An unusual CXR Recommends for some unusual circumstances... Unless you've been living on another planet for the past few months you've certainly been impacted by the shelter-in-place mandate in some way, shape, fashion, or form. And if you're like many of our CXR members who have been hunkered down and working from home for a few months now, you might be going a little stir-crazy.
Taking online dancing lessons, attending virtual happy hours, or joining e-cooking classes (all in front of your screens or monitors) is likely something that you've been trying to do in order to break up the monotony and keep your sanity. So while the below recipe might be something that you want to share online with your distant colleagues, family, and friends - we thought we'd share a little bit of the history behind Gerry Crispin's (now) infamous Sunday Sauce. Oh, scratch that... it's his Nonna's Sunday Sauce.
And for what it's worth - Mr. Crispin had no idea we were posting this for you to discover, but we suspect it will put a smile on his face, and the faces of his family, to know that it can be shared and enjoyed with you and yours.
Nonna's Sunday Sauce: A family conversation
penned by Gerry Crispin
There really isn’t a ‘Sunday Sauce.’
And yet many 1st and 2nd generation descendants of Italian immigrants (as well as those of other nationalities) feel fortunate to have fond memories of weekly family gatherings breaking bread and enjoying food made with love and leftovers.
My family was one of the lucky ones. I was a toddler when Teresa and Giovanni Soviero, my Nonna and Nonno, lived at 19 Highland Court on a hill overlooking Huntington Village, on the north shore of Long Island, NY.
(The Catholic church and grade school is still a short 5 minute walk down the hill where every Friday during the Depression and through WWII and Korea a pot of sauce and several pounds of pasta was hand delivered by my 3 uncles – as teenagers and adults to the priests and nuns living beside ‘St Pat’s Cathedral’.
My mother, baby sister and I lived with my grandparents for two years when my father was off engaged in the Korean ‘conflict’.
And I distinctly remember every Sunday in the early 1950’s that all 5 of my aunts and uncles plus my mom were expected to show up for an all-afternoon dinner - many trailing spouses and children- I was the 4th oldest of what ended up to be 19 first cousins by 1960. (The names of the Soviero children by the way reflected that 1st generation: Ferdinand, Francesco, Giuseppe, Immaculata, Angelina, and, my mother, Agata.)
[Gerry's 1st birthday, surrounded by his parents, his "Nonna" and 3 of his cousins.]
The house on Highland Court was built by my grandfather in 1922. There were three bedrooms. One for my 3 uncles, one for my 3 aunts. By the 1950’s the coal furnace in the basement had just been converted to oil but the kitchen was still dominated by a huge stove…and I’m just not sure what was used to fire it up as gas wasn’t an option and it definitely wasn’t electric. It was connected to an internal chimney so I’m guessing it was still coal.
What I do recall vividly were the huge pots on the back two burners. One was for the soup stock- it was always simmering 24/7.
Every Friday, the weekend’s sauce began in ernest in a second huge pot for Sunday’s dinner. At the start it was meatless (if only because of that ‘Friday trip’ my uncles made to the priests and nuns…Catholics at the time never ate meat on a Friday).
On Saturday the remaining sauce continued to evolve with the addition of leftover’s, and freshly made meatballs, sausages and often, braciole.
Another reason I know Sunday Sauce began on Friday is that I was the taste tester. Throughout the day Nonna periodically ripped a crust from an Italian bread loaf, dipped it into the sauce, bent over (I was shorter than table height) and put it in my mouth. The kitchen was the warmest place in the house and so, it was there where I played while my mother, a teacher in town, was off to work. She would return Friday afternoons to find me with a face totally sauced. I might have been a bit pudgy during those years.
I still can smell, see and taste in my mind’s eye the intense flavor of long simmering plum tomatoes, herbs and much more every time I make my pot of my version of that Sunday Sauce – usually 4 or 5 times a year.
Here then is my recipe (I’m going to make a half batch).
You can join me in the assembly and the initial simmer. It will be enough for a couple meals and is easily frozen. It will be a little fresh simmering for only half an hour but still great. I’ll likely make some meatballs and sausage in advance so I can just add them and their juice to warm up toward the end so feel free to do the same or leave meatless.
[In 2008, Gerry's grandson, Charley, at his 1st birthday. Same spot. Surrounded by his parents, grandfather, and one of his many 3rd cousins.]
Or, alternatively, set in place your own version and ingredients for Sunday Sauce to add to our conversation.
