Tag Archives: rich red sauce

What About Bob & Marie’s “Sunday Dinner”

Marie's Sunday Dinner

Marie’s Sunday Dinner

I asked my sister-in-law’s husband Bob to invite us to dinner! I never know how to introduce him; he is married to my husband’s sister and is “Uncle Bob” to my kids. But he is not technically my brother-in-law so do I say” hi, this is my sister-in-law’s husband” or “this is my husband’s brother-in-law” or “this is my kids uncle by marriage” or perhaps just “this is Bob” would be best. Yes, except that when you introduce people everyone needs clarification to feel comfortable. Like, “this is Mimi, my sister who lives in Ireland and thinks her winning dish is corn flakes with the perfect measure of sugar and milk” That way you know that this person is my sister, you know where she lives and that she cooks a mean bowl of cereal! People are more comfortable when they have a little information on someone new. Try going to a party and introducing someone by just saying their name and watch the awkward moment that follows! I guarantee the next question asked by the person left out in Limbo will be: “what do you do?” or “how do you know Tess?” We are odd insecure creatures.

Sister-in-law helping out

My Sister-in-law

So who is Marie now that you know Bob is my sister-in-law’s husband, my husband’s brother-in-law and my kids Uncle by marriage, oh and lives right next door. Marie is a person I never met but someone I have heard about over the course of 20 years, and in that time have pieced together a picture of this woman, Bob’s mother.

Every time I have heard her name it is always when Bob and I are talking about food. I don’t know if Bob and I have that much in common but the things that in the end give us ties that bind are family and food. Sometimes I think we share a sort of secret club of mutual understanding and empathy. We are both living away from what was familiar to us growing up (okay I suppose I win there being from Ireland and him being American). But we both have no family here and we are identified by our spouse’s family. I shouldn’t think of it like this because I love this new family-in-law for want of a better word, but when we are all gathered for Christmas or Thanksgiving, birthdays and sadly funerals, I see Bob and I, and then everyone else. It’s not a complaint and I do see the same thing when I get together with my family and how my husband looks “set apart”

Meatballs smothered in sunday Gravy

Meatballs smothered in Sunday Gravy

It is just what happens, the way that I have a nostalgic urge to continue to cook certain foods my mother cooked and not the food my mother-in-law cooked. It is the root of things that cannot be severed or relinquished. The piece of Bob that is integral to his make-up is the food that his mother made and the food he learned to cook himself through what must have felt like osmosis to him. The day in and day out of just being in the kitchen with her (whether he was helping with the meal or not), taught him how to cook her food. The familiar aroma that seemed to hang in the air of only his house became an association with her and her alone. When you grow up in a house where cooking is a nightly occurrence you can’t help but take that with you when you leave or when the parent who created all the smells and tastes dies. That is a very beautiful thing.

Bubbling Sunday Gravy

Bubbling Sunday Gravy

And it is that part of Bob’s mother that is very much alive for him. She grew up in an Italian/American household, lived in an Italian neighborhood in Newark New Jersey and married an Italian/American man who was from the same town (correct me if I am wrong Bob!). To me, the great thing about Italian food in American is how these expats. took the best of what their forbearers brought with them and held on tightly to those recipes. They made it their own of course but the backbone of certain dishes is very much Italian; like Sunday Gravy. Italy is one of those amazing places in Europe who is stubborn (in a very good way) about their food. They have not been lured by “fusion” even though the world itself has been fused together with people and countries mingling together creating a new kind of food culture and new kind of world in general.

Slow-cooked Italian Sausages

Slow-cooked Italian Sausages

When I lived for a few months in Italy last year the only food I ate, indeed the only ingredients I could find to cook with in the little Tuscan town (Cortona) I lived in was Italian food; all of the meat, the sausages, chicken, lamb, beef and all the mouth-watering cured meats were all local, as were the vegetables and of course the wine – all Italian! You could find a little more diversity in the big cities like Florence and Rome, but even their traditional Italian food reigned supreme. I did not complain (although I did pine now and then for some soy and sriracha sauce!).

