This meal was planned for Christmas Eve, but I had to change plans for the weather. My husband plows snow, and we had a white Christmas. I didn't want him to miss this meal, so I made it last Saturday instead. This is the second time I've made this (the last time was Christmas Eve 2011), and it's pretty awesome. There's Italian sausage, meatballs, and ribs that are cooked in a hearty sauce. The sauce itself is pretty simple with only a few ingredients but has amazing flavor after you cook all the meat in it.
This is one of those recipes where you brown the meat, add the sauce ingredients, and then finish cooking it in the oven for a few hours until the ribs are tender. In 2011 when I made this, I didn't have a pan that I could put in the oven so I did the whole thing on the stove. Low and slow with pretty frequent stirring. It worked really well. This year I did it as the recipe is written in the oven. I've never tried it, but I think you could do this in a Crock Pot, too. You'd have to brown the meat on the stove and make the sauce on the stove, too. Then you could transfer the meat to the Crock Pot and pour the sauce on top. If you wanted this when you got home from work, I think you could do all the prep work the night before and cook it on low during the day while you're at work.
Even though I've talked about making this on Christmas Eve twice, it's a great meal for any time of the year. Even on a random weekday when you just want a comforting and hearty meal.
Italian Gravy Recipe
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For the sauce:
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 rack baby back ribs cut into 2-rib sections
Salt and pepper
1 pound Italian sausage links
2 onions, diced (about 2 cups)
1 1/4 teaspoons dried oregano
3 tablespoons tomato paste
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 (28 ounce) cans crushed tomatoes
2/3 cup beef broth
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil leaves
For the meatballs:
1/3 cup Italian bread crumbs
1 tablespoon dried parsley
Pinch red pepper flakes
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 teaspoon onion powder
2 tablespoons ketchup
2/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper
1 pound ground beef
1 1/2 pounds linguine or spaghetti
Adjust your oven rack to the lower third of the oven and preheat to 325 degrees.
Heat oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat until just smoking. Pat the ribs dry with a paper towel, season with salt and pepper, and place in the pan (do this in two batches). Brown all sides of the ribs, about 5-7 minutes total. Remove to a plate and repeat with the remaining ribs. Brown the sausages on all sides and remove to the plate with the ribs.
Reduce the heat to medium, add the onions and oregano and cook until the onions are starting to brown, about 5 minutes. Add the tomato paste and cook while stirring until it's very dark, about 3 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add in the cans of tomatoes and the beef broth and scrape up the browned bits on the bottom of the pan. Place the ribs and sausage in the sauce and bring to a simmer. Cover and place the pan in the oven for about 2.5 hours or until the ribs are tender.
To make the meatballs, get a large bowl. Mix together the bread crumbs, parsley, red pepper flakes, garlic, onion powder, egg, ketchup, Parmesan cheese, salt, and pepper. Once incorporated, mix in the ground beef. Form the mixture into 10 balls and place on a small parchment- or foil-lined baking sheet. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to use.
About 30 minutes before the sauce is done, place the meatballs in the oven next to the sauce (not in the sauce) and bake for 15 minutes. After 15 minutes, transfer them into the sauce and let them finish cooking for about 15 more minutes until cooked through.
Meanwhile, boil your pasta until al dente. When everything is finished cooking, mix one cup of the sauce with the drained pasta. Place the pasta on a platter with the meat and serve the extra sauce in a bowl. Garnish with Parmesan cheese.
Adapted from Cook's Illustrated