I have written seven Op-Ed pieces for the Providence Journal since December. Topics have included Wiffle ball, the return of “Mad Men,” and Christmas Eve at my grandfather’s baby clothes store on Federal Hill.
Of all the pieces, one stands alone in its popularity: “Please pass the bread – and the gravy,” which ran this past Wednesday. It garnered, by far, the most Facebook shares of any of my columns to date.
I’m not surprised. Having grown up in Providence, I know first-hand how passionate people can be about bread and gravy.
When the number of Facebook shares topped 100 on Wednesday afternoon, I offered an incentive in hopes of generating more: if the shares reached 200, I’d publish my gravy recipe. It worked. Shortly before noon on Thursday, we hit the magic number. By the end of the day, the shares exceeded 300. First thing Friday morning, they were at 401 (appropriate number) and still climbing.
My gravy recipe is simple, but figuring it out was anything but that. Years ago, when I asked my mother about the ingredients, she said “depends on what you have.” (For meat, she would use sausage or pork or steak or braciole – whatever was on hand.) When I asked her about proportions, she used phrases like “just a bit” and “a good amount” and “you know, until it tastes good.” That’s when I learned these truths: making gravy is more art than science. And each batch is as unique and personal as a signature.
My mother’s gravy was delicious, the ultimate comfort food for me. I watched and experimented and fine-tuned. And then one day, many years later, my mom said, “Your gravy is good.”
If I had been elected President of the United States, she would have been proud. But it would have been a silver-medal accomplishment next to my gravy gold. I had arrived.
Opinions abound about what makes a good gravy, so feel free to weigh in. Just don’t get me started on the meatballs.
Here’s the recipe:
> 1/4 cup vegetable oil
> 1 small onion, finely chopped
> 1 small garlic clove, finely chopped
> ½ pound sweet Italian sausage, about 3 links, cut into pieces (OR pork or steak or braciole, “depending on what you have”)
> 1 28 oz. can of crushed tomatoes
> 1 15 oz. can of tomato sauce
> Fresh basil and thyme, finely chopped, OR Italian seasoning
> 1 small carrot OR a pinch of sugar
> 1 bay leaf
> ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
> ¼ teaspoon salt
In a large pot, heat the oil over a medium flame. Add the garlic and onions, and sauté until onions are tender and translucent. Add the sweet Italian sausage (or other meat) and brown. Add the tomatoes, tomato sauce, fresh basil and thyme (or Italian seasoning), carrot (or pinch of sugar), bay leaf, salt, and pepper. Simmer partially covered over low heat for at least two hours; if the Patriots are playing, for the entire game. If gravy gets too thick, add “just a bit” of water.