Sunday Gravy, Nine Millimeter Optional
When my husband and I were first dating (if that’s what you can call it – we were already roommates), our favorite thing was to make a big pasta dish on Sunday nights and watch The Sopranos, and try to talk with a Jersey-Italian accent all night.
It was during that time that I started making what we called “Sunday Gravy” (thank you, Tony Soprano) in copious amounts and stashing it in the fridge and freezer for a rainy day. My basic red sauce can be sweetened up or spiced up, depending on your taste or the call of the dish at hand. It can also be made easily into a giant or smaller amount, and there is no math because there is no real recipe. I am going to try to explain here, as best I can, how I do it, but like I said, I’ve never written down any exact measurements, so you’ll have to do your best when you try this at home.
Please do not send me hate mail if you try this and you hate it. First of all, everyone's taste in Sunday Gravy is a little different - so feel free to alter this at will, according to what you know about your particular taste.
Okay, so here's how I do it.Get out your best heavy stockpot. We're going to make a lot. A heavy (i.e. - at least marginally expensive) stockpot is a kitchen investment. A cheap one burns stuff. A heavy one can simmer a sauce all day without a scorch. Plus, they're pretty and they make you feel like a "real" cook. Mine is featured here if you are interested. I find her very interesting.
In the bottom of your pot, drizzle some olive oil. Some = 3 or 4 tablespoons, I guess. Remember, we're making a lot. I like to use an olive oil that is basil infused for this, but usually I just have the cheap grocery store brand stuff and it works fine.Warm the olive oil over medium heat, and when it's sufficiently hot (not crackling), toss in about a half a cup of finely diced onion. (I usually use red onion, but whatever you have around is fine.) You can chop them yourself, or you can be like me and do it in the food processor because you're lazy and you love the Cuisinart more than anything else in your kitchen.Cook 'em just a little; they don't need to be translucent all the way because they are going to stay in that sauce and simmer for a very long time.
While they cook, open your canned tomatoes. I STRONGLY recommend you use Muir Glen organic tomatoes, diced.
This is one of the few times that I think brand really does count; usually I buy cheap store-brand stuff, but here you will definitely know the difference. I buy three or four of the large cans of diced (not pureed), and if I can get it, I usually buy a couple of cans that are "fire roasted" for a little extra flavor. If they have stuff that is already seasoned with garlic or basil or other Italian herbs, go for it. I usually do a mix. These delicious canned tomatoes are a great sub for the real thing; sometimes even better. At Dillon’s they are in the special "organic" section, but they don't cost much more than Del Monte, or other more famous brands.
Toss the suckers into the food processor (I have to do like six batches because my Cuisinart is small) and puree. Why not buy pre-pureed, you ask? I don't know; all I can say is that the time I tried that we didn't like it as much. Taste and texture were both a little off.
Pour the pureed (not TOO loose - leave a few chunks for that rustic appeal - you don't want it to look like Ragu) tomatoes into the pot and THEN put in your garlic. Now, we are big garlic fans, and probably use too much. Do whatever feels right to you. I am sometimes guilty of using the pre-minced stuff from the giant Costco jar, but I will admit that a few whole fresh cloves mixed with a few fresh minced is better. Anyway, I toss in three or four heaping tablespoons of the stuff, and reserve the right to throw more in later. I don't do the garlic with the onions because, remember, we are going to simmer this for a long time. We don't need to risk burning the garlic; we are sure it will cook and infuse its flavor just fine during the long simmering process. I also add a can of tomato paste; somehow I think it adds texture and salt that I like to it.
Now, I like to add my herbs early, unless they are fresh, and then I add them late. Usually I just use dried herbs for this; I'm going to freeze it later, after all. As your mixture simmers, you can throw in whatever you like. I encourage you to do a little bit of red wine or red wine vinegar - I do about two tablespoons. I do about two tablespoons (sometimes more) of dried basil, one tablespoon of oregano, sometimes a little crushed rosemary even ends up in there. My husband thinks I'm crazy but I also add one or two heaping tablespoons of sugar; I think the acid needs that sweet to counteract. Salt and pepper to taste as well. I like cracked black pepper, but whatever is in your reach will do fine. I also really recommend you throw in some fennel – especially if you don’t plan to add any Italian sausage. I add fennel on top of the Italian sausage. We think fennel is the best.
Also, crushed red pepper. How much of this you use depends on what you plan to do with the sauce. If you plan to add Italian sausage, you might use less, especially if you are able to get your hands on some HOT italian sausage, which we prefer but can rarely find a good bit of at our local grocery store. I have to get it in Kansas City, at the real Italian grocery. So, add what you like - we like a lot. By the way, Consentino’s Price Chopper on 119th and Roe has really good Constentino’s Brand hot Italian sausage. You can also get gooey garlic bread there that a woman I presume to be Grandma Consentino in her babushka will make to order, especially for you. It’s a great store, in my never-to-be-humble opinion.
At this point your are ready to simmer this sucker as long as you can stand it. Stir it with a wooden spoon now and then. Your house will smell like Grandma Luisa's kitchen (who is Grandma Luisa? I have no idea) and the temptation to eat it by the spoonful will likely be overwhelming.
So here's the (vague) list:
3 tablespoons of olive oil
1/3 to 1/2 cup finely chopped red onion
4 large cans of Muir Glen tomatoes, one fire roasted
1 can of tomato paste (also get a good brand)
4 or 5 cloves of garlic (if it's the pre-minced stuff, use more)
1/3 cup red wine or red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons basil
1 tablespoon oregano
whatever italian herbs you have on hand, fresh or dried (like fennel, rosemary, thyme, whatev.)
1 tablespoon cayenne pepper
salt and black pepper to taste
Simmer simmer simmer, stir stir stir.
Now, I use this when I do all manner of pasta dishes, and we love a good big batch of something like Lasagna or Cavatelli to cuddle up with on a chilly Sunday night. But what I REALLY love is pulling the leftover out of the freezer when I'm all by myself, and pouring it over whatever shape of pasta my heart desires, and topping the whole thing with some fresh parmesan or mozzarella, and feeling like my little quickie dinner is a gourmand's delight. I have been known to butter up a piece of sandwich bread and sprinkle on some thyme and garlic, and toast it under the broiler to finish off the italian night for one I've whipped up for myself. And all of that, once you have your sauce, will take about five minutes total.
You can barely heat a frozen Weight Watcher's tray in that time.