In Italy, there are sugo and salsa. Sugo derives from succo (juices) and refers to pan drippings that come from cooking meat or from a rich meat-based sauce, such as, sugo alla Bolognese and thick vegetable sauces (which often go over pasta). A salsa is a semi-liquid raw or cooked sauce that’s used as a condiment. It can go over pasta or used to season other dishes, for example, pesto alla genovese or salsa verde that is served over boiled meats or potatoes. If a sauce is especially delicate, it may be called “salsina.”
The passage from sugo/salsa to sauce/gravy must have occurred when immigrant families settled into new neighborhoods in the U.S. and became an Italian-American family/neighborhood tradition more than anything else. Some immigrants translated the Italian for what they put on their pasta as gravy, while others translated it as sauce and the translations have been passed down through the generations, becoming the definitive lable in the process. People get amazingly passionate over things like this.
The aroma of a garlic-laden tomato sauce spiked with sausage, meatballs and rolled-up braciole can bring tears to the eyes of many Italian-Americans. Sunday gravy, evokes memories of weekend family gatherings in which mom or grandma presided over the constantly stirred pot of sauce and meat, and various relatives were tasked with procuring the essential provisions to round out the dinner—the cannoli and sesame bread from the bakery or the wine from the cellar.
Sunday gravy was more than just a big meal. In close-knit Italian-American homes, it was a virtual religion. The best Sunday gravy simmered on the stove for hours and the meats in the sauce became a symbol of plenty. Meat had been a rarity in the old country and, if there was any of it at all in a meal, it was usually pork. But in the U.S., immigrant women bought beef because they could. The long, slow cooking time was also a time for families to spend with each other, reinforcing ties that could withstand the harsh realities of the outside world.
When I was young, my mother would make Italian gravy every Sunday. She would start at dawn and work in the kitchen pretty much until dinner time, which was around 2 or 3 in the afternoon. Not only did she prepare this sauce with meatballs, sausage, etc. for pasta, but she would also cook a pork roast or an eye of the round roast, vegetables and salad. In those days, my grandfather would come to dinner and bring Hershey chocolate bars, ice cream and a jug of homemade wine.
This tradition is time-consuming and quite a lot of work. Not the healthiest of meals, either, with all the meat and oil used in its preparation. I make tomato sauce with meatballs and sausage quite often but on a much smaller scale with a lot less fat and with healthier meat for the meatballs and I do the same for Sunday gravy. Just for the fun of it, I make Italian gravy once or twice a year. This time it is for the blog, so you can see just exactly what Sunday Gravy is all about.
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 pound sweet Italian fennel sausage, cut into links
- 11 to 12 ounces boneless pork ribs
- Meatballs, recipe below
- Braciole, recipe below
- 3 (26-ounce) containers of Italian chopped tomatoes, without salt or sugar added
- 2 (26-ounce) containers of Italian crushed tomatoes, without salt or sugar added
- 2-6 ounce cans tomato paste
- 3 whole garlic cloves, minced
- 1 large yellow onion, diced
- 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
- 1 bay leaf
- 2 tablespoons dried basil
- 1 tablespoon dried oregano
- 1 tablespoon each salt and black pepper
- 1/2 cup chopped fresh flat leaf parsley
- 1 pound grass-fed ground beef
- 1 pound pasture-raised ground pork
- 1 onion, finely chopped
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 cup dried Italian seasoned bread crumbs
- 1/2 cup water
- 1/3 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh, flat-leaf parsley
- 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
- 1 teaspoon each salt and black pepper
- 1 pound beef top round, flank steak or strip steak, pounded thin
- 2 teaspoons olive oil
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh flat leaf parsley
- 1 tablespoon chopped shallots
- 1/2 cup dried Italian seasoned bread crumbs
- 1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
- 1 large clove garlic chopped finely
- 1/4 cup pignolis – toasted and chopped, optional
- Salt and Pepper to taste
- String (butcher’s twine) to secure the rolls
- 1 pound of pasta
- 1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
- 7-8 fresh basil leaves, thinly sliced
To make the braciole:
Lay the meat out on a board. Pound with a mallet to thin the meat. Cut the meat into 5-6” slices.
In a small bowl combine the olive oil, chopped parsley, shallots, bread crumbs, cheese, garlic, pignolis, if using, and salt and pepper to taste.
Sprinkle the mixture evenly over the beef rolls. Fold in the sides over the filling of each roll. Roll up each slice and secure with kitchen string.
To make the gravy:
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with aluminum foil (for easy clean up) and coat them with olive oil cooking spray. Place the sausage links on one baking sheet. The second baking pan is for the meatballs.
