Wednesday February 05, 2014 | 07:53 AM

When my friend Steve Quattrucci agreed to share his mother Marie’s Sunday sauce recipe to include in this series on red sauce, he did so under one condition: that he be allowed to taste test my version of the sauce to make sure that I captured the essence of this old family recipe.

The Quattrucci family has long held sway in Portland food circles amongst the Italian-American community.  Or as Quattrucci relates, “Memories from my childhood are filled with smells and scenes from busy kitchens and tables full of the most delicious food you can imagine."

In the late 1930s, for instance, his grandparents, Tessie (aka Nana Q) and Guy Quattrucci, operated the popular Balboa Café on India Street.  The block where the restaurant stood was torn down in the 1950s to make way for Jordan’s Meats—later razed for today’s Hampton Inn. 

He also told me, “The restaurant was known for two things: the coldest beer in Portland and the best home-style Italian food.  By  eleven in the morning the longshoremen would line up to have dishes like pasta fagioli, stuffed squids in tomato sauce, cavatelli, meatballs and bracciole.”

In the 1970s Steve’s parents, Ray and Marie, owned Quattrucci’s Market on Munjoy Hill, or as Steve describes it, “The working class  Rosemont Market of its day.”

The young Quattrucci also made significant contributions to the Portland food and dining scene.  He founded  Back Bay Grill in the late 80s and after selling it to Joel Freund, he started the West End Deli, which he ran for a number of years, offering prepared farm-to–table comfort food.

Quattrucci’s latest endeavor is the Riverside Grill, on the fairway of the municipal  Riverside Golf Course.  It will open this spring, serving lunch and dinner.  I’ve had an advance look at the menus, and there are lots of great-sounding dishes including a few in the tradition of Nana Q’s cooking.

Making the sauce

This was not a difficult sauce to make and I followed the recipe to the letter.  One interesting step is after browning the meat in olive oil, you push it aside in the pot and add the tomato paste and garlic.  This gets cooked very gently for about 20 minutes until the paste is even more concentrated and flavored from the garlic.  Then the  crushed tomatoes are added and water  to thin out the sauce, which needs to cook for at least 3 to 4 hours. 

A 2-pound piece of pork shoulder that you can cut into thick country-style ribs

The shouldler is cut into ribs and the sausage is cut into chunks ready to be browned in a large Dutch oven

It should not get so thick, however, that it becomes gloppy but should retain a very creamily thick, saucy consistence when it’s done.

As for the meatballs they need care in preparation.  I took it upon myself, however, to use homemade breadcrumbs instead of the brand name (Progresso Italian Style) called for in the recipe.  When Steve tasted the meatballs he was not impressed.  He asked how I made them.  I revealed that I used homemade crumbs. That, he said, was a mistake. 

Since I like to use only natural ingredients over processed foods, I made my own breadcrumbs.  This apparently changed the texture.   He found my version tough instead of tender and juicy.

According to Steve,“This was how they were made using the Progresso crumbs, this is what they tasted like and you have to use the ingredients that were always used.”

The meatballs also need to remain juicy and tender (not crusty on the outside) so that when they’re finally put into the sauce, they absorb all those good flavors easily.

Steve related that his mother likes to make the sauce for a Sunday meal and serve it with the meats over pasta. Since there’s always plenty of sauce left over, she keeps it refrigerated for the rest of the week until Friday when the meatballs are prepared and then simmered in the remaining sauce. 

Marie’s red sauce

The original recipe calls for either 2 to 3 pounds of sausage, beef short ribs or country-style pork ribs. I used a mixture of sausage and the pork ribs.  I bought a 2 pound shoulder roast from Pat’s Meat Market and cut it into thick chops. I also used 1 pound of their house-made sweet Italian sausage.  For tomatoes I used San Marzano.

Servings: 4 to 5 with sauce with meat over pasta and 4 to 5 for leftover sauce with meatballs over pasta

1 pound sweet Italian sausage,, cut into large chunks

2 pounds beef short ribs or country-style pork ribs

2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil

2 6-ounce cans tomato paste (reserve cans)

Freshly ground black pepper, to tastte

1 teaspoon garlic salt,

1/2  teaspoon garlic powder

1 large clove garlic, minced

2 28-ounce cans crushed tomatoes (reserve cans)

 Sunday gravy over pappardelle

In a large Dutch oven heat the olive oil over high heat. Brown the sausage and the pork ribs. 

When the meat is browned on both sides, move to the edge of the pan and lower the heat to medium low.  Add the tomato paste.   Mash the paste down with a fork so it’s a thin layer on the bottom of the pan and add the black pepper, garlic salt and powder and minced garlic.  Simmer the paste for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add the crush tomatoes.  Stir to combine.  Rinse down the sides of the crushed tomato cans adding about 1 4/ to 1/3 can of water to each can and add to sauce.  Rinse down the sides of the cans of tomato paste by filling each to the top with water and then add  to the pot.  Stir well until the sauce and meats are combined. 

Bring to a slow boil and then immediately lower the heat and simmer very gently for 3 to 4 hours, partially covered.  Periodically check the pot, stirring the sauce and adjusting the heat, if necessary.  Simmer until the sauce is thick but still creamy, about 3 to 4 hours.  If it gets too thick before then, add small increments of water.  Let the sauce cool to room temperature and refrigerate overnight.  Reheat the sauce very gently over low heat, adding water if it’s too thick. 

Marie’s meatballs

Servings:  12 to 14 2-inch balls

1/2 pound ground pork

1/2 pound ground beef

2 eggs, beaten

1 cup Progresso Italian Style breadcrumbs

2 tablespoons minced garlic

1 teaspoon black pepper

1 teaspoon garlic salt

1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

2 tablespoons chopped parsley

Olive oil

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

In a large mixing bowl combine the meats using your hands, squeezing through your fingers to combine the meats thoroughly.  Add the eggs, breadcrumbs, garlic, black pepper, salt, Parmesan and chopped parsley.  Mix together with your hands, squeezing through your fingers.  Form into 2- inch balls and place on a lightly oiled baking sheet.  Bake in the oven for about 20 minutes until the meatballs are browned but not crusty.  Drain on paper towels and add to the simmering sauce.  Cook in the sauce for about 45 minutes, adding small amounts of water if the sauce gets too thick.  Serve over pasta.





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John Golden has written about food, dining and lifestyle subjects for Downeast magazine, the Boston Globe, Cottages and Gardens magazine, Gourmet magazine, Cuisine magazine, the New York Times and the New York Post.

In his highly opinionated blog, John reports on his experiences dining out all over Maine and his visits with food personalities, farmers and farmers’ markets throughout the state.

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