What’s in a name…
Well, everything. You know how they say, “you eat with your eyes first?” Well, I think you eat with your ears too. Something has to sound appetizing, e.g. buffalo chicken mac’ and cheese (actually that one is even better than it sounds…and will have it’s own mega post dedicated to it) or dark chocolate ganache with raspberry coulis (aka this year’s Thanksgiving dessert.) If it doesn’t sound appetizing I’m not excited by it, like wheat grass shakes, tofu burgers, or pickled herring. This is the case in the great sauce vs. gravy debate. Growing up in a non-Italian family, we had spaghetti and SAUCE (and yes it was Barilla out of the jar.) Gravy was the brown stuff you put on mashed potatoes on Thanksgiving and I don’t really like it that much. So when I hear the word gravy it brings up sort of negative connotations instead of the yummy meaty concoction poured over rotini pasta and showered in Parmesan cheese.
I first learned how to make Sunday Sauce/Gravy basically through osmosis while watching my little Italian roommate whip it up all through senior year. I would lay on the couch on Sunday and watch her brown the meat, sauté the onions and garlic, add the tomatoes, then simmer it for hours until it reached perfection. It was heavenly and I still don’t make it as good she does. Sunday Sauce became an institution in my mind, an all day project, a special, yet simple, oh so satisfying meal that easily fed the hoards of people hanging around our apartment. I have since learned that she actually calls it gravy and Sunday Sauce was something I made up, probably because the word gravy grosses me out. Since she’s nice, she never said anything and let me go on calling it Sunday Sauce because it made me happy.
Enter “The Sauce Police” aka my boyfriend Matt.
He was raised in a family so Italian that his English/French/Dutch mother had to start dropping her vowels on the ends of words just to fit it. Gone were the days of phonetically pronouncing words like mozzarella, prosciutto, and antipasti. No, no, to get in good with the Minnellas it’s Mozzarell. Prosciutt. Antipast. And more important than the pronunciation of various Italian meats and cheeses…you must always call the sauce gravy. Well almost always, there are all these rules about when it is considered sauce and when it is considered gravy. It’s something like it’s not gravy when it’s cooked without meat, or you don’t pour it over meat, or the meat wasn’t used to flavor the sauce or a cow wasn’t slaughtered in a ten mile radius of where the sauce is being made (for my slower readers, that last one was a joke.) But really, it’s exhausting trying to keep track of all these rules! Every so often I try to be a good girlfriend and swallow my pride and call it gravy only to be told “ehh…when you make it this way it’s not really technically gravy.” Oh my god people! Who makes up these rules? Is there some gravy tribunal somewhere made up of old Italian men sitting around in track suits and gold chains, mapping out the different recipes and Venn diagramming when it is or is not sauce or gravy!
For now, in my mind and in my blog it will remain double named until someone can provide me with a clear explanation of the difference between sauce and gravy. Or until the word gravy doesn’t make me think of that brown stuff. Until then at least we can all agree on one part of the name… Sunday. And it’s totally the best part of the name, it makes me think of lazy Sundays spent hanging around the house watching the sauce bubble and then getting together for a big family dinner to start the week. It’s especially good when the weather turns cooler and you want a real stick to your ribs meal. This past Sunday being Halloween and a perfectly crisp fall day, I thought it would be the perfect time to make some Sunday Sauce. We got up early (and by early I mean 12:30) and went to the store to buy all the fixins. By the time we got home, I had to leave for my field hockey game, which at the end of I was so sore, I could barely stand up (a side effect of sitting on your butt all day for months and months and then playing two hours of competitive hockey.) Since I played soooo well and since we were walking along 23rd from Chelsea Piers on our way home, Matt bought me Shake Shack for dinner (probably because he knew there was no way I could make good sauce in my weakened condition.) The burgers were obviously amazing and will be staring in my next post, which will chronicle my favorite NYC foodie places. This next post will also hopefully serve as a self reflection tool and help me realize that I eat out too much. So I saved the sauce for last night, when I had more energy and I was able to stand up for longer than a minute and a half.
So here it is my first recipe on What’s Elizabeth Cooking Now…
The great thing about this recipe is it’s really tough to screw up and it can be reinvented a million ways. Everyone has there own way of making sauce and this is my personal favorite, it might not be the right way or the most authentic…but it’s my blog, so lay off! Just kidding!
2 tbsp. Olive Oil
1 lb spicy Italian sausage (cut into ½ inch slices)
1 lb. MVP (no not Mike Vinny Paulie, but still Italian and greasy, it stands for ground meat, veal, & pork. The three come in a package together and I think it looks like if the Italian flag were made out of meat)
1 large onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced (or a heaping tbsp. of the pre minced stuff in a jar – such a good shortcut)
1 tbsp. dried basil
1 tbsp. dried oregano
(this might seem like a large quantity of seasoning but if your not going to season like you mean it why season at all?)
1 tsp. salt
2 28oz cans crushed tomatoes
1/3 cup red wine
Parmesan cheese rinds (Optional, I like to save the rinds from bricks of parmesan and simmer them in the sauce it gives the flavor a lot of depth)
1 lb. rotini pasta (corkscrew shape, it grips the sauce the best)
Grated parmesan cheese
Now let’s cook!
Heat the olive oil in a large pot. Add the sausage pieces in batches and brown on all sides. When browned remove from the pot and set aside. Add the MVP to the pot and sauté until browned. Add the onions and garlic. Sauté about 2-3 minutes to soften the onion. Return the sausage to the pan. Stir in the basil, oregano, and salt. Add the crushed tomatoes, wine, and cheese rinds. Stir to combine and bring to a low boil (just to the point where a few bubbles start to from.) Turn the heat to low and allow the sauce to simmer for at least an hour…but the longer it simmers the better it tastes.
About 20 minutes before you are ready to eat bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the rotini and cook until al dente.
Top the pasta with sauce and parmesan cheese and enjoy!
So make it! And Tell me how you like it! And come back next time if you want to learn how to burn through a pay check in Manhattan faster than than you can eat a Papaya Dog.