Thursday, November 6, 2014

Slow Cooker “Sunday Gravy”

A confession right up front. I am 100% Scot. I happen to live in an area very diversely populated and I feel quite lucky! The Philadelphia area has become a true food mecca. I didn’t start out here. I am from what used to be a fishing community in Maine. We ate tons of fish and seafood. When my family moved here, I was starting high school and a new world of food opened up. My parents were always looking for new ingredients and techniques. As adventurous as they were, we never had Italian food at home and we rarely dined out. Then I went to college and got a job as a cocktail waitress (back in the day…) at an Italian restaurant. That’s where I met Umberto. He was straight off the transport from Italy. He was dreamy and… Ok, let’s move on. Umberto taught me to make classic Caesar salad, and several other Italian favorites. Over the years, I have put my own spin on a few. But, for the most part, I have followed the inspiration offered. “Sunday Gravy” is a term I learned from local “South Philly” folks. The term “gravy” means the tomato sauce is cooked long over low heat. They refer to “sauce” as a quickly cooked or “raw” tomato sauce. I am personally very fond of Sunday Gravy. During the holiday season we are so busy, but we always take time for the family to get together and enjoy a relaxing slow cooked meal. When the Hamilton Beach Set & Forget 6 Quart Programmable Slow Cooker was delivered, my first thought was to make Sunday Gravy. I did not have to stir the pot every 30 minutes. I could get a few things accomplished. This made history! The result was an incredible, thick, rich, flavorful Sunday Gravy.

Slow Cooker “Sunday Gravy”
by Susan R-H

For the Meatballs:
3/4 cup fresh bread crumbs
2 Tablespoons milk or water (I prefer milk)
1 1/2 pounds ground beef/pork/veal (equal parts)
3 large cloves garlic, grated
2 eggs, room temperature and lightly beaten
3 Tablespoons finely chopped Italian parsley
1/4 cup grated Italian cheese, I prefer Locatelli.
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon fresh cracked pepper

For the Gravy:
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1 pound sweet Italian sausage, 3” pieces
1 pound hot Italian sausage, 3” pieces
1 large yellow onion, finely diced
4 large cloves garlic, finely chopped
3 teaspoons dried basil
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (optional)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon fresh cracked pepper
1/2 cup red wine, I use whatever good quality I have on hand
2 28-ounce cans crushed tomatoes, I prefer San Marzano
1 6-ounce can tomato paste
1-2 cups water
1 pound Fettuccini

For the Meatballs:
Preheat the oven to 450°F.

Line a large rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. In a small bowl, mix the breadcrumbs with the milk. They will be a bit dry, but that’s perfectly fine. In a large bowl add the meat, garlic, eggs, parsley, cheese, breadcrumbs, salt and pepper. With your hands, mix gently until all ingredients are evenly combined. At this point, I take about a teaspoon amount of the mixture and cook it in a small skillet so I can taste for seasoning. Adjust the salt and pepper to taste. Using a standard ice cream scoop or 1/4 cup measuring cup, form the meatballs and place on the baking sheet. You should end up with about 12. Bake the meatballs until a firm golden crust forms, approximately 20 minutes. Alternately, you can pan fry the meatballs on all sides until golden brown.

For the Gravy:
Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the sausage pieces and brown on all sides. Remove to a plate and cover with foil. Add the onions, garlic, basil, oregano, red pepper (optional), salt and pepper. Sauté until the onions are translucent and soft, stirring constantly, approximately 5-7 minutes. Deglaze the pan with the red wine and continue to sauté until the wine is absorbed. Transfer to the mixture to the Hamilton Beach Set & Forget 6 Quart Programmable Slow Cooker. In the slow cooker, add the crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, and water (I started with 1 cup of water.) Set the slow cooker to high for 7 hours. Before you add the meatballs and sausage, it’s important to taste for seasoning. I found I needed to add a pinch more salt. Add the meatballs and sausage. To get the rich delightful Sunday Gravy I love, it was a relaxing 7 hours! If you like it a little thinner, add a bit more water about 4-5 hours in.

Once the gravy has completed the slow cooker journey, bring a large pot to water to a boil and season with salt. Add the pasta and cook according to the package directions. I purchased fresh pasta and it was done in two minutes. I tossed the pasta with a ladle of gravy and plated with the meatballs and sausage, then topped with more gravy. A little added grated cheese was the only finishing touch we needed. Manga!

***Cook’s Note: Many people feel there is too much acid in a tomato-based sauce. I have heard many Italian cooks add sugar or a carrot while cooking. Umberto told me to add 1 teaspoon of baking soda to the pot to neutralize the acid and I have been doing that for almost…years. It works! Umberto and I were great friends and when he decided to return to Italy, I was grateful he thought enough of my dedication to his Italian food heritage to share some of his family recipes with me. 

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