The dinner hour is a sacred, happy time when everyone should be together and relaxed.Julia Child
Growing up, we always tried to sit down for dinner as a family a few nights a week. My parents felt it was important to get a glimpse into my day at school, talk about my friends, schoolwork, and current events—and maybe even gossip a bit. Walter Cronkite was an occasional background guest on the TV. My memories of these evenings are still very vivid after all these years.
My father was the primary cook in our small family, and Sunday evening was the night of the week for his extra special meals, served at our dining room table, rather than our usual dinner spot at the kitchen table. Most Sundays, he chose meals that required longer preparation and cook time. He often started early in the day, just after breakfast. Sunday meals were more traditional of the era—a beef roast with potatoes and vegetables cooking slowly on the stove, or a stew simmering in an old-fashioned pressure cooker (long before Instant Pots became fashionable).
Being Italian, a red pasta sauce was usually in the Sunday meal rotation as well. The heavenly smells wafted through the house, as my mother finished ironing and bill-paying, and I made sure homework was finished for Monday.
Fast forward to present day. Weeknight family dinners are often more difficult to coordinate with both parents working longer hours, kids with sports practices and games, drama rehearsals and singing lessons, and the like. As busy as we are as individuals and as families, Sundays still seem to be the one day of the week when we can regroup and savor a family-style Sunday dinner.
For me, Sunday dinners mean gathering, reconnecting, and sharing. The meal can be grand or simple; it’s the kinship with family and friends in a comfortable setting that is most important. That being said, it’s still the meal—the food and wine—that draws people to the same table and creates an atmosphere of family and togetherness.
My Sunday Dinner Recipe Series will be a mixture of fun, family food woven together with classic, romantic dishes that may take longer to prepare. Having no children in my home, I often cook with friends gathered around the kitchen island, glasses of wine in hand. These gatherings are akin to the appetizer before the main course of conversation and friendship that continues at the table.
This recipe has morphed so much over the years. It is now the base to my lasagna recipe and the ubiquitous Baked Ziti. This is not a traditional Bolognese. Rather, it’s very flavorful and spicy sauce featuring chunks of tomatoes and sausage for every bite with your preferred pasta. I know that pasta sauce is one of those things that you’ve grown up with and loved, and it’s hard to try something else. Trust me though, this one is just a beautiful thing.
Being Italian, the first vision of a Sunday dinner centers around a pot of pasta sauce simmering slowly on the stove. So, what better way to start this series than with my Sunday Sauce with Italian Sausage.
The key to success with this is twofold: Quality ingredients and a really long simmer. Just like a good soup, this sauce is best the day after if your schedule allows.
Some notes about the ingredients:
⁃ I prefer hot Italian sausage, though mild or sweet works just as good. Up to you and your flavor palate.
⁃ Use sausage links to create larger bite-sized pieces of sausage in the sausag
⁃ When possible, upgrade to San Marzano whole peeled canned tomatoes. They’re generally sweeter and more flavorful than a more generic type of canned tomato. Cento is a terrific brand.
⁃ Use whole peeled tomatoes, and roughly chop them by hand into the pot versus buying a diced tomato. This creates more texture to the sauce.
⁃ You may substitute dried spices if fresh parsley, basil and oregano are not available. Fresh spices do add tremendously to the flavor profile.
⁃ Which pasta? Rigatoni or Mostaccioli noodles work best with this recipe; these noodles are larger with ridges to house the sauce in every bite you take.
SUNDAY SAUCE WITH ITALIAN SAUSAGE
Crisp Caesar Salad with Homemade Croutons & Caesar Dressing
Fresh Fruit Ice Cream or Cannoli from the Bakery
Wine Pairing: 2016 Nozzole Chianti Classico Riserva, Cost: $18.00
A ripe Chianti Classico with aromas of strawberries, cherries and red plums. Full body, juicy tannins and a medium-deep finish.
2-1/2 pounds hot Italian Sausage links, casings removed (you can use mild or sweet, if preferred)
1-½ large white onion, finely diced
5 large garlic cloves, finely diced
2 stalks celery, finely diced
1 large carrot, finely diced
3 28oz. cans San Marzano whole peeled tomatoes (Cento brand, preferred)
1 6oz. can tomato sauce
1 green pepper, finely chopped
1 bunch Italian parsley, finely chopped (use leaves and tender stems only)
½ cup fresh basil, finely chopped
2 tablespoons fresh oregano, finely chopped
1 teaspoon fennel seed
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon sugar (as desired if tomatoes are too acidic)
Salt and pepper to your liking
1. In a large dutch oven, brown the sausage links. Break up sausage with the back of a wooden spoon to create the desired chunks for the sauce. Remove sausage and excess oil from pot.
2. Finely dice onions and put in same pot used for browning sausage. Add garlic after onions have started to sweat. Add celery and carrots. Simmer until vegetables have gotten soft and are starting to brown a bit, approximately 15 minutes. (Don’t rush this step.)
3. Once vegetables have gotten soft, add ½ can of tomato paste. Mix paste in pot with vegetables and cook slightly.
4. Coarsely chop canned tomatoes by hand, and add to the pot. Keep pot on a low simmer.
5. Add sausage back to pot.
6. Finely chop parsley, basil and oregano and add to pot. Add diced green pepper.
7. Add fennel seed. Add red pepper flakes, to desired spiciness.
8. Simmer on stove for at least 3 hours. Taste occasionally. If tomatoes are a bit acidic, adding a teaspoon or two of sugar will counter-balance this.
9. Sauce is best if made day before. Refrigerate overnight. Continue to simmer on low heat throughout the day.
10. Boil desired pasta. Drain pasta after it reaches the al dente stage. Return back to pasta pot. Add sauce. Dish up into large bowl and serve family style at the table.