One of the best things about living in Dallas – Fort Worth are the restaurants. DFW has everything from Sushi to BBQ, Tex-Mex to Prime Steakhouses, Indian buffets, brew pubs, scratch kitchens, you name it we have it. Except… well… there’s a shortage of good Italian food in Dallas. I still remember going to a highly recommended “Italian” restaurant, ordering some basic pasta, and being served what I can mostly describe as ramen noodles covered in ketchup.
Thus began my quest to discover some iconic recipes of my own. And, discover I did. Some call it “Sunday Gravy” while others call it “Sunday Sauce.” I call it Old School Italian Tomato Sauce, I’ve made it several times, and now you can make it too.
This isn’t something you can whip up in a microwave, or put together in 15 minutes. This is an all day affair. There are many secret recipes for sauce, but this the one I love the most.
Old School Italian Tomato Sauce
Total Time: 5-6 hours.
Prep Time 60-90 minutes
Cooking time 4-5 hours
- Fresh head of garlic
- Fresh Italian Parsley
- Fresh Basil
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Shaved or Shredded Parmesan
- 2-4 thin steaks (flank steak or top round works fine)
- Butcher’s twine or toothpicks
- 1-4 fresh rolled Braciole depending on size (recipe below)
- 5-6 Sweet Italian Sausages
- 5-6 Hot Italian Sausages
- 4-6 Pork Chops
- 12-18 Meatballs (please don’t use frozen precooked it will affect the taste of the sauce)
- 4-6 cans of whole San Marzano Tomatoes, crushed by hand
- 2-3 cans of Tomato Paste
- One glass of dry red wine (Chianti is perfect)
- One large cooking pot
- One wooden spoon
- One meat tenderizer
Recipe for Braciole
There’s a lot of ways to make Braciole, and some recipes call for bread crumbs or even raisins. Our Braciole is intended to be a part of the sauce, and therefore we’re not adding in extras. Lay out your steaks on a clean surface. You’re going to roll them up, so for thicker cuts of meat use a meat tenderizer to flatten them out. Rub with salt and pepper, and then layer with freshly diced garlic, fresh chopped basil, and fresh chopped Italian parsley. (Note: Italian parsley looks very similar to cilantro but it is a completely different herb. Don’t use cilantro!)
Now tightly roll up your steaks from one end to another like a sleeping bag. Take some butcher’s twine and tie them up tight enough to hold all the herbs and cheese inside. Alternatively you can use toothpicks. Just don’t forget about them and make sure you can account for all of them when the sauce is finished!
Next it is time to brown your meats. Heat some olive oil on the bottom of that cooking pot and first brown each side of the meatballs, and then set them aside.
Next brown both sides of the pork chops, followed by the braciole, and finally the sausages. Once all the meats have been browned, turn the heat to the lowest setting and let the pot cool way down. Set all of the browned meat aside on a bowl, a baking sheet, or a serving plate for now.
While the pot is cooling down, dice up a few more cloves of garlic and prepare to cook them once the pot cools a bit in a few minutes. You don’t want to burn the garlic. This is a good time to hand crush your cans of whole San Marzano tomatoes. You can certainly use another type of canned tomatoes, but if you’re going to go through the trouble of creating this recipe, you should use the best ingredients. That said, use what you have!
The garlic will cook very quickly even on low heat. Just drop it in the pot and let it cook in the juices left over from cooking the meats. You’ll notice that there is some dark residue stuck to the bottom of the pot. Don’t drain the pot and don’t clean the pot; not yet. This residue is about to become something special.
Now, about that glass of wine. First of all, keep in mind that the entire premise of buying “cooking wine” is a farce. Never cook with anything that isn’t good enough to drink on its own. Any red with do, but a dry red wine is perfect here. Chianti is ideal, but you can substitute a Merlot as well. You only need to spend $5-10 here and many of you have it already on a shelf. If you drank some of that glass of wine, refill it now.
Once you’ve cooked the garlic, pour the glass of wine into your almost empty pot, on low heat, and immediately start using your wooden spoon to quickly scrape loose all of the dark stuff stuck to the bottom. The alcohol in the wine is about to completely evaporate, but as it does, it breaks down that dark cooking residue, and you’re going to be looking at a shallow layer of ugly brown ooze in the pot. Scrape and stir the brown stuff in the bottom of the pot, and smile on the inside because you’ve just discovered the secret ingredient to making some amazing sauce!
Put all the meats back inside the pot in a pile on top of the brown liquid. Then, pour all the hand crushed tomatoes on top and add your tomato paste.
Here’s how to decide how many tomatoes to use: Four cans is enough to make the sauce, and will give you a very thick, garlic infused sauce. Five cans will still be thick but will accentuate the taste of the tomatoes a bit more. Six cans will give you a more tomato focused sauce and will taste perfect as long as you didn’t cut corners on the other ingredients. Just make sure your pot is big enough for six cans. You’ll need more tomato paste too if you do 5-6 cans of tomatoes.
Turn the heat up and stir slowly, being careful to mix the brown stuff up with the tomatoes, and keep bringing the thickness on the bottom up to the top. Once the sauce starts to bubble up and boil, turn the burner back to low heat, cover the pan, and stir occasionally for the next 3-5 hours.
The combination of the hand squeezed tomatoes, tender meats, and that brown magic potion simmering together on low heat for a few hours is going to be amazing.
Once you’re finished cooking your meats and you’ve cooked your noodles, slowly stir your sauce again, bringing the thick stuff from the bottom up to the top, and drop a few fresh basil leaves in the sauce.
If your meats were thin, they may have likely disintegrated into the meat, giving you small bits of beef and pork in every bite. If they are thicker cuts, you’ll be able to slice the braciole, and you’ll be fighting over who gets the pork chops.
Pro Tip: Once you strain your noodles, put them back in the pot they were cooked in, and mix in a ladle of fresh sauce. This will stop the noodles from sticking together, and make it possible to put leftovers in the refrigerator.