“Gravy isTomato sauce, usually the kind made with meat like pork, veal, etc, and typically eaten with macaroni, rigatoni or ziti. As opposed to marinara sauce, a meatless tomato sauce usually eaten with spaghetti.”
Peter Paul “Paulie Walnuts” Gualtieri quoted in The Sopranos Family Cookbook [Warner Books 2002]

I’m posting this Pork Braciola and Tomato Gravy recipe just because its so good and reminded both Carol and me of the “spaghetti sauce” she used to make back in the day when there were hungry kids around. I’m pretty sure she picked it up from one of the neighbor ladies in South Roanoke Apartment Village. In any case, it followed us to Newton, and is one of the few recipes I took to Jerusalem.

After our move to San Francisco, there were no longer hungry kids around and we got caught up in trying new recipes from new cookbooks, and then there was the no carb phase and Carol’s tried and true spaghetti sauce fell by the wayside.

This isn’t her sauce, but the slow cooked gravyness is there, as Eric remembers it in an email exchange about sauces.

From: “Eric Rector”
January 19, 2000


I recently made a batch of Mom’s classic Sicilian tomato sauce, and it reminded me that tomato molecules fundamentally change after around four to six hours of low simmering heat. I suppose it’s oxidation (Brian?), but that fresh, bright, but sometimes “flat” tomato taste changes into a deep sweet burned tart complex red flavor. Fresh sauces are good, especially when they can be so fast, but I find that the flat tomato flavor can predominate, and occasionally I lose the nuances, which bugs me. This Sicilian sauce (Mom usually made it with pork chops), adds a “yang”-ness to the tomato flavor, pulling back the curtain on the darker side of the Love Apple’s nature.

I didn’t use the recipe she wrote down for me when I went to Duke; it’s so simple, and I’ve done it so much, that it’s like walking up the stairs. [When I lived in a house off-campus at Duke, I think I made this at least once every two weeks, treating my housemates to a free dinner (we normally didn’t share meals). As a result I would always buy four big cans of whole canned tomatoes, two regular cans of sauce, and one little can of paste every time I went shopping.]

I cooked the tomatoes with onions and carrots (the carrots add sugar), and added a few of our “country-style” sausages after browning them first. We ate the sauce with bowls of thick ropy fresh fettuccini, and I froze two quarts of the rest (Alison made a kind of lasagna with the rest). It goes really good with our Baux-Provence house red from Mas Gourgonier.


A response from Brian:
Eric: I don’t know what tomatoes do under long slow heat; that’s why I got you that particular cookbook for Xmas. My guess would be that they do something more akin to caramelizing, like onions. I think oxidizing is a bad thing that happens to tomatoes when they’re canned and gives them a tinny taste.

gotta go,
— B

Here’s the recipe as printed in the Times, my cooking and sourcing notes follow.

Pork Braciola and Tomato Gravy
NY Times May 31, 2006
Adapted from Frank Castronovo and Frank Falcinelli

Time: About 4 hours

3 pounds pork braciola cutlets (sliced from the shoulder and pounded into six 6-by-8-inch pieces about 1⁄4 inch thick)
Salt and white pepper to taste
2 tablespoons minced garlic, plus 8 to 10 large whole cloves
2/3 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese (more for serving)
1 cup grated aged provolone
2 28-ounce cans whole peeled San Marzano tomatoes, plus an extra can in case more sauce is needed
1⁄4 cup olive oil
1⁄4 cup grape seed oil.

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line cutlets up on a clean work service with the shorter sides on top and bottom (seam side up, if made from a butterflied cut). Season with salt and pepper, and sprinkle with minced garlic, parsley and cheeses. Roll a cutlet into a tight log. Stretch butcher’s twine along the length of the roll; wrap string tightly around one end and continue wrapping to the other end, each turn an inch from the previous one; tie loose ends. Repeat with remaining braciola.


2. Empty two cans of tomatoes into a mixing bowl. Use your fingers to break tomatoes apart, and discard firm cores and tops. Pour half the sauce into a deep-sided roasting pan. Season with salt and pepper.

[I did the recipe to here before realizing that it takes 3 hours to cook. I put the ingredients in the refrigerator and finished cooking the next day. The moral of this story: Read the recipe carefully before starting to cook. The lesson: Stopping here is just fine.]

3. Place a large skillet over medium-high heat, and add oils. When oils are hot but not smoking add braciola and sear, rotating every minute or so, until browned all over. Reduce heat to medium, add whole garlic cloves and sauté 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer braciola to roasting pan, allowing garlic to continue cooking until golden. Add a cup of remaining sauce to skillet, and scrape browned bits from bottom; shut off heat, and pour over braciola. Add remaining sauce to braciola, completely covering braciola. (If there isn’t enough sauce, use another can of tomatoes.) Cover with foil, and bake about 3 hours, until tender.

