Making the Gravy
Sunday sauce with the Capuano, Cimino, and Barone families
Deborahann Cimino, Nina Barone, and Concetta Capuona
Photo courtesy of Nina Barone
This recipe started with my grandmother, Concetta Capuano, my mother’s mother, who made sauce regularly for family meals with her husband and two children. She would typically make it on Sunday and then serve it a second time on Thursday. My mother, Deborahann Cimino, then tweaked the recipe slightly to suit her taste and that of her husband, Gennaro Cimino, who is from a different region of Italy. My grandma’s sauce features tomato puree and paste, whereas my mom’s includes crushed tomatoes, which is akin to how my father’s region prepares it. Each area of the country prepares its sauce differently, and not all native Italians even make red sauce as we know it in America.
This sauce recipe is known for being the kind that slowly cooks on the stovetop for hours. Some tomato sauce can be made in a matter of minutes, especially when fresh tomatoes are available, but this type develops different layers of flavor and thickens thanks to the low, slow cooking.
1/4 cup olive oil
2 28-ounce cans of crushed tomatoes (without seasoning)
—for an especially smooth consistency, process in food processor for one minute
18 ounces tomato paste
1/2 cup onion, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, minced(approx. 1/2 teaspoon)
9 1/2 cups water
1 tablespoon salt
1/4 teaspoon sugar
1 bay leave
Optional: when seasonal, 4 fresh whole basil leaves
1. In an 8-quart saucepan, heat olive oil over low heat until fragrant. Add onion and garlic. Saute for 3-5 minutes, until onion becomes translucent and starts sizzling. Stir.
2. Add crushed tomatoes and paste and raise heat to medium. Add water and stir to combine.
3. Add salt and sugar. Stir. Add one large bay leaf and basil leaves, if available.
4. Allow to cook on stovetop over medium heat at a low boil (slow bubbling) for about 15 minutes and then turn down to simmer/low heat. Cook for 4 hours. Meanwhile, prepare meatballs.
Variations of this recipe come from changing the spices and meat added to the sauce, as they can transform the flavor. In place of basil leaves, you may also add less than a teaspoon of fennel seeds for a somewhat sweet taste. My family does not make it that way each Sunday, but we get a taste for different things and change it as people want to experiment. We also change the meat on and off—there are always meatballs, but, sometimes, we use bison or ground beef alone. We often use pork ribs and sausage, which produces a different flavor. (Many of our family members love hot Italian sausage and others favor sweet Italian sausage, but the kind we like most is not readily available in our area, so when my dad makes a trip up to his favorite Italian grocer in Canada, that's when we have it.) Lately, we've been using a fifty/fifty combination of beef and veal.
One of the wonderful things about taking the time to prepare a pot of sauce on Sunday is how much you can stretch it and how nutritious it is. It can feed a crowd of twenty people easily, and it can be used for at least two meals in the same week. Growing up, we would have sauce on Sunday and later in the week (at least once), it would be adapted to a different dish, such as pasta with beans, or pasta with zucchini, green peas, and potatoes, and different meats used in the sauce. It makes a healthy and economical crowd pleaser for family members of all ages.
1 pound ground veal
1 pound ground beef
2 eggs, whisked
1 cup plain Italian bread crumb
1 cup Pecorino Romano cheese
3 tablespoons fresh Italian parsley, chopped
1/2 cup sweet onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1/8 teaspoon salt
A dash ground pepper
4 tablespoons water
1. Combine all ingredients gently with hands until evenly mixed. Form mixture into balls.
2. Cover bottom of baking dish with water. Place meatballs in baking dish and bake at 350 for 20-30 minutes.
3. Add to sauce by gently placing into bubbling pot; allow meatballs to remain in sauce for duration of cooking.
Today, we are now four generations gathering at my parents’ home in Kenmore to have Sunday sauce, always beginning with antipasto and wine, followed by the main course and salad, and ending with digestivo (after dinner drinks), espresso, and dessert. Extended family and friends are included in the familiar celebration regularly, and friends know they can come without formal invitation. My fourteen-month-old son loves his pasta and meatballs with sauce. Already he’s eating it on Sunday at our family dinners and again during the week, but usually it doesn’t make it past Tuesday.