Sunday Morning Coming Down 1. Recipe Simple
If you’ve made our Marinara Sauce you know two things: one, that it’s flawless; two, that it’s simple; and C. that it’s delicious. (My son Dom understands the sentence construction.)

The Gravy is the same recipe as the Marinara Sauce except that when the oil is heated, you fry all the meat and remove before you add the aromatics.
Otherwise, proceed as we do with the Marinara.
And we all know two things about the Marinara. 😊

THE GRAVY:
Gather:
Food chopper
18 cup sauce-pan
Can Opener
Scale

Heat 7oz Italian olive oil in saucepan

Sear three pounds of meat and remove.
Meat may include pieces of chuck roast or equivalent, pork butt, meatballs, spare ribs, hot Italian sausages [or sweet] etc.
Tomorrow's post will detail what meats to use, including recipes for meatballs, braciola, and panzetta.

Add finely-chopped aromatics to the hot meat-seasoned oil:
2oz onions
3oz bell peppers
2oz carrots
2oz celery
½oz jalapeño
1 cup chopped fresh herbs: parsley, mint, oregano, or basil
1oz fresh garlic
3TB tomato paste
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Infuse the oil by softening the finely chopped aromatics at an active simmer for 7or8 minutes.

Put 2 28oz-cans (56oz total) of whole, peeled Italian tomatoes, from the San Marzano region, into food chopper for 8seconds and pour the pureed tomatoes into the saucepan.
Use ½ cup of red wine to rinse the tomato cans and the food chopper.
Add the wine and tomato residue to the saucepan.
If chicken isn't one of the meats selected, I often add a half-cup of my own Chicken Stock for an additional flavor layer.

Return the seared meat to the gravy and simmer slowly for 90 minutes.
Voila! You’re about as Italian as you need to be!

 

“Sunday Morning Coming Down: 2. The Gravy: Selecting the Meats.”
Meatballs aside, the recipe included here works with three pounds of meat.
But every family or group is different and the genius of cooking is the ability to tweak methods and ingredients to your taste.

The Gravy does well with many kinds of meat.
A variety lends complexity and richness.
A piece of beef and of pork are basic.

We’ll start with meat selections that require no preparation.
For beef, I like chuck.
Our butchers may give other suggestions.
Try each or any of them, one time or another.
Everyone has her own preferences.

For pork, a piece of butt works. And it makes attractive, non-fatty slices for eating.
I also always add a single Hot Italian Pork Sausage.
I like what the sausage seasonings add to The Gravy.
But for flavor and eating, pork spare ribs are my favorite.
So fatty.
And canine-like – I can worry the bones.
I am a certified bone ripper and sucker.

After the pork and beef issues are settled, what about adding more esoteric cuts like

pig’s foot or chicken feet?
At the least, you get that extra flavor; that extra opulence from their fats.
And for bone pickers? Amazing.
With cartilage to rip and chew and soft bones to crunch and suck.
If using one of these esoterica, add an extra half-hour to the cooking time.

Meatballs, front and center.
So intertwined with The Gravy are meatballs that the popular American name for the dish is “Spaghetti and Meatballs.”
No prob.
We understand.

You want to start a family feud?
Tell an Italo that your mother’s meatballs are the best.
Goodbye.
Nothing else to be said.
Don’t bother coming to the christening.

Amazingly, the ingredients are pretty well agreed on.
At least two, ground beef and ground pork, meat types, with a sizeable minority adding ground veal to the mix.
Equal parts.

Then add an egg or two, a handful of freshly-grated breadcrumbs, or two, a handful of grated Romano cheese, or two, pressed garlic or two, fresh Italian parsley and/or basil, salt, and freshly-grated pepper.

Now I’m going to present to our blog and website a precisely measured meatball recipe.
But we won’t make the mistake of thinking this definitive.
The recipe a start.
When we eat our own meatballs we must question ourselves.
Softer or harder? More egg makes them harder.
Meatier or more tender? Breadcrumbs and cheese soften the balls.
Saltier?
More pork or beef?
85% or 80% beef?

Lots of tweaking; every time we make them.

For the starting meatball recipe:

BUTTON TO MEATBALL RECIPE
I’m out of time and won’t be posting these recipes today.
They will have to be queued-up.

Braciola is stuffed, rolled meat.
For our recipe, it’s beef flank steak, pounded thin and stuffed.
Lots of recipes for braciola exist, but my mother’s stuffing used herbs and spices and that’s it. Nothing bulky.
After the stuffing, the braciola is rolled like a cigar and tied with kitchen string.
The braciola replaces the beef piece.

