A sauce by any other name
On Sunday mornings, the aroma of frying bacon and eggs greeted many of my non-Italian childhood friends. In my house, however, the perfume of garlic and onions sautéing in olive oil lifted me from slumber. These three simple ingredients were (and still are) the building blocks of many a meal in my family, but on this day of the week and at this time of the morning, it was the harbinger of Sunday sauce.
Every family has its own recipe for sauce and usually considers it the only “authentic” version, greeting all other recipes with suspicion or, at least, great concern. For example, the knowledge that someone puts sugar in their sauce is enough to make some grandmas bite their fists or make the sign of the cross and pray for a saint’s intercession.
Another thing that puts otherwise genial Italian-Americans at odds is what we call it. Some Italian-Americans refer to sauce as gravy. The sauce v. gravy controversy rages in Facebook groups with the red-hot passion of a Jets and Sharks turf war. In my book, it is the same thing and if it’s delicious, who cares? Why battle about nomenclature when there are so many other things that we can debate at the dinner table?
I’ve experimented with many recipes over the years and have a half dozen different ways that I make sauce. Which version I prepare is based on my available time and temperament. Try to cook the sauce a few days in advance to let the flavors develop. This recipe is adapted (with many changes) from The Cooks Illustrated Cookbook Slow and Easy Recipes.
¼ cup olive oil
2 medium onions, peeled and minced
¼ cup coarsely chopped
garlic (10-12 cloves)
2 28-ounce cans tomato puree
1 6-ounce can tomato paste
1 quart low sodium chicken stock
2 cups dry red wine
½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried rosemary
2 bay leaves
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
Salt to taste
1 pound pork neck bones or or chicken backs/necks (I use pork ribs or chicken wings most times)
12 fresh basil leaves, torn into pieces
In a large pot, heat the olive oil. Sauté the onions and garlic until they just begin to brown. Add the remaining ingredients except for the basil. Bring to a boil and then turn down to a simmer. Simmer for 2 hours, partly covered, stirring often. Remove the pork neck bones or chicken backs/necks and discard. Skim any fat from the top and discard. If you refrigerate or freeze this sauce beforehand, this step is easier. Add the basil during the last 15 minutes of cooking. Adjust salt and pepper, if needed.
If you have meatballs and sausage, brown them and put them in the pot during the last hour (make sure your pot can accommodate this).
Makes about 3 quarts.