For the first third of my life I lived in New York, just outside New York City, in an area that was quite ethnically diverse. I would go the houses of my friends who were of Italian decent and have spaghetti and meatballs. Two of my uncle’s married Italian American girls, they all called it spaghetti and meatballs.
Fast forward 30 years, I work in Southwest Philadelphia and I have a coworker who was born, raised and still lives in Southwest. She is half German and half Italian genetically but all South Italian Philly in attitude! She is loud, brash, loyal, passionate, and fun. She also weights about 80 pounds soaking wet and is the first one to jump in the fray. She is fearless! Until I met her the only time I had ever heard the term “gravy” used to describe spaghetti sauce was in mob movies.
She was raised on Sunday Gravy, spaghetti sauce, slowly simmered with fresh Italian fennel sausage from the butcher in South Philly, homemade meatballs, using ground beef, pork and veal, pounded veal scallopine, and if you could get them, veal bones. She refers to all noodles – penne, spaghetti, rigatoni, etc – as macaroni’s. She tops her macaroni’s with her homemade gravy. If you ask she will tell you that her gravy is not as good as her grandmother’s, never will be, but if you ask me, it is wonderful. My husband has even gone so far as to ask if she would be interested in marrying him and making him macaroni’s and gravy, weekly. Have I mentioned it is his favorite dinner?
Every time I ask how she makes her sauce, I get a different answer, I have tried to take what I learned in culinary school and marry that with all of her responses and you know what, mine ain’t half bad. I have experimented with dozens of meatball recipes and it wasn’t until I came across a recipe in the Rao’s Cookbook that I struck gold. The meatballs are so soft, so tender, so flavorful, they are a joy to eat. They rival those of my coworkers, not that I will ever admit that to her because then I would NEVER get anymore gravy and my husband just might divorce me!
When I make meatballs and sauce, I usually buy 4 pounds of ground meatloaf mix (beef, pork, and veal) from my local butcher and make a boatload of meatballs. Once the sauce and meatballs have simmered for a few hours, I cool it down, separate it into ziplock freezer bags and put them in the freezer for a quick, weeknight meal option. Last night was just one of those nights that it was too hot to cook, I had no desire to turn on my oven or stand out on the back deck to grill something. I pulled a bag of meatballs and sauce out of the freezer in the morning and all I had to do was heat that up and boil water. Dinner was on the table in 30 minutes!
Of course, if you are going to have macaroni’s and gravy, you really need to top it with spaghetti cheese, yup, you guessed it, another one of my co-workers terms. She uses Locatelli cheese, I prefer Parmesan, but don’t tell her, OK, it’ll be our little secret!