In college, I had a 100% Italian-American boyfriend, and I was partially adopted by his very traditional family. His mom was about 4’10” and a spitfire, and every week, she had a cooking schedule. A certain day of the week meant soup, another day was always a roast, and Sunday was spaghetti and meatballs. She’d make the sauce on Saturday afternoon so it could simmer until after mass on Sunday, and Saturday night, she’d fry up her meatballs and put them on the back porch to cool until they were dropped into the sauce on Sunday morning.
I did some damn good eating in their kitchen, and every meal included bread from the best bakery in Syracuse: the Columbus Baking Company. (photo of the outside / photo of the inside. Warning: contains bread!)
In addition to quality tomatoes, lots of garlic, and extra-virgin olive oil, a respectable “Sunday Gravy” also usually includes a healthy dose of red wine (both in the sauce and in the cook).
But you and I, we’re not just any Italian (food) lovers; we are dino-chow afficianados. So we say rifiuto! to pasta and bread and wine and EVOO cooked at high temperatures — and then we say benvenuto! to vegetable noodles, balsamic vinegar, and ghee.
This recipe is from my cookbook Well Fed 2: More Paleo Recipes For People Who Love To Eat. And although this recipe is a tiny bit of a project, it rewards you with enough tender, succulent meat to last for several meals — and it can be frozen, too, so you can defrost Italian love anytime you need a food hug. The balsamic vinegar gives the slow-simmered sauce just the right zing, and pork chops, Italian sausage, and beef meatballs infuse the sauce with flavor while, in turn, taking on the tang of tomato and garlic.
Old School Italian Meat Sauce from Well Fed 2
Prep 45 minutes | Cook 2 1/2 hrs | Serves 8-12 | Whole30 compliant
1 teaspoon coconut oil
1 1/2 pounds pork chops (bone in or boneless)
salt and ground black pepper
1 pound Italian sausage (chicken, turkey, or pork)
2 medium onions, diced (about 2 cups)
1/2 tablespoon dried oregano
3 tablespoons tomato paste
1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
6 cloves garlic, minced (about 2 tablespoons)
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
2/3 cup beef broth
2 (28 ounce) cans crushed tomatoes
1/4 cup fresh basil leaves, slivered
2 tablespoons warm water
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/2 pound ground beef
1/2 pound ground pork or turkey
2 cloves garlic, minced (about 2 teaspoons)
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup fresh parsley leaves, minced (about 2 tablespoons)
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon Italian herb blend
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
Brown the meats. Heat coconut oil in a large, deep pot. Sprinkle the pork chops with salt and pepper, then brown them on both sides, about 10 minutes. Remove the chops from the pot and place in a bowl to catch the juices. Brown the whole sausage links in the same pot, about 10 minutes, and place in the bowl with the pork chops.
Make the sauce. You’re going to make the sauce in the same pot, so add a little coconut oil if there’s no fat left in the pan. Cook the onions with the oregano until they’re very soft, about 7-10 minutes. Add the tomato paste and cocoa. Sauté until beginning to brown, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
Add the balsamic vinegar and stir, about 1 minute. Add the broth and crushed tomatoes; stir to combine. Nestle the pork chops and sausage into the sauce. Bring to a robust bubble, then cover and simmer, 2 hours. Meanwhile…
Prep the meatballs. Preheat the oven to 400F and cover a large baking sheet with parchment paper or foil. In a small bowl, mix the water, baking soda and cream of tartar with a fork until combined. Crumble the beef and pork into a large bowl, then add the garlic, tomato paste, vinegar, parsley, salt, Italian herb blend, red pepper flakes, and water/baking soda. Mix well with your hands (or if you want it very smooth, with a food processor or mixer) until combined.
Cook the meatballs. Measure 1 tablespoon of the meat and roll into a ball. Line up the meatballs on the baking sheet, then bake 20 minutes, until browned.
The final steps. When the sauce has reached its 2-hour simmer deadline, add the meatballs to the sauce and simmer an additional 15 minutes, uncovered. Remove the sauce from the heat and toss in the fresh basil, then taste and add salt and pepper, if necessary.
If you used bone-in pork chops, the meat could fall right off the bones; you might need to liberate them from the sauce (lest you choke a dining companion). Ladle the sauce over a pile of Zucchini Noodles or Roasted Spaghetti Squash and top with a little of each kind of meat. Mange!
Two things to consider:
1. If you like your sauce smooth, you can purée it in a blender or food processor before adding the meatballs. I really like it that way, but some people prefer the most rustic, chunkier sauce.
2. I like to eat this like a stew and skip the “noodles” underneath. I just pile a piece of each kind of meat in a deep bowl and top with sauce.
BONUS: In case you missed it, be sure to check out this photo of the kitchen disaster that ensued when tomato sauce met gravity (and yoga pants and the tile floor and…).
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