4. Snip twine off braciola. Arrange, whole or sliced, on a platter, drizzle with some sauce and transfer remaining sauce to a serving bowl. Serve hot or at room temperature. Garnish with Parmigiano-Reggiano.

Yield: 6 servings.

Cooking and sourcing notes.

I took the recipe to Whole Food and asked the butcher if they had Pork Braciola Cutlets. Never heard of it, but he said he could cut a few slices from a boneless pork shoulder. I asked for three, thick enough to pound to 1/4-inch. That was about 1 1/2 pounds.

Since I’m cooking for two, I halved the recipe.

When I rolled the braciola, I put the “filling” on the lower two-thirds, so when rolled the meat made a tight closure (I learned this on the first roll). Be sure the string is nice and tight, because the meat sticks like crazy during browning, and you don’t want the rolls coming apart when you turn them.

Choose your roasting pan so that the braciola fit rather snugly. It takes a lot of sauce to cover.

I served hot, sliced on an oval plate, with thin spaghetti on the side. Yummy.

Finally, a discourse on gravy wouldn’t be complete without a recipe for Sunday Gravy from The Sopranos Family Cookbook as Compiled by Artie Bucco. (Hey, when you run a bookstore, you pick up all kinds of strange books.)

Sunday Gravy

Time: About 4 hours, Yield: about 8 cups

“You might say that the message of Neapolitan cooking is like the message of the people themselves: relax, sit down, serve yourself a little pasta, and taste life. We should thank them for this great pleasure.”

For the Gravy
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound meaty pork neck bones or spareribs
1 pound veal stew meat
1 pound Italian style plain or fennel pork sausages
4 garlic cloves
1/4 cup tomato paste
3 28 ounce cans Italian peeled tomatoes
2 cups water
salt and pepper
6 fresh basil leaves torn into small pieces

For the Meatballs
1 pound ground beef or a combination of beef and pork
1/2 cup plain bread crumbs
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon finely minced garlic
1/2 cup grated Pecorino Romano
2 tablespoons finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil

To Serve
1 pound shells or rigatoni, cooked and still hot
Freshly grated Pecorino Romano or Parmigiano-Reggiano

Heat the oil in a large heavy pot over medium heat. Pat the pork dry and put the pieces in the pot. Cook, turning occasionally, for about 15 minutes or until nicely browned on all sides. Transfer the pork to a plate. Brown the veal in the same way and add it to the plate. Place the sausages in the pot and brown on all sides. Set the sausages aside with the pork.

Drain off most of the fat from the pot. Add the garlic and cook for about two minutes or until golden. Remove and discard the garlic. Stir in the tomato paste and cook for one minute.

With a food mill, puree the tomatoes, with their juice, into the pot. Or, for a chunkier sauce, just chop up the tomatoes and add them. Add the water and salt and pepper to taste. Add the pork, veal, and sausages and basil and bring the sauce to a simmer. Partially cover the pot and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, for 2 hours. If the sauce becomes too thick, add a little more water.

Meanwhile, make the meatballs:
Combine all the ingredients except the oil in a large bowl. Mix together thoroughly. Rinse your hands with cool water and lightly shape the mixture into 2-inch balls.

Heat the oil in a large, heavy skillet. Add the meatballs and brown them well on all sides. (They will finish cooking later.) Transfer the meatballs to a plate.

After two hours, add the meatballs to the sauce and cook for 30 minutes or until the sauce is thick and the meats very tender.

To serve, remove the meats from the sauce and set aside. Toss the cooked pasta with the sauce. Sprinkle with cheese. Serve the meats as a second course, or reserve them for another day.

Buon consumo!

One thought on “Gravy

  1. Terrific and so glad to find this article + recipe + sauce discussion. I am aware of the quick and slow cooked sauce dichotomy, and tend to favor the former unless the sauce results from braising meat, as is the case in this recipe. Over the years, my sauce recipe has gotten progressively more simple, either quick or slow cooked, like yours, a simple, few ingredients sauce. I have been looking for this dish on Italian restaurant menus for a while now, off and on, ever since it came up as a plot tool in Everyone Loves Raymond, when Ray’s wife, Debra, finally managed to make it good enough as to fool Raymond. As you recall the joke was that she had been long working with an intentionally defective or incomplete recipe provided by her mother-in-law, Marie, who would do anything to maintain her dominant position in the family. In Los Angeles, Dan Tana’s charges $48.00 for this dish which is on the veal side of the menu. Oh, and I was recently given the Sopranos cookbook, which I am also enjoying quite a bit.

    Thanks again.



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