BUTTON TO BRACIOLA RECIPE
I’m out of time and won’t be posting these recipes today.
They will have to be queued-up.

Far and away our favorite prepared meat, but very expensive and difficult to make, is called panzetta, a veal flank stuffed with an egg and cheese batter.
Picture a miniature beef rib roast with a bone, meat, and stuffing for every diner, with leftovers.
Picture instead of a robust, gamey beef flavor, a delicate veal bit.
Picture instead of a bland mouthful of meat, the meat eaten with a bite of seasoned ricotta cheese.

It’s a good size and the effort to stuff and cook it usually, not always, precludes preparing any other meat.
It requires a deep turkey-sized roasting pan to cook it.
Definitely a special dinner-preparation, like a birthday request.
More often, I will make the panzetta as a roast, the same stuffing but without The Gravy accompaniment.

BUTTON TO PANZETTA RECIPE
I’m out of time and won’t be posting these recipes today.
They will have to be queued-up.

Besides the meat recipes, the plan is to also develop the sociological background to The Gravy as another entry.

 

Sunday Morning Coming Down 3. Sociological Background
Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.
Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina

In fact, named after Tolstoy’s work, the Anna Karenina principle postulates that in order to be happy, a family must be successful on each and every one of a range of criteria.
Failure on only one of these counts leads to unhappiness.
There are more ways for a family to be unhappy than happy.
Here are three, off the cuff, which doomed my family: poor parenting, lack of mutual affection, and financial insecurity.
So number mine among the uniquely unhappy families, that is unhappy in a unique way, not that we alone unhappy.

The population of the 1950s-1960s North End of Boston had a high proportion of unhappy families.
Honestly, I believe more of us were seriously unhappy than happy.
No happy pasta salad picnics by the lake for most of us. (Cf. Jack Nicholson in “Ask Good as it Gets.”)
What puzzles me, looking back at our Sundays, is how we got through the long repast that was Sunday dinner without second degree murder, committed in a “rit of felous jage.” Look up the reference.

Everyone did something to contribute.
Maybe that the secret.
Bitching and moaning, accusing, but setting the table. Or grinding the black pepper or tasting if the pasta was done.

At noontime we sardined into our tiny kitchen, my mother and four children, dad still out tanking up, a kitchen dining table, six chairs – dad would be back to add tension, coals to Newcastle, no counter space so no place to prepare the food except at the table, no room to sit until we all sat together: the pulled-out chairs precluded anyone walking around the table without someone else getting up and complaining.
We sat at the same time.

We were rude and mean to each other during the meal as we were at all other times.
We rarely had anything nice to say.
And I think that herein lies the appeal of Sunday dinner in the Italian neighborhood.
The work that my mother put into the meal was, on Sunday, making The Gravy, an act of love from a person or people who didn’t know how else to say “I love you.”
The grunts of approval and appreciation were reflexive responses from people who didn’t know how to say, “Thank you, mom.
“For all your work.
“For all your sacrifices.
“For doing the best you knew how.”
And I’m so sorry it took me so long to understand that.

But I don’t want these sadness’s to take away from the real story, “The Sunday Gravy.”
Let’s get to Today’s Post.
After these public service announcements.

Today is Monday, June 11, 2018
Good morning, my friends.
This is my sixty-fifth consecutive daily posting.
It’s 5.37am.
A lovely day is you like cool, crisp Junes.
On TV: “Top Hat,” Fred and Ginger’s most successful movie.

I’m at my desk.
Dinner is a second meal from that Long Island duck I made on Saturday.
I won’t call it ‘leftovers.’
I ate Saturday’s duck out of the oven, without gravy.
Today’s meal will be served with gravy.

Today’s Post
Southern Italy’s response to its proliferation of tomatoes, olives, herbs and poverty was the creation of two justifiably famous tomato sauces: Marinara Sauce and “The Gravy,” although I think Italians call it a ‘ragu.’
No matter.
What people from Italy call it means little to us, born in America.

The essence of Marinara Sauce is its lightness, herbal and olive oil flavors and versatility.

The genius of “The Gravy” is the complex meat flavor of its sauce derived from less costly cuts of meat.
Together with pasta, “The Gravy” produces a two-course meal of extraordinary richness, taste and satisfaction.

Italian immigrants brought these recipes to America and their children incorporated them into the Italo (Italian-American) sub-culture.

While these and other recipes became popular throughout the United States, “The Gravy” achieved a singular importance in the lives of Italos (Italian-Americans.)

Sunday mornings in Italo (Italian-American) ghettos all over America were uniquely wonderful.
Every apartment in the neighborhood had its pot of gravy simmering; and open the street door to any apartment building and it smelled of heaven.

