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.

My Mom’s Sopa de Res: Salvadorian Beef and Vegetable Soup

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On days when I’m feeling under the weather, there is nothing more comforting than my mom’s sopa de res. The ingredients are simple, but highly nutritious. It’s made with vegetables that are just “roughly chopped” and beef shanks with bone and all. Bone broth seems to be all the rage nowadays, but using the bones in soups is quite traditional in Salvadorian cooking and for good reasons. I’m not a dietician or scientist, but I can tell you that any soup made like this must, indeed, have some medicinal qualities that cure all sorts of ailments.   Plus, it’s pure comfort food, rustic and surprisingly flavorful. It think it rivals chicken soup in terms of warming your soul and tummy during cold winter months, or just when you need a pick-me-up. It’s easy to make and I’m sure it would be delicious cooked slowly in a crock pot. Just make sure to add the cabbage and squash at the end. However, some mushy vegetables actually are fine with me because I think they add a little more depth and thickness to the soup. It’s all a matter of preference.

Ingredients:

  • 12 cups water
  • 3 lbs beef shanks with bone or short ribs, preferably grass-fed (can add another lb. for a meatier soup)
  • 3 ears of corn, cut into smaller pieces
  • 1 cassava root, peeled and cut into small pieces (can substitute with potatoes)
  • 1/2 cabbage, cut into small wedges
  • 2 Mexican squashes or zucchini, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 4 small carrots, roughly sliced
  • 1 green bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • whole sprigs of cilantro and mint, roughly chopped
  • 1 celery stalk, roughly chopped
  • 2 bay leaves
  • Salt & pepper to taste
  • Lime wedges to serve

In a large pot, add water, beef, bay leaves, salt, and pepper. Cook for 2 hours until the beef becomes tender.

Add the corn, cassava, carrots, bell pepper, onion, celery, and herbs. Cook until the cassava is fork tender. Add the cabbage and squash and cook until all the veggies are tender, about 15 more minutes.

Serve with lime wedges.

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En Español

Los días en que no me siento muy bien, no hay nada más reconfortante que la sopa de res de mi mami. Los ingredientes son sencillos, pero muy nutritivos. Está hecha con verduras que son sólo se medio cortan y chamorro de res con el hueso y todo. El caldo de hueso parece estar de moda hoy en día, pero el usar los huesos en sopas es bastante tradicional en la cocina salvadoreña y por buenas razones. No soy una dietista o científica, pero puedo decirte que cualquier sopa hecha de esta manera debe de tener algunas cualidades medicinales que curan todo tipo de dolencias. Además, es un buen caldo reconfortante, rústico y sorprendentemente sabroso. Creo que rivaliza con la sopa de pollo en términos de sus cualidades curativas para el alma y la barriga durante los fríos meses de invierno, o justo cuando necesitas un levantamuertos. Es fácil de hacer y estoy segura de que sería deliciosa cocinada en una olla de cocción lenta. Sólo asegúrese de añadir el repollo y el pipián (calabaza) al final. Sin embargo, las verduras blandas casi deshechas, en mi opinión, ayudan a espesar un poco más la sopa. Todo depende de tu gusto.

Ingredientes:

  • 12 tazas de agua
  • 3 libras de chamorro o costilla de res, preferiblemente de ganado alimentado a pasto (puede agregar otra libra si quiere más carne)
  • 2 elotes, cortadas en trozos
  • 1 yuca, pelada y cortada en trozos pequeños (se puede sustituir con papas)
  • 1/2 repollo, rebanado
  • 2 calabazas, cortadas en trozos de 1 pulgada (en El Salvador se le conoce como pipián)
  • 4 zanahorias pequeñas, cortadas en rodajas
  • 1 chile verde, picado
  • 1 cebolla pequeña, picada
  • Ramitas enteras de cilantro y hierbabuena (menta), medio picaditas
  • 1 tallo de apio, picado
  • 2 hojas de laurel
  • Sal y pimienta al gusto
  • Rodajas de limón verde para servir

En una olla grande, agregue el agua, la carne de res, las hojas de laurel, la sal y la pimienta. Cocine durante 2 horas hasta que la carne esté blanda.

Agregue el elote, la yuca, las zanahorias, el chile, la cebolla, el apio y las hierbas. Cocine hasta que la yuca esté tierna. Añadir el repollo y la calabaza y cocinar hasta que todas las verduras estén tiernas, unos 15 minutos más.

Servir con rodajas de limón.