Over the years, as my 20s have graduated into my late 30s, what comes churning out of my kitchen has changed. Gone are the days where I made homemade fettuccine alfredo, with its luscious butter, cream and Parmesan, on a monthly basis. Gone too are regular perogy dinners and every recipe, no matter how three-cheesy, out of my potato cookbook.
Now, a whole lot of veggies fill my cart every week. Heck — and not to sound like a jerk — sometimes I don’t even leave the produce section. Instead of French sauces and red meat everything, Asian and Latin meals have become staples in our house. And eggs. We eat a stupid amount of eggs.
But on Sunday, Valentine’s Day, it was time to indulge.
Back in October, I received an email from one of my regular food sites (how I find recipes has changed a lot too) about a Sunday sauce. The picture, showing a meaty, slow-cooked Italian red sauce, it was nice. But the idea of spending hours and hours on one meal, of stirring and skimming and checking and testing, of finding something that would become a tradition once a year, something Gabrielle would crave when she came home from college, or after a long day of residency, or while sleep deprived with a fussy toddler, that’s what sold me.
How long had it been since I’d taken the day to cook and experiment just for my family? Way too long.
Still, it took me until this past weekend to get the time to do it.
The key to this delicious sauce is what goes in it: a whole lot of meat. Baby back ribs, Italian sausage and these Italian wonders called braciole all get cooked slowly in the red sauce until they are so tender, you become briskly acquainted with what heaven tastes like.
When I started, my only association with braciole was episodes of “The Sopranos” in which Tony was devouring something mysterious, treasured and pronounced as “brajole.” (In other news, my god, did that show make me hungry.)
Anyway, turns out, braciole is top round sliced extremely thinly by a butcher. Then you make homemade breadcrumbs, dry them out, and add Parmesan, smoked paprika, red pepper flakes, parsley and olive oil. Sprinkle the breadcrumb mixture over the top round, roll it up to make a bundle and you have braciole. I chose to tie each bundle, but you could use toothpicks instead.
After I’d browned all of the meats (rather fun to write that in plural), it was time for the sauce. It’s not really that different from your average spaghetti sauce, with garlic, onions, tomato paste and a whole lot of canned tomatoes. But recently I’ve discovered San Marzano tomatoes, which they keep stocked by the pasta section in Kroger right by the jarred artichokes and pesto.
There is something especially voluptuous about these and I’d say they’re worth the extra expense, especially if you’re working on a project like this. Plus, the sauce they come in is thick and tasty, sweet but not overly so, so you’re already a leg up on a successful meal.
So. Cook the sauce for an hour and a half. Then add the meats and cook for another 2 1/2 to 3 hours. When the tomatoes have become a sauce, rather than individual tomatoes, when some of the rib meat has fallen off the bone, that’s when it’s done.
But, you’re not: You have pasta to boil. I went with mini rigatoni and I didn’t regret it. You boil it like you normally would, but then you take about a cup of sauce and put it in a large mixing bowl. Add the cooked pasta to it. Then, wonder of wonders, you stir in the remainder of the breadcrumb mixture to the pasta so everything gets crunchy and fragrant from the paprika.
Add a sausage link, a few ribs, a couple of braciole, a dose of sauce to the side of your plate, fill the rest of it with pasta and you, my friend, become one happy camper.
When I served Sunday sauce to William and Gabrielle, it had the desired effect of making their eyes roll back in their heads. But more than that, it reintroduced me to the joy of taking things slowly. Of enjoying each step. Of the sweetness of waiting for something worth waiting for.
To find the Sunday sauce recipe, go to: