This past weekend I had a sudden pang of nostalgia for the Sunday dinners of my youth. We would all congregate at my grandmother’s house, where there would be enough food to feed an army and plenty of people to eat it.
There were always multiple courses – antipasti, pasta, meat and dessert – but the highlight was the Sunday gravy. My grandmother would start the gravy early in the morning, filling the tomato sauce with all the good stuff: meatballs, sausage, pork cutlets and sometimes, if we were lucky, braciole.
Braciole, at least in our Southern Italian house, was thinly pounded beef rolled up and stuffed with cheese, parsley, breadcrumbs, raisins and pignoli nuts. After hours soaking in the sauce, it would become fall-apart tender and infused with a deep, rich, tomato flavor.
Much to my regret, no one in my family got my grandmother’s braciole recipe before she died – although I did learn from her and my mother how to make a perfect tomato sauce and excellent meatballs.
Back to last weekend: I suddenly had to have that braciole, despite the fact that the radio was predicting near 90 degree temperatures. I called up my family and invited them over for an impromptu Sunday gravy dinner. When they arrived in the late afternoon, the house smelled outrageously good and everyone was hungry.
Because of my late start I had to resort to a bit of cheating. I made the sauce and meatballs myself, and the sausage came from DiPietro’s in Maplewood. For the braciole, we called up several Italian markets and butchers in the area, but none of them had it.
Then we rang up the butcher shop at and explained that we wanted a braciole just like my grandmother used to make.
“We can do whatever you want,” said Marty Sacci, manager of the meat department, “just let us know how you want us to make it.” Spoken like a true butcher. (“We’re Italian, we know what to do,” added butcher Paul Russo).
An hour later, my husband picked up the braciole. I browned it in olive oil, and then simmered it in the gravy with the meatballs and sausage for about five hours. When we ate it, my father proclaimed it “just like grandma’s.”
Sometimes it takes a village to make a Sunday gravy.