Author (and my lovely friend) Suzanne Palmieri’s debut novel, The Witch of Little Italy, was recently published by St. Martin’s Press.
I loved it for many reasons.
In Suzanne Palmieri’s charming debut, The Witch of Little Italy, you will be bewitched by the Amore women. When young Eleanor Amore finds herself pregnant, she returns home to her estranged family in the Bronx, called by “The Sight” they share now growing strong within her. She has only been back once before when she was ten years old during a wonder-filled summer of sun-drenched beaches, laughter and cartwheels. But everyone remembers that summer except her. Eleanor can’t remember anything from before she left the house on her last day there. With her past now coming back to her in flashes, she becomes obsessed with recapturing those memories. Aided by her childhood sweetheart, she learns the secrets still haunting her magical family, secrets buried so deep they no longer know how they began. And, in the process, unlocks a mystery over fifty years old—The Day the Amores Died—and reveals, once and for all, a truth that will either heal or shatter the Amore clan.
–From Barnes and Noble
Just one of those reasons is this: I love food. You knew that, yes? The story and characters in this book are wonderful. The food descriptions are amazing. When I told Suzy that thinking about her description of tomato sauce can still make my mouth water, she offered up the recipe (and a story to go with it).
A love letter. A recipe? A love letter recipe: Sunday Sauce
By Suzanne Palmieri
When she was younger, my grandmother’s hands were always an example of her juxtaposition of ideals. She is a fancy lady. She likes fancy things. High heels, lipstick, enormous jewelry, and when she drove, her cars were always luxurious and American. My gram spent a lot of time worrying over her nails. They were tough and strong and she had a manicure every week, choosing coral and peach polish colors and sometimes? A frisky mauve. But by the end of the week the polish would be chipped and the cuticles unruly. The skin on her hands was rough from hard work, and cracked to the point where she used creams, ointments and salves whenever she could. Tubes and tubs of the stuff lived on her bedside table as well as on the lip of every sink in her house, just in case. Her hands told a different story than the one she wanted to tell. Her hands told a story of hard work, not luxury. Her hands told the truth. Our hands always do.
My grandmother cooked all the time. And the wear and tear on her hands came from hours spent at the sink cleaning greens, or meats, or beans. She was thorough. No gritty sand would be in her soup, no random bone, no stony pebble. I can see her there, tired, leaning on an elbow holding a leaf of escarole in her hand (perhaps the hundredth one) and carefully letting the water run over it, caressing the dirt out of the stem and coaxing it from the leaf. Her patience astounded me.
The preparation for Sunday Sauce began on Saturday night. She would fry the meatballs, prepare the meat to be seared in the morning, and lay out the other ingredients on the counter. Sometimes she would even put the pot on the stove. Everything was ready so she could start the sauce at daybreak with the coffee. No thinking necessary, just begin.
The following recipe is for Fay’s Sunday Sauce. Sorry vegetarian friends, there just “ain’t” no way around the bones in this one. Here goes:
1lb Pork neck bones
1lb Pork ribs
1 ½ lbs. Braciole Meat- 6 4oz pieces of pounded flank steak
6 Italian sausage links (sweet or mild)
12 cloves garlic- 6 minced, 6 crushed
½ bunch Italian flat leaf parsley chopped fine
½ bunch fresh basil ½ picked and sliced into ¼” strips, ½ chopped
1 cup Parmesan Reggiano cheese
2 medium onions, small dice
96 fl oz tomato puree
32 fl oz crushed tomatoes
64 fl oz water
12 oz red wine
1 Tsp. dried oregano
salt and pepper to taste
Extra Virgin Olive Oil as needed
2 pounds pasta of choice
Make meatballs. What? I didn’t give you the recipe or ingredients for the “Disappearing Meatballs?” Oh. That’s right. I am not going to. It is a secret. I don’t think any of you can ever get it out of me. I have three daughters whose marriage’s may depend on it. Anyway you don’t need them for sauce. If you make them properly you wont have any left to put in. They will disappear. If you try different recipes and you feel you may die if you don’t get this one, you can try begging. But if I do give it to you, I will hand write it and send it to a mailing address. It will be a charmed recipe, however, and the envelope as well as the paper it is printed on will turn to dust the second your memory has taken in the details. The charm goes further. If you decide to share the recipe verbally with another, you will begin speaking in tongues. If you try to write it down again, your handwriting will turn to hieroglyphics. I am not kidding. The meatball charm is a powerful one.
