A large pot on the stove. Olive oil and minced garlic, dancing and browning. The sizzle of the sausage, beef, and veal as it hits the hot oil and garlic. That smell of garlic and meat browning, those wonderful brown bits sticking to the bottom of the pot, the base of amazing flavor.
Then the tomatoes. Oh the tomatoes. Only a specific kind when my grandmother or mom made gravy — Pastene Kitchen-Ready ground peeled tomatoes. Mix that all together with a few additional things, and the smell of slow-simmering tomatoes, garlic, and meat just reassured you that this was going to be a good day.
Then the meatballs. Meatball recipes are fairly similar, but the key to ours is cheese. Lots, and lots of grated romano cheese. That sharp, tangy taste imparts just the right flavor to the meatballs. And of course they are slow cooked directly in the gravy, soaking up every bit of tomato goodness that they can.
As I got older, and started trying to replicate the family recipe for gravy & meatballs, I realized just how much love is truly found in this dish. Each generation has made it slightly differently. If you lined up meatballs by my grandmother, my mother, and myself, they would all taste differently. But all equally delicious.
Gravy and meatballs. Because that’s what we called it. And a dish towel was often called a mapine by my grandmother. But I digress.
Growing up in an Italian family, gravy & meatballs was a staple dinner at least once or twice a month. It was perfect for Sundays, because you could start the gravy on Saturday, let it rest overnight, then slowly simmer it on Sunday until family dinner around 2 or 3 p.m. We’d make gravy and meatballs for Christmas too, not to serve alone but to use in building the absolute best part of the holiday – lasagna.
Once the gravy & meatballs were ready, it was time to choose a pasta. Sometimes it was simple dried pasta from a box. Other times it was frozen cavatelli (or bullets, as I called them as a kid, and which remain one of my favorite pastas to this day). Still other times we had special ravioli from Venda Ravioli. That fresh pasta was incredible.
My mom would serve up that pasta, heaping with meatballs, gravy & sausage, and then the bread. You always had to have garlic bread. How else would you soak up all that wonderful gravy? You couldn’t let it go to waste.
Today, I make the same meal for my family. Not as often as I would like, sometimes, but as often as I can. And I have made it my own, adding my own twists and seasonings and creating what I hope will be my kids’ favorite meal as they look back on their childhood. Even my pickiest eater, Boy, will eat what he calls “mama meatballs.” And that’s all I need.
*This post is part of my friend Carla’s Mom Before Mom series over at All of Me…Now. This week’s prompt was “What was your favorite home cooked meal as a child? Did you help make it? How did it make you feel? Share the scents and sights and flavors.” Check out Carla’s site, her wonderful writing, and visit the other blogs participating in this wonderful project, remembering who we are as women and individuals, before we were mothers.