Not that I need a reason to make a big batch of Neck Bone Tomato Sauce, but I figured the one year anniversary of this site, Fried Neck Bones…and Some Home Fries, would be as good a time as any to share my recipe.
The sauce, called by many of the misinformed as “Sunday Gravy” (more on that in a future post), is thick and rich, almost like a tomato stew, but don’t be fooled, it is most definitely a sauce. And the combination of the sauce and the meat from the slow cooked, fatty pork neck bones and the sauce poured over a sizable pasta cut (rigatoni preferably) produces what to me is the ultimate comfort food.
Instead of neck bones, you could use any variety of spare ribs; country, baby back, or St. Louis cut, but that’s usually more expensive. Pork neck bones are not only cheaper, they also produce the heartiest sauce and the meat from the bones, no matter how long you cook them, is always moist and tender.
Though not a difficult recipe, it is time consuming. My grandmother didn’t mind making a version of this (minus the neck bones) every Sunday. While she was working in the kitchen from 6 am until Sunday dinner around 3 pm, I was wasting all Sunday watching Abbott and Costello movies on television. Occasionally she would mutter from the kitchen, “piu pigro” or “your lazy” to me. And yes, I still can be lazy, certainly lazy enough not to spend every Sunday, or Saturday (the sauce is even better made a day or two in advance giving the ingredients more time to get to know each other) making sauce. So I make enough for leftovers (the sauce freezes very well) and spare me a few weekends of work until I run out of whatever I have in the freezer.
The neck bones alone will flavor the sauce, but I like to throw in some other meats along with the neck bones, usually chunks of pork shoulder I’ve trimmed and browned, or Italian sausage and/or braciole and whatever else I can fit into the pot. If I also want meatballs to be part of the meal, I’ll make them separately (see Goomba Joe’s Polpetti https://friedneckbones.wordpress.com/2011/02/18/goomba-joes-polpette/ for the meatball recipe) and add them to the bowl of cooked meats, just before serving.
Here then, is my Neck Bone Tomato Sauce recipe starting with the basic ingredients.
2 lbs of neck bones
4 28 ounce cans of Italian whole peeled tomatoes, not San Marzano.*
6 ounce can of tomato paste**
1/2cup of olive oil
8 cloves of garlic (chopped)***
2 cups of water
¼ teaspoon of dried red pepper
Salt and pepper to taste
Rigatoni (How much depends on how many you are feeding. Always err on too much rather than too little)
Pork shoulder, braciole, sausage, and meatballs (optional)
*Spending the extra money for genuine San Marzano tomatoes for this sauce is a waste. The flavor will be overwhelmed by the meat. Stick with your favorite brand of Italian whole peeled tomatoes, preferably imported from Italy and with a basil leaf or two included in the can.
**I like to use tomato paste, but you can substitute a 28 ounce can of crushed tomatoes instead; both add density to the sauce. And this should be a dense sauce.
***My general rule is two cloves of garlic per one 28 ounce can of tomatoes. I can be swayed to alter my rule depending on the size of the garlic cloves.
Run the tomatoes through a food mill, separating the seeds and whatever skin might be on the tomatoes. If you are lucky enough to have an electric “passata” machine that basically does the same thing as a food mill minus the physical labor, the muscles of your forearms will be grateful.
Salt and pepper the neck bones.
Add ¼ cup of olive oil to a skillet.
Brown the neck bones, about 3 to 5 minutes per side.
Drain on a paper towel and put aside
Add ¼ cup of olive oil to a very large soup kettle or pasta pot with a heavy bottom. Turn the heat on to medium and add the garlic. Cook just until the garlic begins to lightly brown and quickly lower the heat so it does not burn.
Add the can of tomato paste or a can of crushed tomatoes. If using tomato paste, sauté with the garlic and then add two cup of water, stirring until the tomato paste is looser and all chunks are gone. Cook until it bubbles and then add the strained tomatoes and bring to a boil.
Once the tomatoes begin to boil, add the neck bones and any other meats, but make sure there is enough room in the pot to stir it. If you can’t stir, you’ve put too much meat in.
Turn the heat to medium low and leave, uncovered. If your burners are hot and medium low brings on too rapid a boil, lower it to a slow bubbling simmer. Cook uncovered, stirring occasionally for two to three hours and then turn off the heat.
Let the sauce sit, covered, on the stove for another three hours and then, if the sauce is for the next day, put the pot in the refrigerator. The next day, skim some of the fat off the top of the sauce—or don’t. I’ll leave that up to you.
With tongs, take the neck bones out of the sauce making sure you fish around the pot for any loose small bones that might have fallen apart in the cooking process. You really don’t want your guests or family to take a tooth-loosening bite out of a neck bone instead of the meat that was once connected to it. Cut away the meat from the bones and the fat and then put the chopped bits of meat back in the sauce. You could skip this process and just leave the bones in the sauce, but that would depend on who you are serving and if they don’t mind gnawing on neck bones. Some people enjoy gnawing on bones and you don’t want to deny them that pleasure.
Boil water in a big pasta pot(s). Add the pasta and cook until al dente.
Just before the pasta is done, remove the other meats from the sauce and put them in a bowl.
Drain the pasta, pour into a big bowl and coat with a generous portion of the sauce, but please don’t drown it. Serve into individual bowls and let guests add freshly grated cheese; parmesean Reggiano or pecorino Romano work, but never use a grated cheese that comes in a green cardboard container. I’m not mentioning names here, but you know the kind I mean. If more sauce is desired, have a bowl of extra sauce on the table along with the bowl of the other cooked meats; the meatballs, sausage, braciole and whatever.
Enjoy and if you are lucky, there might be leftovers for next Sunday.