Make coffee. Preferably strong, Italian coffee perked on the stove. If not, your fancy presses will do… I suppose… but the perking coffee and eventually simmering sauce is a olfactory sensation that should not be missed.
Here are the Directions:
Making the Sauce:
1. Place a large, heavy bottomed sauce pot over medium/high heat and coat the bottom with extra virgin olive oil.
2. When the oil just begins to smoke add the sausage links and brown nicely on all sides. When nicely browned, remove sausage to a plate. Repeat this process with the neck bones, ribs, and braciole. Make sure when browning the meats not to move them too much, allowing the meats to caramelize.
3. Once all meat is browned and removed from pot, add the diced onions and smashed garlic cloves and sweat until translucent.
4. At this point add the red wine and deglaze the pot. Scrape the bottom of the pot with a wooden spoon to help release all the caramelized meat bits.
5. Lower heat so wine simmers until wine reduces by half.
6. Add tomato puree, water and crushed tomatoes to pot. Stir well until fully incorporated. Bring sauce up to a simmer and add sliced basil, oregano and season lightly with salt and pepper. Stir sauce frequently.
7. Add all browned meats to the sauce along with any juice on the plate. Stir gently
8. Simmer sauce uncovered for 1 to 2 hours stirring gently every 10 minutes. Stirring gently helps in not breaking up the meats while cooking.
9. When meats are all tender and the sauce has reduced by approximately ¼, sauce is ready.
10. Carefully remove all the meats from the sauce and place in a serving bowl. Ladle some extra sauce over the meats and cover with plastic wrap to keep moist.
11. Cook our Pasta of choice in salted water, drain, mix with the sauce and place in a serving bowl. Ladle some extra sauce over the pasta and garnish with Parmesan and parsley.
Yell as loud as you can to your whole family that dinner is ready. Dig in!
A few months ago I was late making the sauce and my grandmother was in my kitchen when I was preparing it. I pick her up on most Sundays… but the sauce is already done. This I do on purpose. So she was watching me. I browned the meat, and then I put the tomato product in.
“Suzanne, why don’t you put the garlic in and let it brown with the meat?” said the old woman.
My heart raced. Am I supposed to do that? I never knew that? did she do that? What do I say now? Do I admit the mistake? Crap crap crap crap crap.
So– I did what I always do with my grandmother. I talked my way around her. I talked her right under the freaking table. I don’t know what it is about the woman… but though I am really very good with taking instruction, and not half bad at taking a critique, I can’t take one thing she says to me. Nothing. Everything she says makes me want to poke her in the eye.
So I reply impatiently and with fervor,”The garlic will BURN if you put it in on that high and we don’t want the garlic to BURN because it will be BITTER and it is much, much better this way.” Gram took a disappearing meatball out of the bowl on the counter and walked away.
From that day forward I put the garlic in when I turn the meat and let them brown together, watching them so the garlic does not burn. I have yet to let her know. I…. whatever.
The Love Letter:
Someday, when she is ready to leave this world I will tell her. Someday, when she is quietly ready to meet the God she loves so much, I will be there. I know this. She is not the type to die in her sleep, not this woman.
I will sit next to her, hold her hand and assure her that she looks fantastic. And then… only then I will lean in close and whisper in her ear.
“You were right about the garlic gram. In fact, you were right about almost everything you ever told me.” And because she is who she is, and because I am who I am, that is all I will have to say. The rest will unfold in her mind
like a flower. Secret admirer exposed.
*note, this was originally published online on a quiet little blog… but the recipe has been updated by a CHEF for REAL! So it’s pitch perfect. I hope you enjoy.
Suzanne Palmieri is the internationally selling Author of THE WITCH OF LITTLE ITALY (Saint Martin’s Press 2013), co-author of I’LL BE SEEING YOU (Releases next month by Mira, written as Suzanne Hayes), and my own dear, lovely friend. Since our voices sound the same, if you ever call one of us on the phone, you will know what the other sounds like.
The Witch of Little Italy is available at Barnes and Noble, Amazon, in Target stores, and (best of all) your local bookseller.
I’ll Be Seeing You is available for pre-order from Barnes and Noble and Amazon.