mix until all combined. Wet your hands slightly with cold water and form 4cm balls (I got about 21 meatballs out of it).
In a pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat and fry the meatballs until browned all over. Set aside.
After 2 hours, add the meatballs to the sauce and simmer for another 30 minutes until sauce is thick and meats are tender.
In the meantime, cook the 500g pasta in boiling salted water until al dente and drain.
After cooking time, remove the meats (not the meatballs) and set aside. Grab about 10 large leaves of basil and tear it with your hands into the sauce and stir through.
Add the pasta to the sauce and stir gently until all mixed.
Serve with grated pecorino or fresh parmesan. Serve the pork ribs, veal and sausages alongside or as a separate course or on another day. Personally I love shredding the meat and cutting up the sausages into pieces and adding it to my pasta.
Instead of serving it with pasta, make lasagne! Make meatballs the size of grapes and make Sunday Gravy as instructed. Use the gravy to layer with fresh pasta sheets and fresh ricotta and topped with grated mozzarella and parmesan and baked until all golden and melted.
Recipe adapted from The Sopranos Family Cookbook by Allen Rucker and Michele Scicolone