Sunday gravy is probably the epitome of comfort food. As all great comfort foods, it is low maintenance, time-consuming, and transforms cheap ingredients into something impressive. Everybody's Italian grandmother has a recipe, and everybody without an Italian grandmother likes to pretend they have one so they can indulge in a little family fantasy over a bubbling pot of tomato sauce.
I did not have all afternoon.
Tormented by this craving, I faced a naked-looking pantry on a weeknight and just couldn't bear the thought of another piece of peanut butter toast. I warmed some pressed garlic in a lot of olive oil (we've moved on to plain olive oil; extra-virgin is delicious but too expensive) and a good pinch of red pepper flakes. I scraped out what was left of my spaghetti sauce and let it cook for a few minutes. I added a spoonful of brown sugar and a healthy glug of red wine from the glass I'd already started on. I added what was left of my braised beef and a little dollop of beef bouillon to fake the meaty flavor in a proper sauce. I cooked the spaghetti until it was mostly done, then added it to the sauce with some pasta water and boiled until the pasta was cooked. Luckily I still have Parmesan cheese, so a healthy grating of that calls it dinner.
Though the sauce was nowhere near what a proper Sunday gravy ought to be, the beefy taste made the dish more substantial than just tomato sauce would. If I serve beef with spaghetti I usually do it on the side, like steak and spaghetti. This time the beef strands absorbed the sauce and turned into little chewy bites, juicy with garlicky sauce. Nicely cooked pasta is always satisfying to eat, and the heavy flavors of garlic, wine and cheese gave me just enough flavor to feel like this was an abundant meal.
And on a weeknight, no less.