|My great-aunt Fulmay as a very young woman|
In a family full of great home-style cooks, all of them with big personalities, my Aunt Fulmay had one of the bigger personalities. I was modified-vegetarian through most of my 20's (I ate fish and dairy, but nothing that walked the earth.) Aunt Fulmay told me to come up for a roasted chicken and when I told her I was vegetarian, she screeched, "But honey! What do you eat?!"
Then, she offered to make pork instead. True story.
Fulmay felt she was the family's best cook. Actually, she felt that she was the best at most things and her sister Vera, my grandmother, always called her "La Baronessa" ironically. Like I said, big personality. What a character. She was a great cook, though. [Her sisters, Lena and Josephine, were also great cooks and each had a dish or two at which they really excelled. Aunt Lena made the best bread and generally, after she got several loaves in the oven, she would fry up the left over dough and sprinkle it with sugar. Ingeniously, I trained her to call me at that point. I would run up the hill to her house for warm, sugary fried dough. Aunt Josephine made the best tarts and also, the best marinara in the family, hands down. Also, she was the only one in the family who had the patience to make polenta for me.] But I recall Aunt Fulmay's Sunday dinner style beef based spaghetti sauce as being the best. I would put her sauce up against any in the Bastianich/Batalli empire, actually.
This is basically Sunday Dinner at your grandmother's house (if your grandmother is Southern Italian and a great cook). CAVEAT: This is a long prep. It's not hard, but it is time sensitive, so start it early(ish) in the day.
You will need:
beef shank (1 to 1.5 pounds) or beef short-ribs
2 large-ish carrots
3 large cans of crushed tomatoes
1 small jar of roasted red peppers (8 or 10 ounces)
1 small onion
3 to 6 cloves of garlic
2 bay leaves
3 cups of full-bodied red wine
crushed red pepper
a healthy palmful of dried basil
Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees. Then heat a large dutch oven on the stovetop. Brown the beef -- really get a good sear on it and salt it well. (Get the pot really hot -- you want the beef to sizzle when you drop it in.) Brown both sides. Remove from heat.
Peel and quarter the carrots; likewise with the onion; clean and finely dice the garlic. Run the carrots, garlic and onion through a food processor to make the pestina. After you've browned the meat, put the pestina in the pot and sautee them until they are soft.
While that's working, run the canned tomatoes and roasted red peppers through the food processor or the blender. (I run mine through the blender -- I like a very smooth sauce, texture-wise.)
Turn the heat off stovetop. Return the meat to the pot. Pour in the tomato/red pepper mixture. Add the bay leaves, two cups of red wine, a healthy pinch of crushed red pepper and the basil.) Cover and throw it in the oven for 2 hours. This is the base of your sauce. Give it a taste -- if it needs salt -- now is a good time to add it. If it needs more wine, add it. Same with the basil. Reduce the heat to about 250 degrees and return the sauce to the oven for about another hour.
This sauce is phenomenal with any kind of pasta, either short cut (like penne or trofie) or long cut (spaghetti, linguini, etc.) I use this for my Christmas ravioli and it is fantastic with gnocchi. Crack open a bottle of wine and feast with some good friends or family, like this group of shady characters:
|Clockwise from left: Aunt Josephine, Aunt Lena, Grammie (Vera), Gram and Aunt Fulmay (center)|
** ROASTED TOMATO NOTE. When tomatoes are in season, I buy a bunch from my farmers at Freedom Farms and roast them. I sometimes use them rather than the canned San Marzanos. Or I use a mix of my own roasted tomatoes with the San Marzanos. When tomatoes are in season you may want to do like wise. Here's how:
-- Core tomatoes and cut in half crosswise, along the equator, as it were. Toss with olive oil, salt and pepper and many cloves of garlic (unpeeled) was well as several sprigs of thyme.
-- Place them in glass baking dishes, so that they are flat side down and roast for 30 minutes at 350 degrees.
-- Drain as much juice as you can and peel off the skins. Return the tomatoes to the oven for another hour at 325 degrees.
-- When you are done, you will have amazing tomato broth that you can use in sauces and soups, plus a batch of roasted tomatoes and roasted garlic cloves. I peel the garlic and then freeze small batches of the tomatoes for use over a long, dreary, tomato-less winter. They make a delicious quick sauce for pasta or polenta, they can be used in soups or in a long-cooking sauce.