The smell of homemade spaghetti sauce, above all other smells of food cooking, is what brings me back home to my parents’ house as a kid. It has been shown scientifically that the olfactory sense triggers memory and my story is yet another testament to this science. My parents made sauce (or gravy as my 100% Italian dad still calls it) only a couple of times a year but it was frequently enough to allow the smell of it cooking in my own home to evoke such memories even today.
I remember my dad pouring over the stove working on his masterpiece: spicing up the gravy, rolling out the meatballs, and making sure that the piece of pork he would soon put in the pot to stew all day was big enough. It always was and was often a “bone” of contention between my parents because my mom always thought the sauce had enough fat in it from the meatballs and sausages already; for my dad, his gravy wasn’t complete without a big hunk of pork. Some of my greatest memories as a kid were spaghetti and meatball nights where my mom would have my brother and I put on our dad’s old work shirts as make-shift bibs to catch whatever red mess was inevitably about to come. Ricotta cheese was ALWAYS on the table those nights and would act as the glue in our bowls as we all competed to see who could twist a forkful of spaghetti on their fork the best without a single strand hanging off. (It was always my dad…afterall, he DID have the most practice under his belt from weekly – Sundays – spaghetti and meatball dinners with his family as a kid.) Those were great times always to be remembered.
Over the years, I’ve asked my dad to write out his recipe but he’s always told me that he doesn’t measure the amounts of anything he puts in there and so the sauce is never the same every time (although always delicious). A couple of years ago, I figured I had watched him make it enough times to feel confident enough to make it myself. And since then, my gravy has never come out the same way because I’ve never written the recipe down either…until now. I figured sharing my recipe might help others overcome their own fears of cooking what seems to be a monumentous meal, but in reality, is still a bunch of indregidents cooked together in the right proportions.
Note: I didn’t measure my amounts either (the apple doesn’t fall far) but I’ve got a pretty good estimate about how much of everything I used.
My Homemade Gravy
- 3 tbsp olive oil
- 2 medium onions, chopped
- 5 gloves garlic, minced
- 3-4 tbsp fresh thyme, minced
- 2 tsp dried or 2 tbsp fresh rosemary
- 2 tbsp salt
- 3 tsp freshly ground black pepper
- 2 tsp garlic powder
- 2 tsp dried oregano
- 2 1/2 tbsp tomato paste
- 4 (32oz) cans tomatoes (I used 2 pureed, 1 crushed, 1 sauce this time)
- 2 cups water
- 1 tbsp sugar
- 1/3 cup parsley, chopped
- 1/2 cup fresh basil, torn or chopped
- salt and pepper to taste
Heat a large stockpot or dutch oven (I used my 7 1/4 quart dutch oven) to medium heat. Heat olive oil and cook onions under almost soft. Add garlic, salt, pepper, and all of the herbs and cook, stirring often, for 3-4 minutes. Add tomato paste, stir to combine and cook for 2-3 minutes, stirring and being careful not to burn the mixture. Reduce heat to medium-low to low heat and add the tomatoes, water, and sugar. Cover and cook for 6-7 hours, stirring occasionally. Add parsley and basil 30 minutes before serving. Add salt and pepper to taste before serving.
If you want to add meatballs, sausages, or a piece of pork to the pot, go for it. This time I slowly cooked 6 Italian hot sausages in a frying pan over low heat for about 10 minutes then added them to the pot to cook with the gravy for the 6-7 hours. I also quickly braised a pork loin (cut in 3 equal pieces) and added the pieces to the sauce for the entire cooking time as well. The pork literally fell apart when cutting it and the sausages were perfectly tender. I didn’t make meatballs this time because I ran out of room in the pot with the pork and sausages.
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 10 minutes plus 6-7 hours.
I have about 3 1/2 quarts of gravy leftover and have frozen most of it.