Thursday, August 26, 2010

A Sunday Gravy War!

You know what happens when very passionate cooks duke it out in the kitchen? Those of us standing on the sidelines win!

Be prepared to win big in the latest war between the Mamma and the Cucina. These dueling cooks are about to go spoon to spoon in
Gravy Wars! Yes, inspired by my book (pause for a little pat on the back), Una Mamma Italiana and Cucina Domenico are preparing to unveil their secret gravy (or sauce, if you will) recipes to the entire universe. They want you to vote on whose recipe is best. It’s a virtual taste-test. You will be asked to judge based on your interpretation of the info presented by our beloved bloggers of cookery.

This, my friends, is the crux behind “Gravy Wars | South Philly, Foods, Feuds & Attytudes!” You don’t need to be Italian, a professional chef, or a native of Philadelphia to be sucked into legitimate kitchen competition. All you need is a passion for food and a mild interest in preparing it, and before you know it, you too will become competitive and possessive in the kitchen.

It truly is a phenomenon to behold!

Oh, if only we could get the Mamma and the Cucina to dole out their signature sauces to the entire social media world at some place like the Superdome. Ah, maybe someday. Alas, we’ll have to settle for the online battle.

Be sure to get your friends, relatives, co-workers, Farmville competitors, and acquaintances of all types to weigh in on this match. Who knows? With enough hype, we may just get these two to Louisiana yet!

– Lorraine Ranalli

NOW, Let the Gravy Wars begin!!!!


Let me begin by saying that Sunday gravy is a lot like a marriage - the more love you put into it, the better it gets. A good gravy recipe perfects itself over time, and my recipe is definitely age old. My great grandmother taught it to my father, who taught it to me, and NEVER with a recipe! So like Dom, I had to endure the sheer agony of writing down my measurements and step by step instructions. I kid you not, people, this took me a week. It's hard stuff when you're assuming that some gravy crazed paisan out there is reading this recipe and isn't quite sure what a 'pinch' or a 'shake' of something is. (who am I kidding - neither do I). The fact is, there are not any words to describe the attention to detail that goes into my "Nonni's" recipe for red gravy.

This is appropriately called gravy because of the fact that it is derived from the juices of MEAT. In our case, we're talkin pork shoulder and meatballs. Check out the recipe, copy it, change it, whatever you please - just don't miss out on the opportunity to start a Sunday gravy tradition in your family! Buon Appetito!

3 28 oz. cans whole peeled tomatoes (preferably San Marzano)
1 6 oz. can tomato paste
Extra virgin olive oil (enough to sear the pork and then to barely cover the onions)
3 TB butter
2 lb. pork shoulder
2 onions, chopped
8-10 cloves garlic, sliced
2 cans water
Salt and pepper to taste
1 TB sugar
2 TB Italian Seasoning

Season the pork shoulder with salt and pepper. Start with enough e.v.o.o. in a pan to sear the pork on both sides. Remove the meat and set aside. Throw in the onions (then the garlic about 5 minutes later) adding enough oil to just barely cover the onions. It looks like a lot but it is the emulsifier you need to get this sauce good and creamy once blended. Add the butter at this point to aid in simmering the veggies. *disclaimer: Lorraine Ranalli, Gravy War QUEEN, might be judging me right about now, but all I can say is WATCH OUT! because butter is quite possibly my second favorite thing to cook with (the first, of course, being my hubby)!

Mix in the tomato paste and cook for 5 minutes. Add the cans of tomatoes and the water. Mix together then blend with hand blender until smooth. Put the meat back in. (at this point, you would add your meatballs too, if you made them. I like to fry my meatballs and sear the pork in the same oil. Then I would set aside BOTH meats until after the sauce is blended. Then add the meats back to the sauce pot.)

Season the sauce with salt, pepper, Italian seasoning, and sugar. Simmer 2- 3 hours, or until the meat is cooked thoroughly. 1/3 hour before serving, double check your seasoning and make adjustments accordingly.

How to serve?
Over pasta and with a big chunk of Italian bread to soak up the gravy with. Is there any other way?


I have made countless pots of gravy since I was literally a kid, but only in the past few years have I really zeroed in on a specific recipe. However, I have never followed a written recipe. It was always from memory, or whatever mood I was in that day. Although I found it a bit painstaking (as I believe this should be a free-form dish), I documented every measurement while making this version of my gravy.

