Saturday, May 9, 2015

Sunday Gravy - Pressure Cooker Style

In my corner of the Central Coast of California, that I call home, we are experiencing a mish-mash of weather. One day, it's sunny and warm so we fire up the Weber to enjoy some grilling. The next day, the clouds roll in and bring some much needed rain (for just a short while) and I think more of slow cooking stews or pasta.  I'm okay with the change in weather, because I enjoy any kind of braised dishes.

Sundays have become my weekly afternoon to spend in the kitchen trying out new recipes.  I appreciate my Sundays as "me time" and being able to make more time-consuming recipes-- which has become therapeutic for me.

I can understand how a ragu sauce called "Sunday Gravy" derived it's name.  I can almost picture so many Italian Nonna's making this rich tomato sauce that has been slow cooking for hours on the stove.

From my internet research, I've learned that Sunday Gravy is an Italian-American dish-- very popular on the East Coast.  The "gravy" is more of a ragu that has been slowly simmered with various meats. There are many variations of this recipe, each of them touting to be "the best".  I've never had "Sunday Gravy" before, though I have heard about it from  few Italian-American friends who make this-- which left me longing to make it myself.

One afternoon, one of my most trusted recipe sources-- American's Test Kitchen ("ATK")-- showed an episode for their version of "Sunday Gravy".  I was smitten, and book marked their recipe.  The mouth-watering components of this dish were enough to finally entice me into make this in my own kitchen-- plus, it's no secret that we love pastas with tomato based sauces.

Braciole, (a pounded out piece of beef, that is stuffed with ingredients like raisins, pine nuts, cheese and prosciutto) is a  traditional meat ingredient for Sunday Gravy.  It's also a lot of work to do (and recipe I have yet to try making for myself).   

To cut back on the prep work, instead of making braciole, this recipe uses baby back ribs, homemade meatballs and hot Italian sausage.  Still, there is about an hour of prep work to do and that's why this isn't something to make on a work night. Hence, this was a Sunday supper. I rolled up my sleeves, put my ear buds to listen to an audio book, and got to work.

The secret is in the sauce, so to speak-- which is more of a "ragu" because it's tomato based, but the slow braised the meats add lots of great flavor.  The sauce is thick, and is cooked long and slow for hours on the stove-- which requires stirring and keeping a close eye on it.  ATK decided to use the oven (for 2-1/2 hours) so that it could cook low and slow with no need to stir.   On some lazy Sundays,  I do love to make slow-braised dishes (like Osso Bucco) in the oven because the meat turns out to be super tender, and it's falling off the bone.  But, there are times when I want to speed up the process.

That's when I bring out  my favorite kitchen "secret weapon"-- my beloved pressure cooker*. I've posted almost two dozen pressure cooker recipes on my "Recipe Index" page and those numbers will continue to grow.  So, I adapted this recipe to be made in my pressure cooker for 45 minutes versus 2-1/2 hours!  I will, however, provide a printable recipe card that gives you directions on how to make this, in the oven, if you don't own a pressure cooker. So, here we go!
*NOTE: I've used both a stove top and an electric pressure cooker. There are merits to both, but much prefer my electric pressure cooker. I have used an 8-quart oval Cook's Essentials pressure cooker, which is no longer made. Should it ever break, after I quit crying, I will buy this pressure cooker to replace it.

I made the meatballs, first.  I've made an ATK Pressure Cooker Spaghetti and Meatballs recipe, which is one of my most viewed recipes. This recipe was similar, but with a couple of additional ingredients. First, we begin with a "panade" which is white bread and milk (in this case, buttermilk) that is "smooshed" into a soft paste. (The panade helps to bind the meatloaf mixture (as does the egg yolk) and makes the meatballs soft and tender.) 

I didn't have buttermilk on hand (which I usually do), so I used a buttermilk powder as my emergency substitute.  (Likewise, ATK says you could use plain yogurt mixed with milk.) To the panade, fresh parsley and minced garlic, red pepper flakes, and salt  is added.

I found a local grocery store that sells a meatloaf mixture of ground beef and ground pork.  You can certainly add ground veal, but leave it out if you can't find it or you have personal beliefs about now buying veal (which I completely understand).

ATK adds Prosciutto and cheese to the meatball mixture to mimic the flavor of the brasciole.  Clever!  The meatball mixture is divided into fourths, then each fourth into three meatballs.  (I do love a good meatball, and this is the component I was most looking forward to).  These are covered in plastic and refrigerated until we add them at the very end of the cooking time.

The instructions for using a Dutch Oven or a pressure cooker are the same.  Pat the ribs dry, and season with salt and pepper.  My electric pressure cooker has a browning cycle, which I used to brown the ribs on each side with a little olive oil. 