Order of ingredients:
- Olive Oil, (2-3 ‘turns’)
- Onion (1 large, chopped- note: I prefer Vidalia but yellow or white is fine. If I have bell peppers in the fridge, I might dice them up and add them at this time, same with mushrooms…an umami possibility we’ll talk more about)
- Salt and Pepper (note: periodically taste and add more a little at a time. Stay light on salt as it is added to pasta.)
- Garlic (3 Cloves- note roughly chopped if you keep I in, whole if you take it out. I keep it in)
- Tomato Paste (1/2 of a 6 ounce can)
- Wine (1/2 cup or more of what you are drinking)
- Peeled Plum Tomatoes (2 28oz cans. Source San Marzano if at all possible. Note: If you are prone to acid reflux you should use a food mill to eliminate seeds. If not, you must use your hands to squeeze the tomatoes before or as they go in the pot. I’ll show you how I normally do it without getting it all over. )
- Stock (1 cup of vegetable, beef, or chicken depending on your mood. Keep another cup or two handy as sauce simmers to maintain preferred density.)
- Bay Leaf (1 or 2. You will be removing this at the end)
- Sugar (1 Tablespoon. Optional. The sugar reduces the acid of the tomatoes and depending on the whether you use San Marzano – i.e. fewer seeds or, using a food mill to eliminate the seeds, you might not want to add. It’s not for flavor)
- Hot Pepper Flakes (pinch or more depending on taste)
- Herbs at the ready (note: I always add a few torn Basil leaves, maybe a pinch of Oregano, and/or Tyme early, and over time, I may add more toward the end depending on the flavor profile I’m looking for. I prefer fresh Basil. Fresh Parsley I always add at the end.
- Regianno Parmesagno Rind (Optional- I buy blocks of this cheese and save the rind + a little and put it in the sauce. Very common thing Italians do. If you have a little freshly grated parmesagno handy after plating the pasta, you might want to think about that.
- Pasta. I love a thicker Pasta. What is your favorite? Anything will do.
Umami options – open to conversation (Some consider this a secret)
- Anchovies (3). Mash them and put them in right after you add the stock. They melt into the sauce. Alternatively, there is an Italian specialty anchovy extract called ‘colatura di alici di cetara’ which is amazing. I add it to everything Italian.
- Another alternative is to finely chop an ounce or two of mushrooms and add them to the sauce.
Meat options – open to conversation
- Once your sauce is simmering. Meats (which in this case you’ve pre-prepared) can be added. I always put homemade meatballs (8-10 - about a pound and a half) and sausage (one 1lb of hot and 1lb of sweet) if I’m making a full batch of sauce i.e. 4-5 28oz cans of plum tomatoes plus a 2+ cups of stock. Consider half.
If motivated and on special occasions, I’ll make braciole…and I’ll describe how I make it in our conversation. Sometimes If I have any leftover chicken I might cut it up add it in. My mother often had lots of chicken pieces but Chicken Cacciatore is better saved for another time.
- Cook the chopped onions in the olive oil over a medium heat in your sauce pot. Add a few turns of Salt and Pepper. 3-5 minutes. The onions should be translucent but not browned.
- Fill another pot with 4 quarts of water, add a couple tablespoons of salt and get it to and hold it just below boiling for later.
- Add the garlic to sauce pot and stir for 1-2 minutes. Take it out if you want. I leave in in if not too brown when I add the paste.
- Add the Tomato paste now and stir for ~1 minute til the paste turns a brighter red. Then add the wine, stir and let it cook down.
- Empty both cans of Plum Tomatoes in a bowl (unless you are de-seeding with a food mill). Using your hands squeeze the tomatoes and then add it all to the pot.
- Add Stock, Bay Leaf, Pepper Flakes, and some herbs (your choice). I put in a few ripped fresh basil leaves, a teaspoon of dry tyme and a pinch of oregano
- Add the Parmesan rind if you have it and optional umami.
- Add meats (optional).
- Simmer forever (2-4 hours) adding more stock occasionally to keep consistency. In our case about 20 minutes bubbling should meld everything enough for our dinner.
- Put a pound of pasta into the now boiling pot of water. We’ll talk about plating. When and whether to add any parmesan, parsley, etc.
- Take out bay leaf and rind when sauce is done but if you are going to sauce your spaghetti early you can leave it in just don’t put it on the spaghetti
My grandfather bought and gave each of his children a plot of land on Highland Court and where the street intersects with Lawrence Hill. Today there are 7 homes owned by my cousins or their children. I own my grandparents original house. My daughter, her husband and two of my grandchildren live there and are buying it from me.
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