Sunday cooking: Spend a day making “gravy,” or marinara sauce

Pasta is always an option for my family, so I look for sauces that can be filling or light.
Take time on a Sunday to make this pasta sauce, with or without short ribs.
Take time on a Sunday to make this pasta sauce, with or without short ribs. [ KATHY SAUNDERS | Special to the Times ]
Published Oct. 6, 2022

While Florida Octobers don’t always produce cool temperatures, Floridians still crave cozy meals in the fall. My kitchen is always busy on these Sunday afternoons preparing dishes for weekend family dinners or ready-made weeknight offerings when it gets dark earlier and the evenings seem shorter.

Pasta is always an option for my family, so I look for sauces that can be filling or light, depending on how we are feeling. This is the time of year that I like to stock my freezer with simple marinara sauce that can be mixed into pasta, layered over chicken breasts or baked in stuffed shells. It’s also useful for homemade pizzas, dipping sauces or even on meatloaf.

I freeze my sauce in deli containers and in ice cube trays for those times when I just need a small amount of sauce. I use San Marzano tomatoes because I like their color, texture and taste. I also think it’s important to use good olive oil. My go-to is Nicolas Alziari extra-virgin olive oil, which is available at Williams-Sonoma and online. The recipe I use calls for slices of fresh garlic, but I prefer to chop the garlic cloves. It might not help the flavor but it makes my family members more comfortable not to see large garlic chunks in their sauce. I also set aside a couple extra basil leaves to chop up and add to the sauce at the end.

When I am feeling especially ambitious, I prepare a family favorite red sauce with short ribs. The sauce cooks low and slow in the oven for hours and the meat almost melts in your mouth. The flavors can be tweaked, depending on exactly how ambitious I am feeling. Also, I have used short ribs with or without the bone. The bones fall off easy, but it’s easier to deal with boneless ribs. I buy whatever is the best price. It’s important not to crowd the ribs in the pot when browning them, so the process may take a couple batches.

Sometimes I add a couple extra veggies to the sauce and I always cook off a little red wine in the pot before adding the tomatoes. The recipe calls for a parmesan rind for added flavor. It’s a good idea to keep a few in your freezer for a variety of pasta sauce recipes.

This Sunday Gravy can handle a hearty noodle, so I usually serve it over pappardelle pasta. But fettuccine, spaghetti or penne pasta are equally good options. I also serve a light salad and crusty bread on the side. Depending on how many I have for dinner, I usually have enough left over to freeze a portion for another meal.

Classic Marinara Sauce

1 (28-ounce) can whole San Marzano tomatoes

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

7 garlic cloves, peeled and slivered

Pinch of crushed red pepper flakes

1 teaspoon kosher salt

Large fresh basil sprig or 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano

Pour tomatoes into a large bowl and crush with your hands. Pour 1 cup of water into can and slosh it around to get the tomato juices. Reserve.

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In a large skillet over medium heat, heat the oil. Add the garlic when it’s hot.

As soon as the garlic sizzles, add the tomatoes then the reserved tomato water. Add red pepper flakes, oregano and salt. Stir.

Place basil sprig, including the stem, on the surface of the sauce. It will wilt and sink into the sauce. Simmer sauce until thickened and oil on surface is a deep orange color (about 15 minutes). Discard basil sprig and serve.

Source: The New York Times

Sunday Gravy

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

3-4 pounds boneless beef short ribs

Kosher salt and freshly cracked pepper

2 medium onions, finely chopped

2 tablespoons tomato paste

3 garlic cloves, minced

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1 teaspoon dried basil

1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

Small piece of parmesan rind, about an inch

2 (28-ounce) cans of Italian San Marzano tomatoes, crushed by hand

1 whole medium carrot, peeled

2 pounds pasta of choice

Preheat oven to 300 degrees.

In a large enameled, cast-iron dutch oven, heat olive oil over moderate heat until simmering. Season the short ribs with salt and pepper and add them to the pot one layer at a time. Brown well on both sides (about 10 minutes). Transfer short ribs to a plate.

Reserve 1 tablespoon of fat in the pot and add onions and a generous pinch of salt. Cook, stirring occasionally until nicely browned (about 5-6 minutes). Add the tomato paste, garlic, oregano, basil and crushed red pepper flakes, and stir until fragrant (about 2 minutes). Add the crushed tomatoes and their juices, along with the carrot and parmesan rinds. Season with salt and bring to a simmer.

Return the ribs and their juices to the pot and nestle them in the sauce.

Cover and transfer to the oven.

Braise in the oven for three hours until the meat is very tender. Remove from the oven. Skim the fat from the top, leaving some for flavor.

Transfer the meat to a cutting board and use two forks to shred it into bite-sized pieces. Discard carrot and parmesan rind and return meat to sauce. Season with salt and pepper.

Serve over pasta and top with grated parmesan cheese and fresh herbs if desired.