The Piece de Resistance (Rigatoni with sunday Gravy)

The Piece de Resistance (Rigatoni with Sunday Gravy)

Getting back to Bob…a few weeks ago I bumped into him when he was waiting for his daughter (my children’s’ first cousin or my niece by marriage who is also my God Child – just to clarify) and I asked if he would make his mother’s Sunday Dinner and invite us. Brazen I know, but after 20 years I felt like I could ask and that he could go ahead and be a bit indignant that I had the nerve but I really don’t worry too much about stuff like that any more. And to be fair, Bob is a pretty easygoing fella so of course he willingly agreed to make dinner for us all! He sort of laughed and said it wasn’t anything special but a week or so later his wife (my actual sister-in-law!) called to say that Bob would be making “The Dinner” this coming Sunday – wow, he took my request as a serious one after all.

Bob and his long-cooked pot of Sauce

Bob and his long-cooked pot of Sauce

When you have the same dinner each and every Sunday for as long as you can remember then I suppose this dish is viewed as nothing special. I mean if I lived in Italy and had a cornetto and a cafe macchiato every morning for breakfast it would also become something ordinary ( I can only dream about that kind of ordinary right now). It is all relative, and since I grew up in Ireland on a diet of meat and potatoes the idea of eating  pork tenderloin, homemade meatballs and sausages that have been simmering all day in a rich red sauce and served with rigatoni pasta and a generous sprinkle of freshly chopped flat-leafed parsley, Parmigiano Reggiano and possibly a dollop of ricotta cheese seemed like a most glorious opportunity indeed.

Marie's Meatball Mix

Marie’s Meatball Mix

I had never experienced anything close to this kind of food growing up in Ireland. Loath though I am to admit it the first time I ate spaghetti with red sauce was from a tin. It never occurred to me that you could eat it any other way. I had never seen dried pasta in the supermarket namely because it was not sold in any supermarket in Ireland before 1983 ish. I’m guessing on the date but to impress upon you how rare it was to find pasta and even rarer to find someone cooking it instead of potatoes, I remember being in a very fancy supermarket in Dublin in about 1984 and in one aisle there was a whole shelf of dried spaghetti with a big SALE sign that said 1 penny! So even the supposed sophisticates of the country had no notion what to do with the stuff!

The Salad

The Salad

When I took some home and cooked pasta for dinner, my father said “this is great but where are the potatoes?” After that I always served pasta with a dollop of mash on the side. Even today, in every Chinese restaurant in Ireland you can have chips with your Beef Chow Mein!

Another combination (meatballs, gravy and rigatoni

Another combination (meatballs, gravy and rigatoni

Which reinforces the idea that even though the world has immersed itself in each other’s food we tend to stick to what we grow up with for the most part. Why do you think that Bob was still cooking a deep rich red sauce with his mother Marie in his kitchen in Newark in the 70’s and 80’s, which of course was handed down directly from some relative who came over from Italy. Preserving recipes is part and parcel of preserving a culture. Sometimes it is the only thing that helps distinguish one culture from another. 

Bob said his mother never made less than 2 lbs of pasta for any meal, even if it was only dinner for two!

Bob said his mother never made less than 2 lbs of pasta for any meal, even if it was only dinner for two!

When I was growing up in Ireland and had the chance to go away on holidays when my friend Siobhan we would either don backpacks and stick out our thumb and hostel around the West of Ireland or go to France. France was easy as you could take a boat from Rosslare in County Wexford to Cherbourg or Le Havre. Getting to Italy required a little more planning and money of which the latter was in short supply. I never made it to Italy until last year (click on “Italy” to the right of my blog to read about my trip) so my introduction to Italian Food was in the States. I knew it had taken on a life of its own, as it should, but the essence was the same. It was all about big robust food centered around family.

Italian parsley - the best garnish in the world

Italian parsley – the best garnish in the world

Bob had talked about his mother’s Sunday Gravy a number of times before I asked him what it was. I felt kind of silly that I didn’t know what it was, because when I thought about gravy it was brown, thickened with flour or thinned out with meat juices. I was very far off the mark as it was Italian red sauce but essentially it served the same purpose as the gravy swimming on my plate every Sunday; it bound the food together and colored the flavor of everything you put into your mouth. I think Sunday Gravy is more important to Italian food than brown gravy is to the Irish kitchen (after all there is also White sauce!) and is the one component that every Italian or American-Italian has an opinion on. Some argue that garlic is imperative while others insist on fresh oregano or it just won’t be authentic. Bob’s Sunday Gravy is something I wondered about and the only way to taste it was to invite myself over to try it!

See What I mean (about the parsley!)

See What I mean (about the parsley!)

