Italian Not-Just-For-Sunday Sauce

When I first met my husband I was introduced to a new culture. Originally from the Philadelphia region, his dad’s side of the family grew up surrounded by Italian culture, being second generation children of an Italian father. I grew up eating pasta. My mom always made Salvadorian style spaghetti with a little bit of cream or a simple tomato sauce with tomato paste, water and some chicken bouillon. The next day she would scramble left over spaghetti with eggs and put in a sandwich roll and pack it in my lunch bag. In other words, I always had a connection to pasta because it’s economical and you can make it simple but delicious. I also knew Italian food from Olive Garden, but I had never had pasta before in an Italian home. I didn’t know about anti-pasto bites like asparragus wrapped in prosciutto, salame and homemade pizzelle cookies. I had never tasted the robust meatballs and sausage that always welcomed us at grandma’s house in Philly, not just on Sunday but on any special day. It turns out, after doing some DNA research, that my father-in-law’s ancestors were originally from the Abruzzo region in Italy and their traditions have apparently survived in their cooking that I am now proud to help pass on to the next generation. I also have a tiny of percentage of Sardinian which I fully embrace. And I am not going to go into a long history lesson here, but the moral of the story is that I love the way food reconnects us to who we are deep inside.

Here’ s a family recipe for Sunday Sauce like my mother-in-law taught me with a few of my own modifications.

The first element is the meatballs. Next are the Italian sausages, which should be browned before adding them to the sauce. Last but not least, I added braciole to make this dish extra special.

Meatballs:

  • 1 lb ground beef
  • 1 lb roll of sage sausage
  • onion powder
  • garlic powder
  • 1 cup Italian breadcrumbs
  • 2 beaten eggs
  • 1/2 cup Parmesan Cheese or Pecorino Romano
  • Chopped flat leaf parsley
  • A dab of mustard (optional)
  • Salt & pepper

Braciole:

  • 1 lb top round beef, thinly sliced and pounded
  • 1 cup of Italian or seasoned breadcrumbs
  • Chopped parsley
  • 1 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 1 Provolone cheese, cubed or grated
  • Slices of prosciutto di Parma, one for each slice of beef

For the sauce:

  • 1 small can of tomato paste
  • 3 cans of diced tomatoes, blended
  • 1 jar of homemade passata or substitute with 1 can tomato juice or sauce
  • 1 small onion quartered
  • 1 bell pepper, quartered and deseeded
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • A large bundle of fresh parsley and basil tied with kitchen twine
  • Red wine
  • 1 package of 5 mild Italian sausages cut in half and browned

Preparation:

First make the meatballs by combining all the meatball ingredients in a large bowl. Mix with clean hands and form balls about the size of golf balls. Place them on a baking sheet that has been previously sprayed with non-stick cooking oil. Bake the meatballs at 350F for 30 minutes or until browned. You can also fry the meatballs, but I prefer to bake them so I can cook other things while the meatballs are in the oven.

To make braciole, begin by pounding the meat slices on a cutting board by placing the meat in between two sheets of plastic wrap. I prefer using a ziplock back because it will hold up until you finish pounding all the meat. Place all the meat slices in an assembly line on some parchment or wax paper. Next, mix the parmesan cheese, breadcrumbs and parsley. To begin the assembly, place a slice of prosciutto, then the breadcrumb mixture on top of each slice and roll. Tie each meat roll-up with two pieces of kitchen twine and continue the assembly. Next, brown the braciole on all sides in a pan o pot with a little olive oil or spray. Save aside for later.

To make the sauce, add a little more oil or cooking spray to the same pot and fry up the onion, garlic and bell pepper along with the tomato paste. This mixture will start to brown. At this point you can add about a cup of red of wine and bring it to a simmer deglazing the pot at the same time. Those bits and pieces will add flavor to your sauce.

Layer the braciole, meatballs and browned sausage in a slow cooker. Next, pour the wine mixture, tomato sauce and blended diced tomatoes over the meat. Place the herb bundle on top, add a little salt and pepper and cover. Cook on high for 5 hrs then switch to low or warm (or cook on low heat for 3hrs if you are making this on the stove top). You can lightly stir it occasionally and push the herbs down so they get immersed into the sauce. Taste and adjust the flavor. If the sauce tastes a bit tart, feel free to add a pinch or more of sugar.

*The sausages and the meatballs add lots of flavor to the sauce so don’t go crazy with the salt, but rather add a pinch here and there gradually until the sauce reaches your desired level of saltiness.

Remove the herb bundle and large pieces of onion/bell pepper before serving with pasta of your choice.

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