Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Snacking State-by-State: New Jersey II - Hey Mambo! Mambo Napoletano!

As noted in the previous State-by-State post, the basic tomato sauce so common in Naples serves as a basis for many sauces, including the famous "Sunday sauces" that permeated Italian-American kitchens for decades, simmering for hours on the back burner while the family went to church (Yikes, did my great-grandmother do this in Baltimore's Little Italy?  Leaving the burner on while you're not there just doesn't seem like a safe idea).

Official Name: State of New Jersey
State Nicknames: The Garden State
Admission to the US: December 18, 1787 (#3)
Capital: Trenton (10th largest)
Other Important Cities: Newark (largest), Jersey City (2nd largest), Paterson (3rd largest)
 Northeast, Mid-Atlantic; Middle Atlantic (US Census)
Bordered by: Delaware and Delaware Bay (southwest); Pennsylvania (west); New York (north and northeast); Atlantic Ocean (east)
Official State Foods and Edible Things: honeybee (for the honey, not the bee); brook trout (fish); knobbed whelk (shell)
Some Famous and Typical Foods: Italian, Italian, and more Italian; diner foods; pork roll (aka Taylor ham); "ripper" dogs and various preparations thereof; very diverse cuisines (inckluding Italian, Indian, South American, etc) around Philadelphia (southwest) and New York City (northeast); Did I mention Italian?

Italian-Americans have continued the Sunday sauce tradition, maybe or maybe not on Sundays per se, but I digress.  One must also remember that Italian food need not be the fattening atrocity that it has become in the United States.  After all, our spaghetti and meatballs with powdered "Parmesan" "cheese" and a big chunk of garlic bread is about as "Italian" as General Tso's chicken with fried rice and an egg roll is "Chinese".  And about as healthy.

And yet, we see diet gurus touting the "Mediterranean" diet.  There really is something to that.  It's even the basis of Skinny Italian, a cookbook by Teresa Giudice, one of the stars of Bravo's Real Housewives of New Jersey.  I have to say that I've never seen any of these Real Housewives shows: Jersey, New York, Atlanta, etc, etc. I'm not sure what the allure is (and I call myself "gay" - p'shaw), so I don't know anything about Giudice or her costars.  But I did think it was a good idea for this New Jersey post to look at Italian recipes that were actually made by somebody, you know, from New Jersey.  Most of the other Italian-American cookbooks are super heavy on recipes from all boroughs of New York City.  I'm not looking at New York yet.  And I probably should eat healthier anyway.

In Skinny Italian, Giudice, who is first-generation Italian-American, lays out a basic guide for eating Italian food in a more authentic way, and as I note in my previous post, that simple tomato sauce is a basis for so many sauces.  Of all the sauces that you can base this one on, I was most intrigued by Giudice's Napoletano Sauce, being a quarter napoletano myself - okay, my great-grandparents were from Salerno, not Naples.  Okay, a small little mountain village to the northeast of Salerno, but my great-grandmother apparently still considered herself napoletana (not that I could ask her, since she died almost 25 years before I was born).  Giudice implies that this whole meat sauce, which was her mother's and which she names for her daughter Gia, is a staple in Italian-American households:
Napoletano sauce is typically what Italians serve at their weekend family dinners, and it's also called "Sunday gravy."  It would sit on the back of the stove simmering for hours while everyone went to Mass.  When you got home, the smell...unbelievable! [Giudice and MacLean 2010:121]
Keeping in mind that "many different ways to make it" part, I adjusted the meats somewhat, but still got an amazing sauce.

The Recipe: Napoletano Sauce (a Real Housewife original)

For this sauce, on pages 121-123 of Skinny Italian, you will need the following:

* 1 recipe basic tomato sauce (about 3 1/2 cups - one of Giudice's "Quickie Sauce" recipes on page 117 of her book should yield this)
* beef (Giudice calls for 1 1/2 lbs of beef top round steak, but I found it cheaper to buy a pound of Angus beef boneless chuck steak, which was cheaper, for about $4.50 on sale at the Harris Teeter)
* a few pork ribs (okay, here I really deviated, as all the recipes I saw - this one as well as Arthur Schwartz's in his Naples at Table - call for ribs.  I wasn't near an actual butcher, and didn't feel like buying an entire rack of ribs just for a few for the sauce.  So for this one I bought pork loin chops, bone in, again at Harris Teeter, for about $3.50.  I know it won't be the same, but again, these recipes aren't all the same).
* onion (had it)
pecorino romano cheese (bought a chunk for about $10 a pound - and I will be using the rest of this often - at Pastore's Deli).
* parsley (no fresh on hand, so yes I did use the dried stuff)
* olive oil (had it)
* red wine (same - I used a lovely Sugar Pie red wine from Trader Joe's that I also used in a cranberry sauce a few weeks ago.  Not a big fan of red wine but I like this one tremendously)
* salt and pepper (I just used more of that ground Mexican red chile pepper with the kosher salt).

Grate a substantial portion of the pecorino romano to start off with.

Mix the cheese with the parsley...

...and press it into the raw meat.

You will next brown this cheesy parsleyed meat in the olive oil.

Take out the meat and set aside...

...and saute your onion in the oil until translucent.

Add to this your red wine, and get the meaty bits off the bottom.  Bring the wine to a boil.

Add back to the pot the meat, the salt and pepper.

Oh yeah, and the basic tomato sauce.  You'll need that.

Here's where you need some patience: this sauce needs to cook for a few hours on the stove, partially covered, for the better part of two hours.  I couldn't leave it alone, occasionally stirring and, er, tasting.  Originally I was going to put this in the slow cooker until I read the "partially covered" part.  You can't really do that with the slow cooker.

About half an hour in.

When finished cooking, take out the meat and cut it up.

I think I should have cut it more finely than I did.

Add the meat back to the sauce, stir, and serve!

This was a lovely, delicious sauce, and I daresay that it is thick enough I almost wanted to just sit down and eat it like a stew.  But of course I didn't...

Though it should take a heartier pasta, I used the capellini I had on hand already.  Really it still is a delicious sauce, so rich and vibrant.  Hell, I think I'll need a bowl of the sauce by itself after all.  Again, I'm not quite sure what these Real Housewives do, but if they're eating this then they must be doing something right, yes?


Accidental Scientist (Exploratorium).  "Saltwater Taffy Recipe".  Date unknown.  © The Exploratorium,, 2011

Cristaldi, Justin R.  "Little Italy Across the Hudson".  PRIMO Magazine, September/October 2001.  Copyright Cristaldi Communications 1999-2001.

Giudice, Teresa, with Heather MacLean.  Skinny Italian: Eat It and Enjoy It - Live La Bella Vita and Look Great, Too!  Hyperion: New York, 2010

Jersey Pork Roll (  "What is pork roll?"  Published 2005.  Copyright JerseyPorkRoll 2011.

Schwartz, Arthur.  Naples at Table: Cooking in Campania.  HarperCollins: New York, 1999.

Stern, Jane, and Michael Stern. 500 Things to Eat Before It's Too Late. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt: Boston, 2009.

Virtual New Jersey Shore (  "Salt Water Taffy at the Jersey Shore". Published 1999.  Copyright New Jersey MetroNET, Inc., 1999.

Some information also obtained from Wikipedia's "New Jersey" page and other pages, and the Food Timeline State Foods link to "New Jersey".