In a large, heavy pot over medium-low heat, warm 1 tablespoon olive oil and add the boneless pork ribs. Cook 4 to 5 minutes on each side or until browned all over. Place on a clean plate.
Add the braciole rolls and brown them on all sides. Transfer to the plate with the pork and cover with foil to keep warm.
Add the onion and garlic to the pot and cook 3 to 5 minutes, until softened. Add the tomato paste. Fill the empty paste cans with water and add to the pot. Stir into the onions and let cook for 2 or 3 minutes.
Pour in all the tomatoes and fill one tomato container with water and add it to the pot. Add the seasonings (crushed red pepper – parsley), the pork ribs and the sausage. Bring to a boil; reduce to a low simmer and cook for about 1 hour, stirring occasionally.
Add the cooked meatballs and braciole to the gravy after it has simmered for one hour. Simmer for an additional 3 to 4 hours (if you want it thick and rich). Stir in the fresh basil just before adding the gravy to the pasta.
In the meantime, cook the pasta in salted water until al dente. Once cooked, drain and add the gravy. Sprinkle with grated Parmigiano-Reggiano. Serve the meat on a big platter, so diners can choose what they want.
To make the meatballs and sausage:
Add the water to the bread crumbs, mix well and let sit for a few minutes. Place the meat in a large bowl. Add the onion, garlic, cheese and parsley to the meat. In a small bowl, beat the egg with the salt and pepper and add to the meat mixture. Add the moistened bread crumbs. Mix the ingredients with your hands until the consistency is moist and the meat holds together well. Using your hands, roll the meatballs into 1 1/2-inch balls.Two pounds of meat should make about 18 to 20 meatballs. Place the meatballs on the foil lined baking sheet.
Bake for about 20 minutes, or until browned, turning them over after 10 minutes. Cover and keep warm.
Place the pan of sausage links in the oven at the same time and bake the sausage until browned. Turn over halfway through baking. Add the sausage to the gravy when the pork ribs are added.
- Cooking With My Favorite Italian Sausage (jovinacooksitalian.com)
- Sauce Vs Gravy: Sunday Gravy, Soprano’s Style (domesticgoddessathome.wordpress.com)
- You Don’t Have to Be Italian to Make Homemade Italian Sauce and Meatballs (thelabyrinthguide.wordpress.com)
- Gregory Callimanopulos Braciola Recipe (littleitaly473.wordpress.com)
The modern slow cooker was developed by Rival Industries with the trademarked name Crock Pot. This name is sometimes used informally to refer to any slow cooker. Rival purchased and refined the design of a bean-pot called the Beanery from Naxon Co. of Chicago.
In the early ’70s, the Rival Company, known for its “Juice-O-Mat,” “Ice-O-Mat,” and “Can-O-Mat” convenience appliances, resurrected the idea of slow cooking. The company acquired the rights to the “Beanery,” a primitive slow cooker, and gave the appliance a much-needed makeover. The Crock-Pot slow cooker was born.
The timing couldn’t have been better. During the energy crisis of the 1970s, Americans were encouraged to conserve electricity, and Crock-Pots operated at a very low wattage. In addition, many women were abandoning their traditional roles as homemakers and the Crock-Pot and its motto—”Cooks all day while the cook’s away”—fit their new lifestyle.
The slow cooker is a versatile appliance that’s just as suited to vegetarian foods as it is meat and poultry, everyday meals, and entertaining occasions. You can make hearty, healthy dishes for the whole family. Simply add ingredients to the slow cooker, get on with your day, and come home to a kitchen filled with tempting aromas.
The slow cooker, which is essentially an electric pot with a stoneware insert, can do what no oven or stovetop burner can: cook food at consistently low and even temperatures for what might be as long as 10 or 12 hours. Dinner cooks while you’re out.
Flavor is one of the big advantages to meals you cook in the pot. You can get a deeply flavored meal at the end of an 8- or 10-hour slow simmer. Time-saving is another reason for the slow cooker’s popularity. Plus, they’re practical, since a slow cooker holds up to five quarts, you can definitely plan to have leftovers.
There is planning involved, however. The pot is perfect for cheaper cuts of meat that need long, gentle cooking to become tender: beef short ribs, brisket, pork shoulder, and lamb shanks. Fish and dairy products, however, don’t fare as well; both will break down during the cooking. Chicken can get mushy, so pay strict attention to cook times for chicken recipes.
Always put vegetables in first. Vegetables take longer to cook than meat does, so for layering purposes, start with vegetables, then meat, and finally seasonings and small amounts of liquid. To prevent overcooking, fresh dairy products, pasta, or instant rice should be added during the last 30 minutes of cooking time, or as your recipe directs.
