The sweet scent of beef and bones sautéing in garlic-laced olive oil and stewing, pureed tomato pulp woke me up every Sunday morning when I was a kid. I would come down the stairs, still wiping the sleep from my eyes, to find my bare chested, hefty bellied papa’ swinging a wooden spoon around the pot. As he melded the flavors – a labor of love that took hours to get right – he would shuffle his feet.
In the background, he would have on MTV, the nascent music cable channel and his absolute favorite. When Cyndi Lauper or Madonna or Michael Jackson would appear on the screen, he would twirl me all around the kitchen with his spoon still in hand. All the while the while we would hear the other music in the room, the bubbling sauce, whose perfume was intoxicating.
It was the most delightful way to start the day, which is why I still relish the making of the sauce as much as the devouring of it. Now, I want to share my father’s precious Sunday sauce recipe, which has been handed down for generations, with all of you:
Beef short ribs or flanken
Half a glass of white wine (you can substitute red wine if you’re without white)
2 Cans of crushed tomatoes
Glass of water
Heat the olive oil in a saucepan. Then, add chopped garlic. If you’d rather remove the chunks of garlic before serving, keep them large, so they will be visible. Add meat and brown it. Then, add wine. Let the alcohol cook off. Add the crushed tomatoes, water, oregano, and salt. Bring it to a heavy simmer. Then, put the flame on its lowest setting, cover the pot, and allow it to cook for one hour. Stir occasionally. After the first hour, leave the cover half off and let the sauce cook for another hour. Serve over boiled pasta and put the meat from the sauce in a separate serving dish for eating as well. You’ll want some Italian bread for “la scarpetta.”
I have a big secret. My mother and I are not keen on crushed tomatoes. The pieces of tomato skin that end up in your sauce aren’t appealing to us. So, when we make the sauce, we replace the crushed tomatoes with cans of plain tomato sauce or the jars of tomato puree imported from Italy. You can also use the conserva (the tomatoes you crush yourselves and jar for the winter).
Also, my husband likes Bolgnese sauce, which can be heavier and more challenging to make. So, to give him a taste of what he likes without the heavy cream, I use this recipe as a base. Then, I replace the crushed tomatoes with the sauce as I described. But I also replace the bone-in meat with ground beef and finely diced carrots.
I also always include fresh basil if it’s available in our garden.
Finally, another way to enjoy this is to replace the bone-in meat with sausage or a combination of ground beef and sausage. You can also use chicken and turkey, but since they are leaner meats, you won’t have the same flavor.
Now, there are no measurements in this recipe, which I know can be frustrating. But that’s how families often cook. The fun will be in experimenting until you get it right for you and yours. Also, my father wants me to tell you to drink some of the wine while you cook and save the meat to eat “come secondo,” as the second course after your pasta. Buon appetito!