Bob did not cook this dinner every Sunday, far from it. It took on a more celebratory status when he made it because he had to be in the kitchen for hours watching the pot, stirring regularly and making the other things that in Marie’s time were part and parcel of the meal; like her meatballs, salad, cheeses and herbs. People don’t spend as much time in the kitchen on Sundays as they used to because there are so many other distractions and obligations, so while Bob laughed at how excited we all were (well me for sure) about a meal he could have prepared with his eyes closed there was no getting away from the fact that it brought everyone together under one roof; the in-laws, the cousins and the Granny!

Dig in!

Dig in!

The conversation drifted from food to family and back to food again. My mother-in-law wondered if having the smells of his childhood in his kitchen and all of the people milling around made him think about his mother and make him miss her? It didn’t seem so and I think he was comforted not saddened while going through the familiar motions of shaping the meatballs and checking the sauce. He was amused by my questions about how the sauce tasted to him, and if the Sunday dinner always has a bowl of ricotta cheese on the table, but I could see that he also enjoyed talking about the food and his mother and thinking about all the Sundays he spent in the kitchen with her. Up to that Sunday I had always wished I had met her, but now I feel a little like I did.

Thank you bob for giving us this most wonderful feast

Thank you Bob for giving us this most wonderful feast

Pork Chops in Seriously Good Red Sauce (serves 6)

Pork Chops in Seriously Good Red Sauce

My day was so busy I didn’t think too much about dinner until it was time to make it. I would have to make do with whatever was available in my kitchen, as I wasn’t in the mood to go grocery shopping. The only protein I had was pork chops, and after that, the fridge looked a little like old Mother Hubbard’s pantry:bare!

important flavor ingredients

What saves me at moments like this is the fact that I always have onions on hand, and a supply of herbs in the backyard. That would have been enough to work with, but I also discovered a big can of crushed tomatoes and so settled on a rich red sauce. What made it rich was the cup of red wine I added to the mix. I had some red wine and was looking for an excuse to use it for something other than drinking it (too fruity for my plate). It worked perfectly.

The sauce is something that could easily stand alone, (without the meat) and would work great for a lasagna or a nice alternative for a marinara sauce.

So you see, you can make something seriously good without too many ingredients. All you need are the basics, and winging the rest can be fun.

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You will need:

6 tbs extra-virgin olive oil

6 Rib-end pork loin chops

2 large sweet onions, large dice

2 celery ribs, diced (including leaves)

6 fresh oregano sprigs

28 oz canned crushed tomatoes (I used San Marzano)

1 cup red wine

1 cup water

2 tsp sea-salt (I used Maldon sea-salt flakes)

several grinds black pepper

Method:

Preheat oven 450*

1 – Prep all veggies. Season chops with salt and several grinds of pepper. Place big saute pan on high heat and add about 3 tbs of the oil. When it is hot add pork chops in single layer, and sear on both side until golden brown. Add oil as necessary and continue to cook meat until everything is seared, transferring to a plate as you go.

Sear chops on high heat

2 – Turn heat down to medium and add the onions, and celery. Saute for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Saute onions & celery

3 – Add oregano and continue to cook for another 3 minutes.

add herbs

4 – Add wine and turn heat to high. Let the liquid bubble for about 3 minutes (the wine will reduce and intensify).

then wine

5 – Add the crushed tomatoes and water, and bring mixture to a bubble. Turn off heat and add pork chops to the sauce in an even a layer as possible (there will be some overlapping, which is fine)

add crushed tomatoes & water

6 – Cover with lid and place in oven for 1 hour. Remove from oven and let sit for 10 minutes to rest and cool down.

Serve

Serve with whatever you have on hand: it is good with rice, pasta, potatoes, romaine leaves or even by itself.

Rich Shrimp Stew with Herb-Infused Rice (serves 6-8)

So, it was 4th of July weekend and since I had 3 free days on my hands, I decided to make the 2 1/2 hour drive north of my house to visit my brother and his family. I also decided to cook dinner for the whole group to give my sister-in-law a break from trying to juggle dinner and 14 month old twin girls at the same time! I knew that everyone loved shrimp and it would cook quickly, and, if I made the dish partially at my house, I would then be able to spend some leisurely time in the kitchen chatting and enjoying a glass of wine, instead of burdening myself with having to do everything at once. That is exactly what I did. I made a nice long cooked red sauce to add to the shrimp, along with the rice, before I hit the road.

Ready to chop (and drink!)