Judith Finlayson, author of Slow Cooker Comfort Food: 275 Soul-Satisfying Recipes and The Vegetarian Slow Cooker: Over 200 Delicious Recipes, answers some slow-cooker questions.
How do I prevent meat from drying out?
To prevent poultry from drying out, use chicken thighs—they have more fat and won’t dry out as quickly, says Finlayson. Cook thighs for about six hours and breasts for a maximum of five hours on low heat. Beef, depending on the cut, is much more forgiving, she says. For better results, use stewing beef, short ribs, or brisket as opposed to a rib steak or a sirloin.
How can I prevent flavors from becoming muddy?
“Start with a good recipe and quality ingredients and you will be a long way from having muddy flavors,” says Finlayson. For fresher flavors, add chopped herbs and vegetables with shorter cooking times about 10 minutes before the meal is ready.
How can I clean my slow cooker without lots of soaking and scrubbing?
Though the slow cooker’s insert can be heavy, cleaning shouldn’t be a problem. Slow cookers retain moisture which should prevent scorching on the bottom, says Finlayson. Difficulty cleaning may indicate a technical issue such as the heat being on too high for too long.
Can I cook frozen meats in my slow cooker?
Cooking frozen meats in the slow cooker is an absolute no, says Finlayson. Harmful bacteria that can cause foodborne illnesses, flourish in moist environments at temperatures between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit. Using frozen meat may cause food to remain at an unsafe temperature for too long.
Is it safe to leave the slow cooker on when I’m not home?
Leaving the slow cooker on is perfectly safe. In fact, it’s comparable to leaving a light bulb on while you’re out, says Finlayson.
Why does my food get overcooked, even on the low setting?
Slow cookers are all manufactured differently and they don’t all cook at the same pace, says Finlayson: “Know your slow cooker. Use quality recipes, and if you are consistently cooking faster or slower, adjust your time accordingly.” Keep in mind: There are no precise guidelines, and it may take a bit of trial and error to fix the issue.
Can I cut a slow cooker recipe in half?
If cutting a recipe in half, you should also reduce the size of your slow cooker so that the heat distributes evenly, says Finlayson. If you only own one slow cooker, make the whole recipe and freeze the leftovers or stick to soups and stews, since the size of the slow cooker isn’t as important as it is when cooking grains.
Makes: 6 servings
Cook: 6 hrs to 7 hrs (low) or 3 to 3 1/2 hours (high)
- 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
- 3 1/2 to4 pounds of meaty chicken pieces (breast halves, thighs, and drumsticks), skinned
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 cups thinly sliced fresh cremini and/or button mushrooms
- 1- 14 1/2 ounce can low sodium diced tomatoes
- 1 1/4 cups chopped green bell pepper (1 large)
- 1 cup chopped onion (1 large)
- 1 cup chopped carrots (2 medium)
- 1/2 cup dry white wine
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 2 tablespoons snipped fresh basil
- 2 tablespoons snipped fresh Italian (flat-leaf) parsley
- 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
- Pasta, cooked, optional
Place flour in a plastic bag. Add chicken pieces, a few at a time, shaking to coat. In an extra-large nonstick skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat. Cook chicken, half at a time if necessary, in hot oil about 12 minutes or until browned, turning occasionally. Transfer chicken to a 5- to 6-quart slow cooker.
Add mushrooms to skillet; cook and stir over medium-high heat for 3 minutes. Transfer mushrooms to cooker. Add drained tomatoes, bell pepper, onion, carrots, wine, salt and pepper to mixture in cooker.
Cover and cook on low-heat setting for 6 to 7 hours or on high-heat setting for 3 to 3 1/2 hours. Before serving, stir in basil, parsley and thyme.
Serve over pasta with salad on the side or skip the pasta and serve with Italian bread.
Slow-Cooker Spinach and Ricotta Lasagna With Romaine Salad
Total Time: 4hr 15m
- 2-10-ounce packages chopped frozen spinach, thawed and squeezed to remove excess moisture
- 1 cup ricotta
- 3/4 cup grated Parmesan (3 ounces)
- 3 cups marinara sauce, see post: https://jovinacooksitalian.com/2012/04/19/hello-world/
- 6 regular lasagna noodles (not no-boil)
- 1 1/2 cups grated mozzarella (6 ounces)
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
- kosher salt and black pepper
- 1 small head romaine lettuce, cut into strips (about 8 cups)
- 1 cucumber, thinly sliced
- 1/2 small red onion, thinly sliced
In a bowl, mix together the spinach, ricotta, and ½ cup of the Parmesan. In a second bowl, mix together the marinara sauce and 1/2 cup water.
