Italian Family Traditions
My neighbor, Kelli, and I grew up worlds apart- both geographically and culturally. I grew up in Southern California while eating dinners made from modern conveniences such as Minute Rice and Betty Crocker with my new-age Mom. While at the same time, Kelli was peeling and canning tomatoes for pasta sauce in the kitchens of Italian aunts and nonnas in New York. Despite being exactly one-quarter Italian myself, my Sicilian-born grandmother died decades before I was born.
Sadly, after 10 years of being a neighbor and dear friend, Kelli moved back to New York. But she did leave something behind (besides her husband)- her family recipe for Italian Sunday Gravy.
Now, for me the word “gravy” is something you pour over turkey and mashed potatoes at Thanksgiving. But, if you’re from the “old country”, gravy is a traditional Sunday dish that women could put in a pot early Sunday morning and let it simmer while attending Mass. Italian Sunday gravy is a rich, heavy meal of meats that simmer in tomato sauce so long, it’s hard to tell where the meat ends and the sauce begins.
Making Sunday Gravy isn’t as difficult as I thought; and, if your kids love to cook as much as mine do, rolling meatballs is the perfect task for little hands. After selecting a variety of meats like pork chops, Italian sausage links, veal cutlets and/or ground sirloin for meatballs, the meat is browned in olive oil and garlic then added to crushed tomatoes in a large Dutch oven. After simmering in the tomatoes for hours, the meat is then removed to a platter and served separately from the sauce alongside pasta, bread and salad.
To further illuminate the differences in our culinary traditions, I typically eat salad first with bread then an entrée… and all within the time span of about 20 minutes. While the tradition of eating Italian Sunday Gravy is an all-afternoon event lasting about 2-3 hours, from pasta aglio e olio (pasta with garlic, olive oil and crushed peppers) and red table wine, the salad is actually eaten after the pasta. The big finale, or course, is cannoli and coffee. Get that… hours of uninterrupted time just relaxing and enjoying food and family- a la familia!
And, while I’m used to meat being in the pasta sauce, Sunday gravy is served with the meat removed from the sauce onto a separate platter. It’s also typically eaten early enough in the day to allow for proper digestion of its heavy ingredients, thus making it the perfect Sunday after-church meal. Combining my favorite herbs such as basil and parsley, check out my version of this traditional Italian dinner recipe:
So while this West Coast girl and her family sat down to enjoy Italian Gravy this Sunday, I could swear I heard the theme song from The Godfather playing in the background.