Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Pennoni Pasta with Sunday Gravy and Polpette di Vitello

Italian American Sunday Gravy!  With veal meatballs!
     In New Jersey, New York and Philadelphia, a rich tasting old fashioned Italian meat flavored tomato sauce is often called gravy.  Ask an Italian American from the northeast a question about tomato sauce and you may up being corrected with an answer like "Oh!  You mean gravy!"  Many Italian Americans refer to gravy as Sunday Gravy.  Sunday is a big day for family and friends to get together and share a big afternoon meal.  The Sunday Gravy is always something special to look forward to!  
     There are many required basics for Italian cooking and there are many required ingredients for Italian recipes.  Each Italian chef that I have worked with, while apprenticing, added their own personal touch to each recipe that they made.  A special refined cooking technique, a choice ingredient or a little adjustment to a recipe by an experienced Italian chef can make a big difference in the flavor and texture of a recipe.  The same goes for home style Italian family cooking.  I have to admit, there has never been a meal that was cooked by an Italian that I did not like!  Italians know how to cook!
     As you can imagine, because a Sunday Gravy is a special item, great care and attention is placed on the gravy as it cooks.  A Sunday Gravy cannot be left to cook on its own.  A Sunday Gravy needs to be tended.  A Sunday Gravy also needs to be guarded!  A Sunday Gravy that is left alone may fall prey to kitchen visitors that are attracted by the great aroma of a Sunday Gravy simmering away.  Many times, it is all a cook can do, to keep the Sunday Gravy from disappearing before dinner is served!
     There are many options for a Sunday Gravy that are covered later in this recipe.  There are options beyond the ones that I mentioned.  The main thing to keep in mind, is to make a Sunday Gravy special, like cooking with one's heart.  
     The choice of pasta for Sunday Gravy is usually spaghetti or capellini.  Any traditional Italian pasta that is served with a ragu style sauce is good for a Sunday Gravy.  Pennoni Pasta is native to the Campania Region of Italy.  Pennoni is commonly served with Napolitean and Genoese meat ragu sauces.  Pennoni is also nice with Sunday Gravy.
     San Marzano tomatoes are the best tomatoes for sauces.  San Marzano tomatoes originated in Peru.  They were a gift from Peru to the kingdom of Napoli in the late 1700's.  The region of Campania Italy is where some of the very best San Marzano tomatoes are grown.  California tomatoes just cannot be compared to the superior Italian San Marzano tomatoes.  The climate and soil in Campania is perfect for tomatoes.  Imported Italian San Marzano tomatoes were my choice for this Sunday Gravy recipe.   They are the best tomatoes that money can buy!  
     Sunday Gravy Recipe:
     This recipe makes about 2 large portions of gravy!  The meatballs can be made and baked, while the Sunday Gravy slowly simmers.
     Cut a 12 ounce pork shoulder steak into 2 or 3 large pieces.  Do not trim the fat off and leave the bone attached.
     Place the pork steak pieces into a roasting pan that was brushed with vegetable oil.  Do not season the pork steak!
     Roast in a 400 degree oven, till the pork steak becomes browned.
     The Sunday Gravy can be started while the pork steak roasts!
     Place a 28 ounce can of imported whole seeded Italian San Marzano plum tomatoes that are packed in their own juices with basil into a mixing bowl.  
     Note:  The juices of the can should look thick and rich like puree.  This type of Italian San Marzano tomato product may not be easy to find and it does cost more.  If none can be found, then add 6 ounces of imported Italian plum tomato puree to a 28 ounce can of regular imported Italian plum tomatoes packed in their own thin juices. 
     Hand squeeze and crush the tomatoes, till no big chunks remain.
     Heat a stainless steel or enamel lined pot over medium/medium low heat.
     Add about 2 1/2 ounces to 3 ounces olive oil.  (The olive oil proportion should be about 1/10 of the volume of the tomatoes.)
     Add 9 cloves of chopped garlic.
     Add 1 small handful of finely chopped onion.
     Add 2 tablespoons of finely chopped carrot.
     Saute and stir often.
     Saute till the onions turn clear in color, but do not let the vegetables brown.
     Reduce the temperature to low heat.
     Add 1 pinch of crushed dried red pepper.
     Add the hand squeezed San Marzano tomatoes and their juices to the pot.
     Add 1 teaspoon of oregano.
     Add 8 chopped fresh basil leaves or 1 teaspoon of dried basil.
     Add sea salt and ground black pepper.
     The roasted pork shoulder steak pieces should be browned by now.
     Remove the pork pieces and bone from the roasting pan and place them into the pot of Sunday Gravy.
     Deglaze the roasting pan with 1/4 cup to 1/2 cup of water.
     Add the deglazed jus to the pot of Sunday Gravy.
     Add 1/2 cup of Italian certified Chianti wine.
     Allow the Sunday Gravy to slowly come to a simmer.
     Adjust the temperature to low/very low heat.
     Very slowly simmer the Sunday Gravy for 4 hours.  Leave the pot uncovered.  (Never cover a pot of Italian tomato sauce with a lid, or the sauce will be like stewed tomatoes!)
     Scrape the sauce that clings to the insides of the pot back into the Sunday Gravy occasionally.
     Stir the Sunday Gravy from the bottom up, once every 5 minutes.  (This is very important when making large batches!)
     After 3 hours of slow simmering, add 2 tablespoons of minced Italian parsley.
     Note:  At this time, taste the Sunday Gravy.  Only adjust the salt and pepper seasoning if necessary.         
     After 4 hours of very slow simmering, the flavors will meld and the Sunday Gravy will have a medium thin tomato sauce consistency.  The excess tomato juices should be reduced into the sauce at this point.  The olive oil and pork fat juices should be well combined with the tomatoes, because the sauce was stirred often.
     Add 1/2 tablespoon of virgin olive oil.
     Stir the virgin olive oil into the gravy.  (This adds a nice finishing flavor!)
     Remove the Sunday Gravy from the heat.
     Allow the sunday gravy to cool to almost room temperature.
     Remove the pork shoulder pieces and the bone from the Sunday Gravy and set them aside.
     Run the Sunday Gravy through an old fashioned hand turned food mill into a second pot.  
     Note:  A food processor can be used to smooth the sauce, but care must be taken to not aerate the Sunday Gravy.  Only pulse the food processor for 2 to 3 seconds at a time.  Pause for about 15 seconds between pulses.  Mill the Sunday Gravy till it becomes a nice smooth tomato sauce texture.
     Keep the milled Sunday Gravy warm over very low heat, till it is served.
     The pork bone can be discarded.  
     The pork shoulder meat can be shredded and returned to the sauce or it can be used for another recipe.  (Many Italian chefs mince the pork shoulder meat from the gravy and save it for a cannelloni pasta stuffing recipe.) 
     Sunday Gravy Options:  
     Optional additions for a Sunday Gravy are popular.  Roasted Italian sausages can be added to the Sunday Gravy.  Roasted large bite size pieces of veal, pork or beef can be added to the Sunday Gravy.  Meatballs can be added to the Sunday Gravy.  Many Italian chefs add these items toward the end of the simmering of the Sunday Gravy or after the Sunday Gravy has been run through a food mill.
     Many Italian chefs also serve the Sunday Gravy with the roasted pork shoulder meat removed and with no addition of meat or sausage.  This was how I was trained to serve Sunday Gravy during my last Italian apprenticeship.  Meats were only added upon customer request. 
     Today, I am the customer!  I removed the pork shoulder meat, then milled the Sunday Gravy.  I shredded the pork shoulder meat and returned it to the gravy.  I added the veal meatballs to the milled Sunday Gravy too.
     If you add meatballs, sausage or roasted meat after the gravy has been milled, it is best to let the gravy slowly simmer for a little while, before serving.  This helps the flavors to combine.  