First, let me address the whole gravy versus sauce issue. There are countless opinions on the subject. When I hear "sauce," I think Marinara. Quick. Delicious, nonetheless...but quick.You heat your oil and garlic, add your tomatoes, onions, seasonings, maybe even some meat or even shrimp, and in 20-30 minutes you have a tasty meal. Gravy, on the other hand, is a bit more complex. My guess (and this is only a guess) is that the term comes from the flavors of the meats that are incorporated. The "other" gravies (beef, turkey, chicken and pork) are, of course, made from meat drippings. So when you add your meats to your red sauce and let it simmer for a few hours, the meat flavors the sauce to make it a red gravy. But the main difference to me is the time, patience and love that you put in to your gravy (I was gonna go with blood, sweat and tears, but that would be gross). You treat your pot of gravy as if it were a child. You raise it and nurture it, from it's infant stage until it matures.

I always add meatballs to my gravy, usually with either sausage, boneless country spare ribs, or brasciole (thin steak stuffed with a breadcrumb mixture and rolled up). I also prefer to bake my meatballs and sausage, instead of the traditional frying. It's just as tasty, healthier for you, and frees up some quality time.

Before we get into the actual'll notice that I suggest adding two baby carrots to the gravy. This is an old trick that I learned a few years back. The carrots add a natural sweetness to the gravy, while at the same time they soak up some of the acid from the tomatoes.


2 28-oz cans crushed tomatoes
1 29-oz can tomato sauce (plus one can full of water)
1 6-oz can tomato paste with Italian herbs
olive oil
1/4 cup finely chopped onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tblspn Italian Seasoning (marjorim, thyme, rosemary, savory, sage, oregano and basil)
1 tblspn sugar
Salt and pepper to taste
1 beef bouillon cube
2 baby carrots
1 cup red wine(whatever you have opened)
1 loaf crusty Italian bread

Drizzle bottom of sauce pot with olive oil to coat on medium-high heat. Add chopped onion; stir for 1 minute or until onion is translucent. Add minced garlic; stir for about one minute. Add the two cans of crushed tomatoes, one can of tomato sauce plus one can of water, and one can of tomato paste; stir. Add Italian seasoning and sugar; stir. Heat and occasionally stir until slowly bubbling. Add bouillon cube, baby carrots and splash of wine; stir. Add salt and pepper to taste. Lower heat, slightly cover and simmer for one hour. Add cooked meats; simmer partially covered for 2-3 hours, stirring occasionally. Sip and enjoy the remaining cup of wine as you dip some bread into the gravy while it's cooking.

Serve over your choice of pasta and enjoy!

One last note...if you decide to try either of our Sunday Gravy recipes, we would be delighted. But if you decide to alter our recipes, and add your own flavors or ingredients, we would be overjoyed. Experiment, adjust the flavors to your likings, and most of all have fun. And be sure to share your version of the recipe with us.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Balsamic-Honey Marinated Carrots

Here's an easy, tasty and healthy dish that serves well as either a side or as a rustic-style appetizer. If you have ever dined at Pesto in South Philadelphia (one of my favorite restaurants), you may have had their similar, rustic family style dish served at your table. I like to keep things simple by using either frozen baby carrots or frozen crinkle-cut carrots. If you prefer to use fresh cut or fresh baby carrots, have at it! Also, I prepare this dish to be served chilled. If will also serve well warm if you prefer.


2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1/2 tablespoon honey
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 garlic clove, minced
Fresh ground black pepper to taste
1/2 bag of frozen baby or crinkle-cut carrots (or 1 medium carrot, sliced into rounds)

Steam cook the carrots until soft. Mix all other ingredients in a bowl. Toss the steamed carrots well in the marinade. Place in a bowl, cover and refrigerate. Serve chilled.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Grilled Italian Pulled Pork Sandwiches

As mentioned in the most recent Men's Health magazine, Philadelphia is a great sandwich town. While cheesesteaks and hoagies are among the most popular sandwiches with many of our tourists, there is no doubt that a tender, juicy roast pork sandwich is a fan favorite with most locals.

Earlier this summer, as we do every year, we hosted a grill-out party with our family to celebrate both of our daughters birthdays. This year I decided to change up the usual menu a bit and serve up grilled pork sandwiches as the main course. While I had the flavor of a traditional porchetta sandwich in mind (savory roasted pork seasoned with garlic, rosemary, fennel and other Italian herbs), I wanted to prepare and serve it pulled pork style (shredded, but without the messy barbecue sauce). With a little internet research and some helpful advice from my friend Jay (who is a guru of slow cooked and smoked meats), I was able to put together a recipe for a delicious grilled Italian pulled pork sandwich.

5-7lb boneless pork shoulder (excess fat trimmed with thin layer left intact, bone removed and set aside)
2 tablespoons fennel seeds
1 tablespoon coarse kosher salt
2 teaspoons black peppercorns
1 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper
6 large garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil plus additional for brushing
1 cup dry white wine
1 beef bouillon cube

The first step of arranging this meal is selecting and preparing the meat. You want to use a 5-7lb pork shoulder (I used 7lbs for 12 guests). You can buy it with either the bone still in or removed. The bone is going to add flavor, but you have to deal with the task of removing the bone yourself. What I decided to do was have my butcher remove the bone, but set the removed bone aside for me instead of discarding it (more on that in a bit). A 5-7lb pork shoulder is a large, solid chunk of meat, so you'll want to season the pork a day ahead of time so the seasoning is absorbed throughout.

