Food Hack #3: The Italian Sunday Gravy Method
Ever wondered how italian Mamas and Nonas keep the family fed with such delicious food at every meal?
No? Just me then.
The answer dear friend is preparation and whilst I wouldn't award preparation the title of a food hack, I would definitely call the versatility it can bring to your cooking game as well worthy of being included in the hack hall of fame.
So stay with me, trust, have I ever let you down?
So what is Sunday Gravy? It's essentially a base sauce that can be used for meals throughout the week. Mothers in Italy will make up a massive pot of tomato based sauce with vegetables, meat bones and sausage that bubbles away for the day on Sunday.
This a good way of using up the weeks leftover vegetables before going shopping for fresh on Monday and if there has been a big family meal for Sunday lunch or a Saturday night dinner heavy with protein, it makes use of the leftover bones or meat. Italian sausage is added to the sauce for extra meaty flavour and depth. A big pot of sauce bubbles away being lovingly tended to and stirred occasionally throughout Sunday to make a deep, rich and flavourful sauce. This vat of goodness is termed the Sunday Gravy and is used as a base to enhance the meals for the week ahead.
At this point, you may be thinking;
"That's all very interesting but I'm not Italian and I don't really want tomato based pasta meals all week".
And that would be a reasonable thought (unless you are Italian or really, really like italian food.) but hold my beer and watch this, I'm going to give you a simple recipe for my take on a Sunday Gravy and then try to prove how easy it is to utilise in over a week to simplify, taste inject and generally keep you out of the ready meal aisle at the grocery store.
Sunday Gravy - MCF Style
Base sauce for 2 people for 6 days
1 Head of celery - finely chopped 5-6 stalks if you don't know what a head of celery is
5 large carrots - finely chopped
3 large onions - finely chopped
5 cloves of garlic - finely chopped or 5 teaspoons of lazy garlic (pre-chopped)
4 400g / 14oz cans of plum tomatoes (chopped or whole, doesn't really matter)
Half a bottle of Red Wine - Any red wine will work but if you're fancy and have choices, Barolo.
3 teaspoons dried Oregano (Or Basil if you prefer) if using fresh, leave until the end to add finely chopped.
1 Tablespoon Sugar
Optional but preferred- 500g Sausage - any sausage will do, I prefer Italian, chorizo or salami for flavour but also a good coarse beef sausage will work well.
Optional but preferred - Meat Bones (Pork or Beef Rib bones work well but any will be fine)
1 litre of Chicken Stock or 3 Chicken Stock cubes (beef or vegetable stock cubes will work if you don't have chicken)
Remove the sausages from their skins by slicing through the skin and squeezing out the meat. if you bought cured sausage like chorizo, chop into small cubes.
In a large saucepan (the biggest you have that has a lid), fry off the sausage and bones in a little olive oil at medium heat for 5 minutes or until nicely browned
Add in the celery, carrot, garlic & onion and fry at high heat for another 5-10 minutes until the carrot has softened, stirring often to prevent burning. If your onions start to brown, turn down the heat to medium. The objective is to burn off the water and lightly fry the veg.
Once the veg water has boiled off and the pan is frying rather than steaming, add in the wine and cook at high heat for 3 more minutes to burn off the alcohol (very important to burn off the alcohol or the sauce is not going to be good)
Add in the Tomatoes and heat at high heat for a further 5 minutes until the sauce begins to thicken slightly, stirring constantly.
Add in the Chicken Stock, and bring the sauce back to the boil
Reduce the heat to the lowest it will go, a single bubble rising on the sauce is perfection.
Add in the Oregano, Sugar and a good glug (4 Tablespoons) of Olive Oil.
Add a liberal punch (3 pinches) oif Salt and Black Pepper and stir everything together.
Add the lid ( slightly offset to release a little steam) and leave to bubble away for 3-4 hours stirring every 20-30 minutes to prevent it sticking to the side of the pot.
The sauce is ready when it has thickened and absorbed all of the water into the tomatoes and chicken stock. If after 3-4 hours your sauce is still too thin, add in some tomato paste/puree to thicken or leave fir longer. You can also turn up the heat and stir continuously until thickened.
Remove the meat bones if you used them and discard (or in our house, they are a special Sunday treat for Winston the Wonder Dog)
Do not let the sauce boil dry or it will take on an acrid taste and be a massive waste of time and food.
Once cooled, the sauce can be put in airtight containers in the fridge for up to 7 days or frozen in portions for up to 3 months.
OK, so now you've got a fridge full of tomato sauce, what now?
Well here is 10 of the ways I use my Sunday Gravy throughout the week. My strategy is to try and use up the sauce in the week but don't have it feel like we lived on tomato sauce. Some of the recipes are already on MCF and if they're not, they will be in the future.
Just bear in mind, these are tasty hack recipes to utilise the sauce, if you're horrified by the bastardisation of the classic recipe, feel free to jog on!
Chicken or Eggplant Parmigiana - Beat out a couple of chicken breasts, bread and fry them so you have crispy chicken cutlets/schnitzels. Top with a layer of Sunday Gravy and lots of Mozzarella and pop under the grill / broiler for a quick and tasty Italian American classic or visit our Classic Eggplant recipe for a great side or even a main dish if you have a vegetarian in your midst (I have friends who have friends who are veggie).
