Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Mmmmm....Joey's Meat Sauce

For my dirty-minded readers (and oh how I adore you), that's not a metaphor. I'm actually talking about meat sauce.

Or if you're Sicilian like Joey Lupo in Speak Easy, or like my mother's family, you might call it gravy. In the book, there is a scene where Joey cooks pasta with gravy for Tiny and her sisters--one of my favorite scenes to write.

Aside from THOSE scenes. ;)

Anyway, I'm making it today for my family, and thought I'd share the recipe with you.

A little history first! My great-grandmother's name was Josephine, and she came with her husband and two young children from Carini, Sicily in 1902. My grandmother, Virginia, wasn't born until 1921, one of eleven siblings. (Sometimes it's very strange to me that Tiny is "older" than my own grandmother...)

Anyway, I guess the recipe came from the old country with her, but no one ever wrote it down. Much later, like maybe during the 60s or 70s, my mother told me that some of her aunt/uncles/cousins wanted the recipe, but no one who knew it would talk.

Through trial and error and memory, they put it together, but there was one special ingredient no one could pinpoint--and still nobody who knew it would talk.

Anyway, below is the one they came up with...WARNING: Your house will smell so good while this sauce is simmering, you might have the entire neighborhood floating to your door on the scent.

Joey's Meat Sauce (Bolognese)
5 garlic cloves, minced
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 lb. bulk Italian sausage
1 lb. ground beef (optional)
1 large can crushed tomatoes
1 medium can tomato sauce
1 small can tomato paste
dried basil
dried oregeno
3-4 peppercorns
Italian seasoning
< 1 Tbsp cinnamon (I use a full Tbsp, but I love this flavor in the was the guess at the secret ingredient)
1 Tbsp sugar
1 bay leaf
1/4 red wine (and since it's open, you might as well drink it while you cook, right?)

1) Brown the sausage in a frying pan, remove from heat and drain. Do the same for the beef, if you're using it.

2) In a large nonstick pot (I <3 my Le Creuset Dutch Oven), heat the oil and saute the garlic and onion. Then add the meat and all cans of tomatoes to the pot.

3) This next step cracks me up because you can tell that nobody really knew how much water to add, and even since then, no one has actually measured it: Fill each tomato can with water but not quite all the way to the top and pour them in.

Really precise, I know. But cooking is an art, not a science, right??

4) This one's even more precise: Cover the top of the sauce with basil, oregeno (less) and Italian seasonings (less). My best guess is maybe 1 Tbsp of basil and just 2 tsp of the other two. But this is a matter of taste!

5) Add the peppercorns, cinnamon, sugar, bay leaf, and wine.

6) Pour yourself a nice big glass of wine and stir until the lumps are gone over medium heat. Bring to a gentle boil and cover. Turn the heat to low, just enough to keep it simmering.

7) Simmer 1-2 hours over low heat. Take the cover off the last 20 minutes (and lock your doors). remove the bay leaf.

I like this sauce with both long and short pasta. My mother always called it simply "Mostaccioli" when she made it and served it with short tubular paste that had lines on it and slanted ends. Just thinking of it makes me think of childhood!

Oh, my mother did manage to finagle the secret ingredient out of an old great aunt, who was probably going senile and didn't realize she was giving it away.

It was nutmeg.

I was there when she told some of her family, and laughed my culo off at the room full of Italians hitting themselves on the head with one hand. "It was nutmeg! NUTMEG!"

I stick with cinnamon, but someday I might try a pinch of nutmeg instead. :)

Buon appetito!


  1. I am SO glad you told the secret ingredient. That would have driven me nuts. :D

  2. LOL drove my mother nuts too. And Katie, I thought about it but I didn't feel like making the sauce at 10AM when I blogged. I'm lazy, in other words. :)

    But Heather, come on over--it's ready now! <3

  3. I will most definitely have to make this. ;)

  4. This actually sounds good. I might try it.

    I am really excited to read your book Speak Easy because I love the Roarin' 20s and New York city.


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