Italian Sunday Dinner Tradition
Growing up in an Italian household, I was engulfed with rich centuries old traditions. The one tradition that brought the entire family together was Sunday Dinner. Now keep in mind that for Italians on Sundays, dinner occurs right after church. So the time of “Dinner” can be anywhere between noon and four in the afternoon! Ours was always right about two in the afternoon. I loved the way the house smelled when I came home after mass and Sunday School! What we call Sunday Dinner is Ragu. No not your already made jarred stuff that you get in the grocery store. Mom used to make her’s with braccioles (stuffed rolled thin steaks usually stuffed with a clove of garlic, parsley, and a piece of pecorino romano cheese), meatballs, beef pieces(cubes), pork pieces, and Italian sausage both hot and sweet. And OH MY GOODNESS! The delicious smell that permeated the house and all the way out to the front porch if the windows were open! Mom didn’t usually come to church with us on Sundays simply because she was busy cooking this wonderful meal.
My job after church was to set the table, and being the eldest, it was ALWAYS my job. It had to be set in a certain way. Big plate on bottom, pasta plate on top, napkin on the right side of the plate, with a knife and fork, and big spoon for my dad if we were having spaghetti. The background music consisted of old Italian songs that mom would sing out loud while doing something in the kitchen. It was simply fun. I loved Sundays. We always looked forward to it.
Mom used to make her sauce from scratch. If she didn’t have fresh tomatoes on hand (which was rare) she would use Cento, or Hunts, or Contadina canned sauce and tomato paste to start with. This is a basic Sauce recipe that has been passed down to me. I had fresh tomatoes from the garden on hand today so I used them instead of canned. I also decided to make a bolognese sauce (meat sauce) instead of the intricate Ragu that I usually make. The kids weren’t that happy about it. They love the meatballs!
Basic Meat Sauce Recipe:
3lbs fresh tomatoes or 3 16oz cans of tomato sauce (whichever brand you use is fine)
1-2 cans of tomato paste (depends on how thick you like your sauce)
1 onion sliced or diced
6 cloves of garlic minced
1-2lbs of ground beef
1tsp. fresh parsely
Salt and pepper to taste
1-2 cups of water
2tblsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 big stock pot
1. If you are using fresh tomatoes, peel them first and seed them. You can leave the seeds in, but if you have picky eaters like I do, I don’t recommend this option. Once you have them peeled put them through your food processor. If you like chunky sauce, leave it chunky if not puree it. I do a little bit of both. It gives the sauce a very nice and thick texture if you don’t have tomato paste on hand.
*Keep all the liquid that it has produced.
2. Brown the ground beef and drain the fat, leave the ground beef out of the pot for now.
3. Add the olive oil and let it heat up. Add the onions and cook until translucent. Then add the garlic. Saute the garlic and onions until golden brown.
4. At this point return the browned ground beef back to the pot, saute it with the garlic and onion for about 3 minutes. I do this to incorporate all the flavors together before adding the tomatoes.
5. Once the meat has sauteed with your onion and garlic, add the tomato paste if you are using it. If not add the tomatoes and cook until the liquid is boiling. If it looks really thick add one cup of water at a time.
*Do not exceed 2 cups of water or your sauce will be very very runny!
6. Now add all of your spices and salt and pepper. Let it reach to a boil, lower the heat down to med low or low and let simmer for 1-2 hours, depending on how reduced you want it.