Very difficult to get out to Church with that simmering perfumed pot of tomatoes and meat beckoning.
But we couldn’t eat if we were going to Mass and Communion – the Church proscribed it.
But we could rush right home after Mass to steal a meatball out of the pot.
Of course, every Italo or Italian mother knew enough to make enough meatballs to compensate for the disappearance of a few.

Our typical Sunday dinner consisted of three courses: the pasta, the meat from The Gravy, and a salad that was always served after the meat.
Dessert was unusual.

Almost as important as selecting the meat, was the selection of the pasta.
The holiday or special event pasta was my mother’s homemade, pasta which set the New World standard of excellence.
Despite the number of truly excellent cooks in our family, no one for the past 60 years has equaled her skills.
Olga’s homemade Cheese Ravioli was so good that, to this day, I believe that it was God’s apology to us for our deprivations. They occupied the top of everyone’s wish list.
However, her potato gnocchi were nothing short of brilliant.
However, both of those were reserved for special events, like birthdays.
When we ate boxed pasta, almost always, I lobbied for the very large pastas, my all-time favorite being cannoni, something like giant penne pasta.

We ate a great variety of meat and a great variety of pasta.
Our Sunday dinner was always the same, always different.

Ask any Italo who grew up in a ghetto and he or she will regale us with stories of the past that centered around that Sunday pot of The Gravy.

As soon as the kids went off to Church for the 9.00 o’clock Children’s Mass, those friends with phones were calling each other, the first subject, “The Gravy.”

“Did you make your Gravy yet?” one wife would ask the other.

“Ya, I woke up early this morning an’ I made it. I put pig’s feet in.” 
“Me, too. I put some chicken feet in. I got them for free in the Chicken House.”

The Chicken House?  Another day.

Nostalgia? Thy name is “The Gravy.”

Sunday Morning Coming Down 4. The Aftermath
Because Sunday dinner was so costly and time consuming, many Boston-North End mothers often served the remainder of Sunday’s repast as another meal during the week.

My mother, however, to keep to our food budget, served what was left of Sunday’s dinner not once, but twice more during the week.

On Tuesdays, the gravy was a little thicker for being kept hot for too long; and the meat selection was a lot thinner.
Knowing what was coming, we were not overly enthusiastic.

Besides, we had eaten “The Gravy” just the day before yesterday. 

“The Gravy, Second Go-Round” lacked the cachet of “The Gravy,” fresh-made on Sunday.
But it was at least acceptable.

But on Thursdays, the paltry remainder of “The Gravy” had the concentration of tomato paste, thick and unattractive, and the small, occasional bit of meat somehow getting by the Tuesday scavengers not satisfactory by any measure.
Often my mother cooked raw eggs in “The Third-Time Around Gravy” to supplement the meat bits, and added a bit of water to stretch the thick.

We ate it.

Having no other food in the house, we ate it.
But this meal was a curse.

So that’s the skinny on The Gravy as we enjoyed it growing up, 1950s-1960s, the first twenty-five years.
But it’s importance did not end with our childhood.
Fast forward.

The Gravy, the second quarter-century permutation.

At ages 19 and 21, Toni-Lee and I married and started our own family.
Our eating style gravitated to predominantly classical French cooking and The Gravy was not part of our meal-planning.

It did, however, resurface as part of every holiday meal.

From the start of our married life, we hosted all holiday celebrations, a position we occupied for the full twenty-five years of our marriage.

Our holiday meals quickly evolved into brilliant events that, in my experience, stand as models for all great family gatherings.
That a different story, however.

The Gravy and holidays.
Toni-Lee’s meals were far more ambitious than my mom’s, and our holiday meal stretched from noon until 9.00pm.
For the menu, she drew on the rich resources at hand.
From her hunting brother Mark came the meat course, a Canada goose, venison, and the like.
From her mother and sister Fran, an abundance of pies and vegetable casseroles.
He brother Kurt supplied Godiva chocolates.
And from my mother, of course, The Gravy.
My mom as proud to contribute as Toni delighted to ask.
The Gravy was as honored for the quarter century it fed my mom’s grandchildren as it was for the quarter century my mother spent raising her own family.

And then the third quarter-century permutation.
My daughter Kat and I living alone.
She with a penchant for inviting friends over by the half-dozen, usually with scant notice.
God bless my tub of The Gravy.
“Line up kids,” they lining up, plates in hand, while we served army style.

Seventy-five years of importance.
And the future?

Today Kat announced she wants to learn to cook.

To paraphrase Monty Python’s portrayal of the Black Plague, “It ain’t dead yet.”