Easy as Sunday Gravy

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, June 4, 2013

CHINA GROVE — Sunday Gravy is a staple in Christine Gould’s house.

Her family eats the robust Italian American dish every Sunday without complaint.

“I could eat it every day,” she said. “It’s what I grew up with, I love it.”

Gould, who moved to China Grove from New Jersey about six years ago, learned how to cook from her grandmother, Josephine Mazzio.

“We didn’t really have recipes in our family, but the gathering place was the kitchen,” she said. “I just kind of watched her growing up and then when I decided to move out and learn to cook I would call her for tips as I was trying each recipe that she made over the time that I grew up.”

A third generation Italian, Gould’s great-grandparents immigrated to the United States from Sicily.

“At one time the entire road where my grandparents lived were Italians,” she said.

Although Gould’s mother is German, her father’s Italian roots prevailed in the kitchen.

Gould calls Sunday Gravy the “heart and soul” of nearly every Italian dish on her menu.

“I will use it for almost everything that I cook on Sunday,” she said. “Anything with Sunday Gravy is my favorite.”

The tomato-based sauce is called Sunday Gravy because it contains meat, Gould said.

“Every variation is different,” she said. “I use sausage and meatballs, but even the meatball mix is different between families.

“Some people will use neckbones, I know others who use country-style ribs, there are so many variations of Sunday Gravy.”

Gould said Sunday Gravy is so easy to make that it’s almost impossible to mess up, but there are a few things to remember.

One of the first comes right at the beginning.

After adding diced onions and garlic cloves to the pot, Gould said to cook them until they are golden and transparent.

“You don’t want the onions to be brown and you don’t want the garlic to burn because it will cause the sauce to be bitter,” she said.

The other tip to remember when making the meatballs is to use one egg for every half pound of ground beef.

“If I have more than a pound I always go under,” she said. “So if it’s 1.25 pounds I only use two eggs. I won’t go up to three because those meatballs with be too soft and they will fall apart.”

After creating the sauce, Gould pierced holes in five sweet Italian sausage before cooking them.

Once they were browned, she added them to the bottom of the sauce before moving on to make the meatballs.

Gould used her hands to mix together the ground beef, bread crumbs, eggs, Romano cheese, salt and pepper to form meatballs.

Instead of make round edges, Gould flattens each side.

“They brown better that way instead of browning at one point,” she said.

The meatballs are added to the concoction before the lid goes on.

“The meat cooks in the sauce to add in the flavors,” Gould said.

Gould typically cooks the sauce between six and seven hours to lock in the flavors, stirring it about once every half hour.

Sunday Gravy has been cooked in the same pot from Gould’s kitchen at least once a month for the past decade. She makes a large batch that she can freeze for future meals.

“I don’t use it for anything else,” she said. “Everyone knows this is my Sunday Gravy pot, you can smell it.”

Gould said she typically uses fresh ingredients in her dishes, but she goes for canned tomatoes in Sunday Gravy.

“You really have to perfect it to use fresh tomatoes,” she said. “It’s a very smooth, meaty sauce, so it can be hard to make otherwise.”

When Gould is entertaining, she’ll travel to Ferruci’s Old Tyme Italian Market in Cornelius to buy freshly cut sausage and canned tomatoes imported from Italy.

“The soil there is different, so the tomatoes have a more robust flavor and they taste sweeter,” she said.

Gould said when she’s looking for new recipes, she usually tries to find meals that will allow her to use fresh vegetables and herbs.

“I pick my basil right from the garden outside,” she said.

Gould likes to experiment with a new recipe at least once a month.

“I have a set of recipes and those are the recipes that I use when we’re in a time crunch, but I really love to try new things,” she said. “It might not even be an Italian dish, it could be an American dish or something else.”

Gould’s husband, Rich, can be a ruthless critic when it comes to new recipes.

“He’s not going to say something tastes good if it doesn’t,” she said. “After I get over the fact that he critiqued my cooking we’ll talk about it and figure out how to make it better.

“There’s usually nothing that I won’t make again, I will keep trying and it will just become a staple.”

The kitchen is usually filled with music and talking when Gould’s cooking.

She doesn’t like it too quiet or too empty.

Gould’s 3-year-old daughter, Victoria, will break up the monotony with a request for a twirl. Her sons Bobby, 7, and Richard, 9, will sometimes lend a hand.

“My children are always in the kitchen,” she said.

The family sits down for dinner together almost every night, eating out maybe once each week.

“Growing up we never went out, once in a while we would order a pizza,” Gould said. “I really just like to cook for my family, that’s my motivation in the kitchen.”

Sarah Campbell is lifestyle editor for the Post. Contact her at 704-797-7683.

Twitter: twitter.com/postlifestyles

Facebook: facebook.com/Sarah.SalisburyPost