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This one is dedicated to my grandmother, "Nana" Pacitto. She was my typical Italian grandmother – she was short, plump (though not so much as some grandmothers), religious, kept the house immaculate, and she cooked like a dream. Whenever she made her lasagna, people would come running for it! To this day, I will never order Italian with pasta when I go out to eat, because it could never compare with her lasagna. Every Italian family has their own secret recipe for pasta sauce, and this one is ours. ( If my late beloved Nana were around, I think she would have loved the idea of her pasta sauce being seen by people around the world. ) As far as Italian pasta sauce recipes go, this one is very simple: it's nothing more than bringing the ingredients together in a large pot, and slow-cooking it for several hours. Many genuine Italian pasta sauces use red wine to give the sauce a deep, rich flavor (and make it even more filling and satisfying to the belly); this recipe doesn't call for wine, but you can add a half cup of red wine if you want.
Nana's sauce is easy to make if you have patience, and you've got enough of it to serve a lot of people or last for several days.
Pans needed: Large covered stock pot of at least 8-quart size or more. The smallest pot I've been able to make this recipe in, without overflowing, has been a 6 and 1/2 quart enameled cast iron cooking pot. Because this sauce uses large amounts of tomato sauce, the pot must be enameled or stainless steel. (The sauce will react with aluminum or bare cast iron, which will give it a greyish color and a metallic taste. This is why these kinds of pots should be avoided when making slow-cooked tomato sauce.)
Crush the tomatoes in a big pot. Add seasonings. Cut the pork into pieces and drop it in, raw. Slice the sausage into pieces between half an inch to an inch wide, and also add it to the sauce, raw. (I added the meatballs at the beginning, too. If you want to go the distance and make Nana's genuine homemade Italian meatballs, do it before you start the sauce, and add the raw meatballs to the sauce at the beginning.) Cover the pot. Bring your stovetop to medium heat, and heat the pot for about 15 minutes before bringing the heat down to a low simmer (about 2 to 3 on a 1-to-10 dial setting).
Leave the cover on the pot, and simmer for two hours. (Uncover the pot to stir it every 20 minutes or so.) After this, uncover the pot and taste-test the sauce. If you feel it should be more spicy, add more ground pepper. Leave the pot uncovered, raise the heat slightly (to about 3 to 4 on a setting of 1-to-10) to compensate for the uncovered pot, and let it simmer for another hour (or more if you feel it needs more time) to reduce and thicken the sauce. Your whole home will be full of the aroma of cooking sauce; there's nothing quite like it.
Begin by putting slices of bread in a bowl and pouring milk over bread. Let it sit until the bread is softened.
In another bowl, beat the eggs slightly. Add ground beef, cheese, parsley flakes, garlic, salt and pepper. Take the bread and squeeze the milk out of it until it’s just moist but not dripping. Break into little pieces and add the bread to the meat mixture.
Now get in there with your hands and mix everything together until well blended.
Form the mixture into meatballs about the size of a golf ball and drop them gently into your sauce.
Some people like to bake or fry the meatballs before adding them to the spaghetti sauce, but Nana always added them raw and let them cook right in the sauce.
Nana used store-bought Italian sweet sausage, and I used it for most of my life as well. However, if you want to kick it up a notch, try making your own sausage. It's actually quite simple, as it requires nothing more than using ground pork (or you could grind it yourself), and mixing the ingredients together. Roll the sausage into balls just like meatballs, or you could roll it into sausage shaped pieces.
August 26, 2017: There's nothing like spending an evening slow-cooking a big pot of Italian pasta sauce, using a beloved family recipe, in a big enameled cast iron pot. Tonight, however, I tried preparing the pasta a little different: in the same pot as the sauce, at the same time. Usually, we just boil a pot of pasta, drain it, then serve the pasta and ladle the sauce on top. When the sauce was finished and ready, I poured two pounds of uncooked pasta into the sauce, then added four cups of hot water for the pasta to expand and soften, and mixed it all together. The pot was covered and simmered for forty minutes, uncovering once after twenty minutes to stir it. The result: the pasta was soft and al dente, with a bit of a chew as it should be. It had absorbed the liquid, and the sauce was thick, not watery or thin at all. This was a big pot of pasta in sauce – all prepared in one pot. It saved the effort of having to use a second pot to cook the pasta, and it saved some water as well. All that was needed were four cups of hot water, rather than an entire pot of water.