What do you call that red stuff on top of your pasta? We always called it "gravy" in my family but we also call the stuff you put on mashed potatoes, gravy. Sure, it makes no sense whatsoever but that's part of the Italian heritage. We do a lot of bizarre things, like eat the linings of a cow's stomach and call it a "delicacy".
Now, you must know, I am a SAUCE JUNKIE! I could just eat the sauce all by itself, it's that good. And did you know that cooked tomatoes are so nutritious? Check out the many benefits here: http://health.learninginfo.org/tomato.htm
I used to wake up every Saturday morning to the sounds and smells of "the gravy". First, there was the whirl of the can opener, the digging of the gorgeous crushed tomato puree, and then the signature clanging of the spoons against the pots. Next was the spinning and grinding of the food mill my mom used to get the seeds out. This all happened after I heard and smelled the sauteing of the meat and garlic in the olive oil.
Some kids woke up to Frosted Flakes or Eggos. Me, it was bracciole and sausage smells and I loved it! The gravy would slowly simmer all day and it was fabulous!
My mom still makes a mean gravy and there's quite a debate in my family over who makes the best gravy. You can ask 20 different people how they make their gravy and you will get 20 different answers; it's that diverse.
One thing is certain in the Grande family:
We do not use jarred sauce. Ever.
When you go to the market you will find as many choices for jarred sauces as there are cheeses. Sure, it's convenient to open a jar and pour it into a pan. But did you know that making your own sauce only takes 15 minutes? You get more bang for your buck with homemade and you can control the sodium and fat. If you are a sauce/gravy virgin, I bet you will never buy jarred sauce again!
You just need a few staples on hand to make a great homemade sauce everyone will love. There really is no need to let it simmer all day long. I think the addition of tomato paste helps it to stick to the pasta better too. But it's your call if you want to use it.
Here is a quick weeknight marinara. I'm calling it:
Quick Sauce for Dummies
1 28 oz can crushed tomatoes in puree (I am very partial to Pastene Kitchen Ready but my mom likes Tuttorossa)
1 6 oz can tomato paste (optional)
2-3 cloves of garlic crushed or finely chopped
sliced pepperoni (optional)
salt & pepper
Marsala wine (optional)
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp dried basil
1 tsp sugar (optional)
In a medium saucepan coat the bottom with olive oil. On medium/low heat, add the crushed or finely chopped garlic and a few slices of pepperoni. Do not let the garlic get brown or it will ruin the sauce. Watch it carefully and don't overcook it, just let it get a bit translucent. Add a splash of Marsala wine if you have it and let it simmer for about a minute or so.
Add the canned tomatoes, tomato paste (if you like your sauce thicker), salt, pepper, oregano, basil, and a tsp of sugar if you want to cut the acidity of the tomatoes. Give it a good stir, breaking up the tomato paste. If the sauce is too thick, add some water. Raise the heat to medium to bring to a simmer, then lower the heat to medium low covered for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally and making sure the bottom doesn't burn. While this is simmering, you can have your macaroni boiling away.
Now, do you see how I have so many optional ingredients? You can play around with this basic recipe and use it as a foundation for your own signature sauce.
If you have more time, here is a way to embellish the sauce even more:
Before sauteing the garlic: Finely chop 1/2 onion and 1/2 carrot and add to the olive oil. Saute until tender. Then follow the rest of the recipe above. I find the carrot adds a mild sweetness and helps to cut the acidity of the tomatoes. You can also use chopped bell peppers and/or mushrooms.
If you want to take it a step further and make a real "Sunday Gravy", brown some sausage, pork tenderloin pieces and/or beef in the oil to start. Once all browned up, you can follow the basic recipe above and let it simmer all day on the stove or in the Crock Pot.
Mangia and Enjoy!