September 28, 2012

Spaghetti & Meat Sauce, or What I Mean When I Say Gravy

Yesterday the woman I work with and I were talking. I'm not sure how we got on the subject, but she was telling me a story about how her son wouldn't eat raviolis at a friend's house because they used jarred sauce. So I followed up with my own story about how surprised I was to learn just how many people used that jarred sauce. It was a shock when I discovered that most people don't make their own gravy.

You see, my dad always joked that he'd married the only Italian in Brooklyn that didn't know how to cook. But my mom would always make a gravy with pork or meatballs or sausage or braciole (I had to look up how to spell that. It doesn't look like it's pronounced, which is bra-jhole). I always assumed that that meant a gravy was one of the easiest things that you could make, and that everyone made it.
I can see all the blank looks you're giving me. I can hear you muttering to yourselves, "why is she calling it gravy? It's not gravy, it's pasta sauce." And to you I say... I actually don't know why we call it gravy. We just do. And if someone says, "I'm making a gravy," it brings to mind a giant pot, simmering away for hours on the stove, and snacks of a nice slice of Italian bread, smothered in the steaming sauce. Or a slice of fresh mozzarella melted by the heat of the gravy. Or the little meatballs that I made with my grandmother, that she always kept separate just for me. Saying that you're making a gravy brings to mind the smell of those cooking tomatoes and garlic and spicy Italian sausage that permeates everything and makes your mouth water and your tummy rumble (hence all the different snacking options).

Edit: According to my know-it-all brother, it's called a gravy because it contains the meat drippings, like the brown stuff you make for turkey. Sauce is meat free. So HA!

If you say, "I'm making pasta sauce," I think of a thin tomato sauce with no meat. Like the jarred stuff. I don't know why. I've learned that my mind is a mysterious place.
I tried to make it not look like a smiley face, but it didn't work.
Since being a food blogger and entering into the foodie community, I've seen people say things like, "I'm being authentic tonight and making pasta sauce from fresh tomatoes," and I just kind of blink in confusion. Maybe Italians from Italy still use fresh tomatoes, but no Italian I know does. Even Nadia G uses canned tomatoes. Canned just cooks down easier.

Not that I've never cooked with fresh tomatoes. I've cooked down some cherry tomatoes for sauces over meats or stir fries, but thin sauces. Not a gravy. (Okay, maybe I do know why I think of the word sauce like that.) But I generally prefer fresh tomatoes as-is. A nice thick slice with fresh mozz and some fresh basil. Yum.
As you may have noticed, I also made meatballs. What's that? You want the recipe? Take some ground meat, put it in a bowl. Add some spices. Add a couple handfuls of breadcrumbs and a couple handfuls of grated cheese. Smush it all together with your hands, then form into small balls. Brown on each side and cook through (like in that big pot of gravy that will be cooking for the next 6 hours). I know it's a very exact and scientific recipe, but I think you can handle it. ^_^

Confession: I actually don't add my spices at the end. I add them at the beginning, and I like it better that way. But I also know how it should taste at the beginning versus how it should taste at the end. You novices don't want to over-season (but a pot this big is very forgiving, if you want to experiment).
Happy spaghetti is happy.
Meat Sauce (aka Gravy) {Printable Version}

2 tbsp. olive oil
1 pound lean ground beef
½ cup chopped onion
2 (28 oz.) cans crushed tomatoes
2 (6 oz.) cans tomato paste
12 oz. water
2 bay leaves
¾ cup grated parmesan cheese

Garlic (powder to taste or 2 cloves minced)
Crushed red pepper (optional)


In a large pot, heat the oil over medium heat. If using minced garlic, add to the oil and cook until fragrant. Add the ground meat and onions, seasoning liberally with salt and pepper. Cook over medium heat until the meat is browned. Add the crushed tomatoes, paste, and water, and stir until well combined. Add the bay leaves and cook, stirring occasionally, until it comes to a boil. Cover and reduce heat to a simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally, for a minimum of 2 hours, 4-6 hours preferable. Add the cheese, stirring well until fully incorporated. Season as desired (I like lots of oregano and garlic, with just a pinch of red pepper). Take off the heat and serve over pasta.

Tip: After draining the pasta, mix in 1-2 cups of sauce. This does dual duty of flavoring the pasta and keeping it from sticking together.

Recipe by Kim (with help from Mom)