Jay Hoffmann

Books, movies, and code

#24: Sunday Sauce

I married into a very big Italian family, with roots in Sicily. So one of the things I learned pretty early on was how to make Sunday gravy (or Sunday sauce depending on your region of origin). I make it here and there, and it’s good for a couple of days worth of leftovers.

I looked around at a few recipes, and this one felt the closest to the method that I know. Except I don’t use wine, and most of the time I’ll just use sugar instead of carrots, if anything.

The most important parts of Sunday Gravy, as I understand it, is the long simmer, and the quality of the tomatoes.

The beauty of it is that you can get going sometime in the morning and leave it to simmer all day, coming back to stir it from time to time. That’s how the tomatoes break apart, and the sauce thickens, and eventually the flavors of the meat combine with it. It’s meant to be cooked slow. That’s why it’s for Sundays.

And for tomatoes, as the recipe I linked to mentions, you probably want to use the San Marzano variation of whatever can of tomatoes are at your local supermarket. You can really use whatever you want, and you can either buy whole peeled tomatoes and crush them yourself or just buy them crushed. But the quality of the sauce is more or less dependent on what you chose, so it’s probably worth a couple of extra bucks.

Anyway, this being less of a formal recipe, here are the steps I generally follow.

  1. In a large sauce or stock post, dice up a yellow or white onion and saute it in a healthy tablespoon or two of olive oil. Add a bit of salt while you do.
  2. When the onions are nice and tender, add in some tomato paste. Not quite the full thing of a whole small can. Maybe like 3/4 of it. Add a heap of garlic.
  3. After about a minute or so of moving that all around dump in two 28 oz cans of your tomatoes. Fill up one can with just water and dump that in too. Stir, cover and raise your heat.
  4. Once the sauce is boiling gently, take the heat back down and uncover. Add some more salt and pepper, a lot of fresh basil (pretty key that it’s fresh, imo) and a tablespoon or more of seasoning. You can add some grated carrots, or a healthy pinch of sugar, or a half a packet of Sweet N Low. All of those are just meant to balance out the acidity with some sweetness. You may not even need it.
  5. You can leave this going for a long time, several hours or more if you want. Stir every 20 minutes at least to keep the bottom from burning.
  6. Make your meatballs. I won’t go into all the details, but use a bit of fresh basil with those too. And you can soak some old bread in milk instead of breadcrumbs too.
  7. Once the meatballs are fried, add them to the sauce for at least an hour, until they are cooked through
  8. Continue seasoning as needed
  9. Serve it right away, or the next day, or both

I enjoy making it, and it makes a fine meal. But I really like a food with such a clear tradition. It’s meant to be left on the stovetop as your kids and your grandkids scamper around the house. It’s meant to be tasted with a wooden spoon every so often. It’s meant for a lazy day inside when dinner can be served at anytime. It’s Sunday gravy (sauce).

Bookmarks & Notes

Cory Doctrow is really on to something with this whole enshittificaiton thing. At the beginning of this year, he posted a talk he gave about it to his blog. I like the way that Doctrow sums it up:

It’s a three stage process: First, platforms are good to their users; then they abuse their users to make things better for their business customers; finally, they abuse those business customers to claw back all the value for themselves. Then, they die.

And we’re seeing that happen to the platforms that we love, only slowly. And it’s going to drive people away from the web, which is a tragedy.

Laws aren’t going to catch up to this kind of thing. And in the meantime, we’re just going to let artists have their entire careers sucked up by machines.

Got to see Dune 2 on the big screen. Perhaps Villeneuve’s best work. Perhaps one of my favorite films of all time. Just an incredible, lived-in world that’s beautifully realized and consistent. It’s got all the right story beats, even when it missteps here and there, and it doesn’t beat you over the head with exposition in a way that feels very natural. But this is going to be remembered for its technical brilliance. For all the talk of a bland cinematographic palette, there is something incredibly precise about every aspect of the film’s audiovisual landscape. There is not a single moment that distract the eyes or the ears. Everything is exactly in its place.

James Hollis on the transition into midlife

Symptoms of midlife distress are in fact to be welcomed, for they represent not only an instinctually grounded self underneath the acquired personality but a powerful imperative for renewal… In effect, the person one has been is to be replaced by the person to be. The first must die… Such death and rebirth is not an end in itself; it is a passage. It is necessary to go through the Middle Passage to more clearly achieve one’s potential and to earn the vitality and wisdom of mature aging. Thus, the Middle Passage represents a summons from within to move from the provisional life to true adulthood, from the false self to authenticity.