Stir fennel seeds in small skillet over medium-high heat until slightly darker in color and fragrant, 4 to 5 minutes. Transfer seeds to spice mill and cool. Add kosher salt, peppercorns, and dried crushed red pepper. Grind to medium-fine consistency (not powder). Place pork in 13x9x2-inch glass baking dish. Make 1-2" deep slits around various parts of the pork shoulder. Rub garlic all over pork, then coat with spice mixture. Be sure to get the spices and garlic into the slits as well. Loosely cover pork with waxed paper. Refrigerate overnight.

Note: I don't have a smoker at home, so I cooked the pork on my gas grill using indirect heat. If you are interested in smoking a pork shoulder, there are plenty of great recipes available online. Also, you are looking at a good 7-8 hours of slow cooking on the grill, so be sure that you are working with a full tank of gas.

To prepare your grill for indirect heating, you'll want to use at least a two burner grill so the pork does not sit directly over the flame. My grill is a three burner, so I had the two side burners on low and sat the pork in the middle of the grill, with the middle burner turned to OFF. Before placing the the pork on the grill, you'll want to remove the grate where the pork will rest (I removed the middle grate of my three burner grill) and place an aluminum drip pan filled half way with water just below the area where the pork is going to sit. An aluminum pan purchased at a Dollar Store will work fine for this. The pork shoulder is going to produce a lot of tasty juice that makes for an incredible gravy. By placing the pan below the pork, the drippings will mix with the water to make the gravy. For additional flavor, throw a beef bouillon cube into the water. Remember the bone that the butcher set aside for you? That bone holds more flavor than you could imagine. Throw the bone into the water filled drip tray as well! Place the grate back onto your grill. Turn your two side burners on and get the grill up to about 300º. Set the burners to LOW and keep the grill lid closed to maintain a 280º-300º window.

Remove the pork shoulder from the refrigerator and drizzle some olive oil all around so the pork is lightly coated. Place the pork on the grate that is sitting above the drip tray. Close the lid, leave it alone and let the magic happen. Check on the pork QUICKLY once every hour, turning just a bit so the pork evenly cooks. Then close the lid and keep it closed until the next hourly check. No matter how much the smell tempts you to sneak a peek, keep the lid closed to maintain that heat.

At around the 7-7/12 hour mark, the internal pork temperature should reach 160º. When it's at this temperature, and you are easily (and carefully) able to shred the pork, it's time to remove the pork from the grill. Place the pork on a dish, cover it loosely with aluminum foil, and let it sit for about 20-30 minutes before you shred it. Remove the drip tray from the grill. Be VERY CAREFUL when doing this. The pan and the juices will be very hot. Wear oven mits and use tongs to help lift the tray from the grill. Discard the bone and pour pan juices into a sauce pan. Spoon off fat that rises to top. Pour in the white wine, bring to boil over medium-high heat, about 4 minutes. Whisk to blend. Pour pan sauce into a large bowl. Cover and set aside. Shred roast with a fork. Add the shredded pork to the sauce, and you are ready to go!

The final and most crucial stage of this glorious sandwich is the assembly. Like a street corner doo wop group singing a five-part acapella harmony – which is another Philly pop culture staple, by the way – the classic porchetta sandwich also relies on five major parts to create the perfect taste: quality pork, a good roll, sharp provolone cheese, broccoli rabe and peppers. I'll allow you to have your choice of roasted red, sweet or hot peppers...I like to go with the roasted red myself. Slice open a roll, load it up with some shredded pork, baste it with some of the juice, then pile up the cheese, rabe and pepper...and you, my friends, will be in sandwich heaven.

Mangia and enjoy!

Monday, August 2, 2010

We have an Artichoke Champion!

A pat on the back and a tip of the toque to Una Mamma Italiana for a landslide win with her Roasted Artichokes and Tomato Stuffed Chicken Breast recipe. It's a well deserved win – the recipe looks amazing, and I will be making it and giving my personal review of it very soon. Plus, I did offer up an unfair advantage by using two of the four suggested ingredients in my dish.....ok, who are we kidding....that was a bogus foul call on Mamma's part!!!!! Regardless of the sneak attacks, I congratulate Una Mamma on a job well done! Thanks to YOU, all of our readers, for making this such a fun competition. We plan to do this again really soon, and we look forward to YOUR suggestions to make it happen!

Una Mamma - you may have won this battle, but our kitchen wars are far from over.