     Polpette di Vitello Recipe:     
     Place 1 pound of ground veal into a mixing bowl.
     Add 9 cloves of finely minced garlic.
     Add 1 small handful of finely minced onion.
     Add 1 whisked egg.
     Add 1/2 tablespoon of virgin olive oil.
     Add sea salt and black pepper.
     Add 3 to 4 pinches of oregano.
     Add 3 to 4 pinches of basil. 
     Add 2 tablespoons of finely minced Italian parsley.
     Add 2 tablespoons of finely grated parmesan cheese.
     Add 4 tablespoons of fine plain Italian bread crumbs.
     Add 2 ounces of water soaked Italian bread pith that was squeeze dry.  (Squeeze the water out of the pith before adding.)
     Mix the ingredients together, just like kneading bread dough.
     Scoop the meat mixture into medium size meatball portions.  (About 2-3 ounces is a regular size meatball.)  
     Hand roll the meatballs, so they are all the same size and shape.  Roll the meatballs, so the surface is smooth and even.
     Place the meatballs in a roasting pan that is lightly brushed with oil.
     Bake the meatballs in a 350 degree oven. 
     Note:  The pan will need to be removed from the oven once in a while, so the excess grease can be poured off.  The meatballs will need to be turned occasionally, so they brown evenly.  Use a thin metal spatula to loosen the meatballs from the pan.  
     Bake the veal meatballs, till they are fully cooked and lightly browned.  Do not overcook the meatballs or they will become dried out.  The meatballs should be nice and juicy inside.
     Add the veal meatballs to the Sunday Gravy after the gravy has been run through a food mill.
     Slowly simmer the veal meatballs in the Sunday Gravy over very low heat for a little while, so the flavors combine. 

     Pennoni Pasta with Sunday Gravy and Polpette di Vitello:
     The meatballs and the Sunday Gravy should be finished cooking before the pasta is boiled.  The garlic bread can be baked while the pasta cooks!
     Garlic bread can be made with olive oil, butter or both.  
     Simmer 2 ounces of olive oil or unsalted butter over low heat in a pot.
     Add 6 cloves of minced garlic.
     Add 1 pinch of sea salt.
     Add 2 pinches of oregano.  (Optional)
     Simmer till the garlic becomes tender, but not browned.
     Cut a 5" or 6" section of Italian bread in half.  
     Generously brush the bread with the garlic oil or butter.  Try to get the minced garlic on the bread too.
     Place the garlic bread on a baking pan.
     Bake the garlic bread in a 350 degree oven, till it becomes toasted.
     Boil 1 or 2 portions of pennoni pasta in salted water over high heat, till the pasta is cooked al dente.  (Pennoni have thin walls, so the pasta must be stirred gently and stirred often.  Only use a wooden pasta stick or wooden spoon to stir pasta!
     Drain the hot water off of the pennoni pasta.
     Place the pennoni into a mixing bowl.
     Add just enough of the Sunday Gravy to barely coat the pasta while gently tossing.
     Place a mound of the lightly sauced pennoni on a plate.
     Spoon a generous amount of the Sunday Gravy over the pasta.
     Place 3 or 4 veal meatballs on top of the pasta.
     Spoon a little more of the Sunday Gravy over the meatballs.
     Sprinkle some thinly grated parmesan cheese over the pasta.
     Place the 2 pieces of toasted garlic bread on the plate. 
     Sprinkle a couple pinches of minced Italian parsley over the pasta and garlic bread.

     The best tasting Sunday Gravy is the one that you make yourself!  This one that I made tastes pretty good too.  Give a Sunday Gravy your care, love and attention, because you will be rewarded with smiles and compliments!  Yum!  Ciao Baby!  ...  Shawna 

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