When I arrived I headed straight for the kitchen with my cooler, my trusty 13″ All-clad pan and my apron. I had a bottle of wine for my dish and I immediately opened it and poured two hefty glasses for myself and Jennifer. She laughed when I pulled out my camera, and chatted, cooked, drank and took pictures. She of course had been aware of my blog, but had not seen me in action. As I took a quick shot of the veggies on her counter-top she dove into the creative process and put my wine glass of wine amidst the greenery! Hmmmm….maybe I need a food stylist!

A wonderful, robust meal

The dish was full of local produce from my CSA box (see top right of my blog for more details) and herbs from my garden. I felt so artisanal! It was great fun making dinner with lots of kids spiralling my feet and my brother hovering, not remotely interested in the process by the way; he was hungry.

an expert chopper in training!

My son gave a hand by chopping the parsley garnish into a neat pile of wispy greens, while my daughter spent her time picking up her little golden-locked cousins and declaring how cute they were at every turn. The dinner was extremely delicious, and even thought he would never admit to it, my brother Pascal had thirds, which he ate while standing at the pan, not suspecting that anyone was looking! 

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Rich Red Sauce recipe

You will need: 1 big sweet onion, small dice, 5 sprigs thyme, 4 basil leaves, 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped, 1 28oz & 1 14oz can of whole plum tomatoes, with their juices, coarse sea salt, (I used Maldon salt flakes)

1 – Heat a pan over medium heat and add oil. Add onions and garlic and saute for about 10 minutes. Add the herbs and continue to cook for another minute or two.

Saute onions and garlic, then add herbs

2 – Add the tomatoes and their juices, and a 1/2 tsp coarse sea salt. Bring liquid to a simmer.

add liquids

3 – Cover and simmer gently for 40 minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary. Set aside until ready to add to stew.

Note: This is a handy and wonderful sauce for lots of dishes, and can be simply tossed with spaghetti.

Rich red sauce ready to add to stew

Herb-Infused Rice

You will need: 4 cups raw rice if using stove-top method OR 6 cup measures from rice cooker if using a rice-cooker, 1/2 cup chopped mixed herbs (such as Italian parsley, basil, apium, sprig of thyme, oregano, winter savory, tarragon).

1 – When you have added the water to the rice, toss the herbs into the pot or rice cooked. When rice is cooked, stir herbs into the rice.

Don't forget to cook the rice!

Make the Shrimp Stew

You will Need: 2 lbs shrimp, deveined, remove shell, (use the 31-40 count per lb size), 2 tbs extra-virgin olive oil, 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper flakes (add up to 1 tsp if you want a tinge of apparent heat), 8 scallions, sliced, (or if you have them; 6 bunching onions from your garden or someone elses’), 2 cloves garlic, chopped, 2 cups pearl onions, (one or more color varieties), 3 inner tender celery ribs with leaves, chopped, 3 cups white wine,  rich red sauce (recipe above), 1/3 cup freshly chopped flat-leaf parsley, coarse sea salt, freshly ground black pepper, 8 big kale leaves, center vein removed and finely chopped.

first; blanch pearl onions.

1 – Blanch the onions: Bring pot of water to boil and add onions. time for 4 minutes. drain and when cool enough to handle snip off the long stringy end of the onion and squeeze onion from root end. onion should pop out. you may need to assist it by cutting the skin at the top and peeling it off. Set aside until needed.

saute garlic, celery & scallions.

2 – Put a big saute pan on low/medium heat and add oil. When it has warmed, add the scallions, celery and garlic. Saute for 8 minutes. Add the pearl onions and continue to cook for another 8 minutes, stirring occasionally.

add pearl onions.

3 – Add wine and bring to a boil. simmer until wine reduces by half (about 6 minutes)

add wine

4 – Add the tomato sauce, bring back to a simmer. Cover and cook on low (gently simmer) for 5 or 6 minutes.

add wine, then tomato sauce

5 – While sauce is cooking, cook  your finely chopped kale in pot or saute pan and 2/3 cup water for 5 minutes (time when water is boiling). Drain.

Saute kale

6 – Add kale to sauce and stir. Bring back to a simmer and add shrimp. When it starts to simmer again cook shrimp in sauce for about 4 minutes. Turn off heat (shrimp will continue to cook)

Add kale, then shrimp

Serve on a bed rice and add parsley garnish.

Serve with rice and garnish with chopped parsley.