It's hard to find a meal as deeply satisfying as the ultimate meat sauce. There’s lots of flexibility in this dish, and like a basic tomato sauce recipe, everybody and their mother thinks they have the very, very best and only true version. My version is the sort of "carnivores dream" sauce that we'd savor at Sunday evening dinner either at my folks' home on Capitol Hill or my grandparents home in North Tacoma. A meatball with a bowl of sauce and a slice of bread just barely tied me over until dinner.
- Start with your favorite tomato sauce. Mine is based on the following for 1 lb. of pasta: sauté until translucent 1 medium yellow onion finely chopped, 5-6 minced garlic cloves, and about 1/4 cup olive oil. Now for the canned tomatoes; lots of discussion surrounds the very best brands, but I’ll spare you today! I use two 28-ounce cans for a non-meat sauce and 3 for a meat sauce. Drain the liquid if it appears more like water than tomato juice. Puree the fruit and add to the onion/garlic base. Add your herbs and spices: I like bay leaf with meat, a little red pepper and salt, sometimes oregano (I prefer oregano with my non-meat version), and a big handful of chopped parsley to add at the end. Now for the meat!
- Meatballs are always a favorite (Casa Fiore, March 2005, A Meatball—By Convention! Let me know if you’d like a copy!) Prepare and set aside. Then, brown some or all of the following, as each will impart it’s own character to this deep, rich, and complex sauce: sweet and hot sausage; some cuts of pork and beef and even lamb, like ribs, neck bones, and chuck roast; homemade bracciole, or rolled and stuffed flank steak; you can even try rabbit or wild game. Want the ultimate stroke? Try NY Italian specialties! Sausages and pork skin rolled and stuffed with prosciutto and grated cheese often bobbed away for hours in our pot. Contact our favorite sources for your own personal shipment: A & S Pork Store on 86th Street in Brooklyn, 718.238.6030 (I pray it still exists...) or my cousin's place, Fortunato’s in New Jersey, 732.262.7999.
- Add the browned meats to the sauce and let simmer on low for hours—2-3 hours minimum. Halfway through, do as I used to do, and ladle out a bowl full of sauce and a meatball, grab a piece of bread, and make sure everything is going alright. Boil your pasta—either dry or fresh pasta is great. Plate and serve with grated pecorino or parmigiano cheese. Enjoy with a bold Italian red like Barolo, Barbaresco, or Brunello.