It's not as easy as it looks, okay.
Trust me. I've had a lot of mediocre Sunday Gravy (that's tomato sauce to you civilians). Hell, I've made a lot of it myself.
Not lately, though. It appears that I have gotten the Red Sauce thing down pretty well. It is not the sauce that my mother prepared each week of her adult life, no. But it is a good sauce. Worth sharing, I think.
This is how I start most every Sunday Gravy these days: an onion, a couple celery stalks, two or even three small carrots, maybe four large garlic cloves, a little hot pepper, three or four anchovy fillets, and about half a dozen each of pork ribs and sweet Italian sausage.
You have questions, yes? I thought so.
Okay, about the anchovies. If I hadn't mentioned them you might never have known they were in there. To me the fillets are like using salt, except they also add a little depth to the flavor. I still use salt in my gravy, just not as much as I would if the anchovy wasn't in there. Just try it. It ain't gonna kill you.
Next. This is not a spicy sauce, not at all; the amount of hot pepper provides only the slightest hint of heat, and so it is easy enough to not use if you choose.
What else? Oh, the carrots. That's just my way of adding a little sweetness to the sauce. Many people add sugar, but I started using carrots some years back and like this way a lot better.
I don't mess around when starting a sauce. I use a lot of extra virgin olive oil to saute the vegetables, plus some butter. The anchovies are in there too, and I used some fresh oregano and even a little fresh rosemary this time. (Just so you know, I've been known to add some diced pancetta or guanciale at this stage, or even prosciutto. I even threw in some chopped fennel a couple times.)
Once things have sauteed awhile you add the ribs and the sausage and let them brown a bit. You're not cooking the meat here, just rendering some of the fat. As soon as you've accomplished this remove the meat and set it aside in a bowl or on a plate.
After the meat is removed I add maybe a cup of red wine and allow it to reduce by at least half, if not more. I don't do this step all the time, but do think it adds a little complexity.
Then it's time for the tomatoes. I use peeled whole Italian tomatoes (108 ounces here, as company was coming over), then break them up, first with a potato masher and then with my fingers. (Right inside the pot, yeah.) Turn up the heat to medium high and bring to a boil.
Once the tomatoes start to boil, add the ribs and sausage, along with whatever juices have collected in the bowl, then lower the heat to a slow simmer.
You made meatballs for your Sunday Gravy, right? Of course you did. Well, toss them in too. (If you didn't make them, here's my meatball recipe. I'm told they're not half bad.)
At this point I toss in three, maybe even four tablespoons of butter. I find that this mellows the sauce a bit, plus it adds richness. Then I add salt and pepper to taste and let things simmer (using a very low flame, so that you barely see a boil at all) for a couple hours.
This is what was left of last Sunday's Gravy at Casa Polpette, after the imaginary couple from Illinois, The McTinderdonks of Holy Loch (don't ask), helped to lay waste to an enormous pot of the red stuff.
I am happy that my guests enjoyed themselves so much, of course. But my own Monday night dinner did not, shall we say, quite go as I had imagined.