Indonesian Style Peanut Curry - Add peanut butter, coconut milk, chilli and curry powder to a portion of Sunday Gravy for an instant curry, similar to Satay Sauce. Mix in chicken or prawns (or both) and serve over rice or noodles for a quick and delicious Asian style meal
Minestrone Soup - Thin out the sauce again with some veg or chicken stock and add in some more chopped celery, diced carrot and a few spaghetti strands broken up and boil together for 10 minutes for a nice light lunch. Serve with a hunk of ciabatta bread.
Lasagne - Make up a quick batch of our turbo cheese sauce recipe, fry off some minced beef and add to a portion of Sunday gravy and layer in a dish with lasagne sheets for a super quick but tasty midweek lasagne.
Chilli Nachos - Fry some mince with a teaspoon each of Cumin, Paprika and Chilli Powder, then add a portion of Sunday Gravy and a can of kidney or black beans for an instant Chilli. Pour on top of a dish of Nachos (I use sweet chilli doritos for another cheeky hack) and cover with cheese and bake in a hot oven for 5 - 10 minutes until the cheese is bubbling and oozy then top with cold sour cream, guacamole and a tewist of lime for a naughty but nice little mexican twist.
Chicken Fajitas / Tacos - Fry chopped chicken breast with cumin, paprika and chilli powder with sliced peppers and onions and a portion of Sunday Gravy. Serve with flour tortillas or tacos and grated cheese for delicious wraps
Easy Pizza - Make up a batch of our amazing 2 ingredient pizza dough, grate some mozzarella and cheddar and use Sunday Gravy as your pizza sauce. Top with the cheese and your favourite toppings (Pineapple and Pepperoni with extra cheese and Garlic is my all time favourite). fresh pizza in minutes! Get creative and make a Calzone.
Shakshuka - Sunday Gravy even works for breakfast! Heat up a portion of Sunday Gravy with added chilli, cumin in a large frying pan / skillet and crack a few eggs on top of the sauce, and let the eggs steam in the sauce (top tip: I use a lid to build up steam but be careful not cook the yokes), great for a northern Africa stye start to the day
Spaghetti Meatballs / Spaghetti Bolognese - Maybe a little obvious this one but both are mid week classics. Just take beef mince, Sunday Gravy and pasta and have at it.
Deep Fried Pork / Chicken Balls with Sweet & Sour Sauce - Make up a simple seasoned flour and water batter and dip pork or chicken pieces and deep fry for 5-8 minutes to get crispy balls. Take a portion of sunday gravy add a cup of chicken stock and blitz in the blender. Heat up in a pot adding a tablespoon each of sugar, soy sauce, and rice wine vinegar. Add a tablespoon of HP sauce (known as brown sauce in the UK). Tomato Sauce (ketchup) and Sweet Chili Sauce. Cook down the mixture until thickened then serve with your crispy pork/chicken balls and rice or noodles. This is amazing with our Special Fried Rice Recipe.
And that's 10 (technically 14 if you include the variants), I could go on but I'm sure you get the idea. Spending an hour on Sunday to make up a batch of Sunday Gravy really does either simplify or improve the quality of my mid week cooking. Technically 5 out of the 10 are Italian but that's because I love Italian food (or more specifically, Italian-American food, there is a difference). Here is a few extra notable mentions that didn't make the list that can be adaptiations using Sunday Gravy:
Tomato and Mascarpone Pasta
Now that's over 20 possibilities and whilst you could argue that some of them are very similar despite being from different culinary regions, my counter is there are 5 week-days, there is more than enough variation to deliver a solid set of dishes to keep your Wife / Husband / Flatmate / Captive satiated and feeling they had a varied and quality week at the nosebag.
In my final attempt to sell this hack if you still need convincing it's a worthwhile approach, here is a 5-day meal plan based on Sunday Gravy:
Monday - Mexican - Steak Fajitas with Guacamole, Pico De Gallo cheese and sour cream
Tuesday - Chinese - Sweet & Sour Chinese Pork Balls with Egg Fried Rice
Wednesday - Indian - Butter Chicken with Tarka Dal and Naan Breads
Thursday - Spanish - Tapas: Patatas Bravas, Chorizo & Sherry and Pil Pil Prawns.
Friday - Indonesian - Peanut Prawn Curry With Stir-fried vegetables
Saturday - Italian-American- Chicken Parmigiana with a rocket and tomato salad
Sunday - British - Sunday roast with all the trimmings whilst making up another pot of Sunday Gravy!
It may not be the healthiest week you'll ever have (I'm built for comfort not speed) but you can't argue with it's variety. 7 days, 7 countries, 4 different proteins, 5 different starch sides and veggies scattered throughout with gay abandon. All utilising one sauce to reduce effort, prep and cooking times.
It doesn't have to be tomato sauce and it doesn't have to be every week, the point here is that there is a middle ground between the soulless task of bulk cooking and freezing endless ready meals, living for a ding on the microwave and going through the painstaking task of scratch cooking seven days a week.
I love cooking, it's my thing, and I enjoy it, but I'm busy, like you and I don't want to stand at the kitchen counter for two hours every night after a tough day. I'm fortunate enough that I can cook better than any take away I can get delivered (and I know what went in it and at what levels of hygiene) so if I can balance time and quality to eat better, healthier and without the danger of catching Montezuma's revenge, Delhi Belly or the Karachi Crouch, then bring it on brothers and sisters.
That's a hack in my book and I present my evidence for the court to decide.
Until next time, keep cooking.