If you grew up in in Italian household like I did, you come away as an adult expecting certain traditions to prevail. Sunday gravy was a tradition that had to be kept and my recipe has evolved way past the tips my father, his family recipes, my mother and beyond have given me and I’m proud of what I can produce at this stage in life.
I now make batches and deliver them to my mom vs the other way around. It’s thrilling, chilling and exciting to be on this side of the fence. Yesterday, I set out to make a fresh batch to be delivered today, and hopefully consumed throughout the coming weeks.
Everybody does things similarly in terms of the basics but no 2 gravies (or sauces) will turn out exactly the same. Mine always have slight differences, and my recipe tastes vastly different than my childhood memories. I love that about this dish!
I’m going to attempt to add my recipe here, but bear in mind, please find your own ‘exact’…you can treat this recipe as a baseline to get you started, and your taste buds will come into play and lead the way to the best gravy for you! Each time my portions are different depending on how much I want to make. The recipe below will yield approximately 12 meatballs. I portion mine out when cooled and freeze the portions to have over a month’s time.
2 cans San Marzano whole tomatoes
3-4 6 oz cans of organic tomato paste
1/2 rack to a full rack of ribs – if it’s a full rack, cut them in 1/2 for easy placement in the marinara later
1 lb ground grass fed beef
1/2 lb ground pork
once in a blue moon, I’lll add 1/4 lb ground veal but I’m not the biggest veal fan due to humanity
give or take 1/4 cup (I Never portion it out, i just eye it and feel it in the mixture to determine if I need more) ground bread crumbs (I don’t usually homemake them though I bet they would be better that way but I buy mine ready made at Doris’ Italian Market in South Florida).
3 large eggs
Freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese (some swear by parmesan, I’m more of a romano cheese fan) – or both! This is an area that you can be very generous with and I am! I”d say easily 1/2 cup-1 cup but again I eye it.
Fresh minced basil – about 10-15 large leaves between the meatballs and the marinara
Garlic – 6-8 cloves minced between the sauce and the marinara
Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil
First things first, is to remove the membrane from the back of the baby back ribs. I use pork ribs as they are going to be so tender and make the sauce really rich. Next boil the ribs in water over medium high heat and skim all of the fat fro
m the pan. I usually boil them for around 20 minutes total. Remove the ribs from the water and keep some of the boiled water on the side to add to the sauce later.
Next, make the meatball blend. Meat in first and with your bear hands mash it and mix it all together. Next, add the cheese, garlic, basil, salt, pepper and breadcrumbs cracking 1 egg at a time while you mix everything together with your hands. Just before you are ready to roll them into balls, add a little cold water to the mix. Roll meat into balls – you’ll decide the size that works for you. Mine are medium sized (~2 inches around). Place them on a plate or dry surface.
Preparing the sauce is what I do next. Open each can of tomato products. I puree the cans of San Marzano whole tomatoes in my magic bullet and place it in a bowl. You can choose a lesser grade of meat but here is where you want to make sure that you do not go cheap as the quality of the sauce is dictated by the quality of tomato products you choose. Another tip is to try to puree the tomatoes yourself vs taking a short cut and buying canned puree or even crushed tomatoes. You will end up with a much meatier sauce if you go that route.
Use a large sauce pan for the gravy to cook in, and place it on medium heat with the entire bottom of the pan covered in olive oil. Once hot, start placing the cans of paste into the oil stirring often to get the paste into a goo with the oil. I add some garlic and basil in this step before adding water. Once gooey, start slowly adding water stirring constantly. I add 3 cans of water for each can of paste. This process takes awhile and must be tended to throughout. Then I add some of the leftover water from the boiling ribs (~6 oz.) Lastly, add the tomato puree and mix well along with the remaining basil and garlic. Place ribs into the sauce and cover with a netted cover to let breath but not spit everywhere while I prepare the meatballs.
In a large saute pan, add a tiny bit of olive oil on medium heat – I don’t usually do this but sometimes I do. Either way, let the pan get hot before placing the meatballs in it. They cook on the outside rapidly so keep turning them into a circular position so each side gets cooked and the meatballs remain round. This step can be slightly tricky for beginners but once you figure out exactly how to do it, it’s very straight forward. I cook the majority of the meatballs all the way around except for 1 or 2 that remain slightly cooked on the outside and mostly raw on the inside. I find this makes the sauce better tasting (find what makes the most sense for you). Place the meatballs into the marinara with the ribs and stir. Keep at medium heat for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally with the netted cover on top for it to not spit. After cooking for 45 minutes, add salt and pepper to taste. It’ll take at least an hour and 1/2 from placing the salt into the sauce before you realize the full potential of the taste so proceed cautiously and give it the full time before determining if you need more. You can always add more but a sauce with too much salt is ruined so be careful here. Cook on simmer for another hour on medium low heat, stirring occasionally. Some people may add a pinch baking soda at this stage to reduce the acid from the tomato sauce. I used to, but I never do anymore. Cook for another hour – hour 1/2. Turn off the heat and let it sit in the pan until either serving or cooling down to portion out and put in containers to freeze.