Spread 3/4 cup of the marinara mixture in the bottom of a 4- to 6-quart slow cooker.
Top with 2 noodles (breaking to fit), 3/4 cup of the remaining marinara mixture, half the spinach mixture, and 1/2 cup of the mozzarella; repeat.
Top with the remaining noodles, marinara mixture, mozzarella, and Parmesan.
Cover and cook on low until the noodles are tender, 3 ½ to 4 hours.
In a large bowl, whisk together the oil, vinegar, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Add the lettuce, cucumber, and onion. Toss to combine and serve with the lasagna.
Tip: If your slow-cooker insert is broiler-safe, broil the cooked lasagna until the cheese is golden, 3 to 5 minutes.
Italian Meatball Stew
Total Time: 5 hrs 10 mins
- 1 1/2 lbs extra lean ground beef or turkey
- 1/2 cup fine dry breadcrumbs
- 2 eggs, slightly beaten
- 1/4 cup milk
- 2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese, grated
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon pepper
- 1 garlic cloves, crushed
- 1 (6 ounce) can tomato paste
- 2 cups low sodium beef broth
- 1/2 teaspoon seasoning salt
- 1/2 teaspoon oregano, crushed
- 1/2 teaspoon dry basil, crushed
- 1 (16 ounce) package frozen Italian style vegetables, defrosted
In a large bowl combine beef, bread crumbs, eggs, milk, cheese, salt, pepper and garlic. Form into 2 inch balls. Place meatballs in bottom of crock pot.
Combine tomato paste, broth, seasoned salt, oregano and basil. Pour mixture over meat. Cover.
Cook on low 4 1/2 to 5 hours. Stir in vegetables. Cover and cook on high 10-15 mins until mixture is hot.
Slow-Cooker Bean and Barley Soup
- 1 cup dried Great Northern beans, picked over and rinsed
- 6 cups water
- 1 (14-ounce) can no salt added diced tomatoes
- 3 garlic cloves, smashed
- 2 ribs celery, chopped
- 2 medium carrots, chopped
- 1/2 medium onion, chopped
- 1/2 cup pearl barley
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 1/2 tablespoons kosher salt, plus additional for seasoning
- 2 teaspoons dried Italian herb blend
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 ounce dried Porcini mushrooms, optional
- 3 cups baby spinach leaves (about 3 ounces)
- 1 cup freshly grated Parmesan
- 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
- Extra virgin olive oil
Put beans, water, tomatoes and their juices, garlic, celery, carrots, onion, barley, bay leaf, 1 1/2 tablespoons salt, herb blend, pepper, and Porcini mushrooms (if using) in a slow cooker; cover and cook on LOW until the beans are quite tender and the soup is thick, about 8 hours.
Stir in the spinach, cheese, and vinegar, cover, and let the soup cook until the spinach wilts, about 5 minutes. Taste and season with salt and black pepper, to taste.
Ladle the soup into warmed bowls and drizzle each serving with olive oil.
Italian Smothered Steak
Makes 6 servings
- 2 lb. boneless beef round steak
- 1/4 teaspoon seasoned salt
- 1/4 teaspoon pepper
- 1 medium onion, sliced
- 1 jar (26 oz) tomato pasta sauce or homemade marinara sauce, see post: https://jovinacooksitalian.com/2012/04/19/hello-world/
- 1 package (9 oz) refrigerated cheese-filled tortellini
- 1 medium zucchini, cut lengthwise in half, then cut crosswise into slices (about 1 cup)
Cut beef into 6 serving-size pieces; sprinkle with salt and pepper. In 3- to 4-quart slow cooker, layer beef and onion. Pour pasta sauce over top.
Cover and cook on Low heat setting 8 to 9 hours.
About 20 minutes before serving, stir in tortellini and zucchini. Increase heat setting to High. Cover and cook 15 to 20 minutes or until tortellini are tender.
- Crock-Full of Goodness (massageenvy.com)
- Slow-Cooker Recipes: Healthy Eating Made Easy (everydayhealth.com)
- 15 Splendid Meals from the Slow Cooker (thekitchn.com)
- Slow Cooker Monday (adashofdomestic.wordpress.com)
- Slow Cooker Recipes for Summer (planetpookie.com)
- The Trick to Spending Less Time Cooking (self.com)
- An Easy Tip for Tastier Slow-Cooker Meals (simplystated.realsimple.com)
- Kitchen Workhorse: The Slow Cooker (karencooking.wordpress.com)