An Englishman's Italian sauce recipe
Recently a few friends and family were gathered in the house. During a rush of nostalgia stories, as so often happens, the conversation turned to food. Tessie and I recalled a coming back from a camping trip in Yosemite and stopping in Lodi for lunch. We were fortunate enough to stumble upon an old-fashioned Italian restaurant, of the family kind, in which Grandma (or at least, her recipes) still rule the roost. Ever a fan of good rich sauces, I opted for the plainly-named "Meat Sauce", which turned out to be rather familiar. It took me back to my childhood.
Herewith a recipe based on a family recipe, one my Dad used to cook up. He would often use the remnants of a Sunday roast beef which he would process with an old hand-powered Spong mincer. He tended to cook it for less time than I do, but everything else is as I recall him doing.
I love cooking, but hate recipes. I generally play with them and almost never use exact measures. I love spoonsful, cups, dollops and pinches. If you prefer metric and stuff, go for it.
- A pound or so of meat. I prefer minced/ground beef.
A pound of Italian sausage, full-flavoured.
Tomatoes, chopped. About 3 pounds of fresh plum (sauce) tomatoes, or a pound-and-a-half of sauce.
Have a jar or tube of tomato puree on standy. Always.
A large onion, chopped roughly.
As much garlic as you can stand. I manage about half a dozen cloves.
Bacon grease or real lard. For the flavour.
Olive oil, because.
Seasonings. Salt, black pepper, fresh herbs. I find that basil and oregano work well.
A glass or so of wine. Your choice.
Method, of sorts
Take the onion. Chop it up into bits; some larger, some smaller. Get a stout pan (I use a large cast iron skillet), put a gob or two of bacon grease (enough to liberally cover the base of the pan) therein, then heat it some before adding the onions. Stir that occasionally. Now, chop some garlic and once the onions have started to brown, add the garlic and pepper.
By this time, you will have chopped the sausage into bite-sized pieces and and are ready to mix them with the minced meat. Add a tablespoon or three of olive oil to the pan, let it sizzle for a moment, then toss the meat in and stir. Once the meat has browned, deglaze the pan with a glass of good red wine, or maybe even a darkish beer. I've used North Coast Brewery's Red Seal Ale, but anything between an amber and a brown ale works.
Now heave in as many chopped tomatoes as you can stand, or the tomato sauce of your choice. Keep stirring for a minute or two - the result should be pretty fluid at this point. Now the hard part. Cover the pan and leave it on a low, low heat for as long as you can stand to, remembering to stir once in a while to keep it from sticking. I keep it cooking until it's dark and rich and not at all liquidy.
If it seems overly meaty (or not tomato-y enough) add the puree. This is important, the richness of the tomato can make or break this sauce.
At some point before you serve, check for seasoning and add whatever you fancy. I often find that a little salt, fresh basil, oregano and whatnot helps. Cook a little longer. If possible, leave overnight; it really helps the flavours blend and meld and such. Serve over fresh, al dente spaghetti.
This serves four to six people with good appetites, it freezes well and keeps for about three months. Total cooking time is between four and eight hours, then I try to leave it to sit overnight as well, to let those flavours blend.
I tweaked the method somewhat, following a long weekend spent with an Italian woman and her family. Her mother had just such a pot of sauce on the back burner, with the intent of cooking it as slowly as possible for as long as possible. It worked.