Once removed, I did the same for the hot Italian sausages.  Those were set on a plate, with the ribs and then it was time to make the sauce.

Using the browning cycle in my electric pressure cooker, I added about 2 cups of diced onion and some oregano, then some tomato paste and fresh garlic.  My kitchen was beginning to smell like an Italian restaurant!

Crushed tomatoes and beef broth are then added (the beef broth adds the flavor that would have come from the brasciole).  If using a Dutch Oven, the whole pot goes into a 325F oven for 2-1/2 hours.  For my pressure cooker, I locked the lid on, set the pressure to HIGH for 45 minutes and got busy finishing up the meatballs.

Oh, these meatballs!  They were so aromatic as I began to brown them, evenly!

That's what we're talkin' about!  So, why not add the meatballs with the ribs and sausages, you might wonder?  ATK's answer is that they don't become mushy and fall apart.  So, once the pressure cooker beeped, I did a QUICK RELEASE and remove any fat that was floating on top (there really wasn't much at all), and then gently nestled the meatballs into the P/C.  I replaced the lid, locked it on and pressure cooked the Sunday Gravy for 3 minutes.  I did a natural release, while I finished up cooking the pasta.

If using a Dutch Oven, transfer browned meatballs to sauce and gently submerge. Cover, return pot to oven, and continue cooking until meatballs are just cooked through, about 15 minutes.

I cooked some linguine pasta until al dente, then added about a cup of sauce and a little reserved pasta water to lightly coat the pasta. 

Is this a manly meal or what?!  This recipe could easily feed 6-8 hungry people.   With prep work and pressure cooking time, this took about 1-3/4 hours. Plus, the kitchen was cleaned up in between.  Not bad!

TASTING NOTES:  I thought the sauce would do any Nonna proud.  It was thick and flavorful.  My personal favorite was the meatballs, without a doubt.  I like ribs, but my favorite way is grilled.  That's not to say they didn't taste good!  My husband went for the sausages and had seconds on the sauce.  Sunday Gravy is comfort food at it's best.  I would definitely make this again, but would try making this with my new Creuset Dutch Oven-- and I'd like to take the time to make braciole.  Once again, ATK has developed a recipe that delivers flavor, more simplicity and a dish that I would proudly serve to family and guests.

Buon appetito!

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Sue/the view from great island said...

I grew up outside of New York City and had many Italian American friends whose mothers often made dishes like this, it brings back memories and looks perfect for the crazy weather we're having here too!

Big Dude said...

great looking Sunday Sauce Debbie - I would have never thought of using a pressure cooker for it. You are becoming the queen of the PC.

Bill said...

Wow! That's the perfect Sunday supper! I love this recipe. It reminds me of my Italian mother-in-law's recipe. She always put ribs and sausage in her sauce. It add such rich flavor. It's morning and I've already had breakfast, but this post has me so hungry!! Great post, Debby!

Anonymous said...

Hello Debby,
Wow is right. Sunday Gravy is a wonderful idea for a robust, satisfying meal. I agree that this may not be the ideal meal for a 'work night,' but my experience suggests that meals like this are even better on the second or third day, requiring only warming and enough time to cook the pasta. And, for tables like mine, typically serving one, I think smaller containers of Sunday Gravy are ideal candidates for the freezer. As always, your pix are stunning. Thank you.
-Craig (The other one)

Anonymous said...

Update 05-15-2015:
I've surveyed four well-informed foodie friends about Sunday Gravy. All, plus me of course, flunked, having no clue what this was. We have just 'edecumulated' FIVE foodies, my four friends have the link and we're talking about how to make it. Yes, Debby, you DO have an impact. Thanks. -Craig (The other one)

Debby Foodiewife said...

I wish I could be a fly on the wall, "Other Craig". I hope to hear back how things turned out!

Anonymous said...

Hi Debby,
All of us flunked, including me. No one had ever heard the term, but no Italian-Americans, either. That does NOT mean that we cannot make it and enjoy it. I particularly enjoy the variety of meats in your sauce. Hmm Memorial Day Weekend is close and some guests are expected... Sunday Gravy over pasta with a salad of very early veggies (and some store-bought cukes and tomatoes...) Does it get any better? Thank you.
-C (The other one)

Anonymous said...

Being a former Jersey girl, not Italian, who grew up eating Sunday Gravy, I was thrilled to find out how to make it in my new Instant Pot! I use pork neck bones instead of spare ribs in my normal gravy, so I am trying with the neck bones. I also use beef and pork bracciole and meatballs with ground beef, pork and veal. I cannot wait to try it in the Instant Pot! Thanks for posting this for me to find!