Every October, my stepdad’s large Italian family gets together and makes what can only be described as “so much goddamn ravioli.” I have only attended the ravioli-making party once, but it was an impressive display of pasta efficiency. Everyone leaves with a generous portion of ravioli — which they freeze and eat throughout the holiday season — and the subpar “discards” of the day are enjoyed for lunch.
I don’t know how the rest of the family serves their spoils, but Greg (my stepdad) and my mum eat their holiday ravioli with a meaty sauce that’s somewhere between a stew and a gravy. Originally made by Greg’s mother, it took my mum several tries to nail the recipe, a task that was made more difficult by the fact that her mother-in-law had left two conflicting handwritten recipes for her to work from.
Besides cooking the chuck until it’s fall-apart tender, the key to this sauce lies in the addition of clove, a spice you probably don’t think of when you hear the words “Italian meat sauce,” but it’s actually pretty common (and delicious).
The addition of this “baking spice” gives the sauce a warmer, cosier flavour profile and distinct holiday vibe. The focus shifts away from whatever summery-tasting tomato product is present to the warm, the welcoming, and the stewed. A small amount of cloves provides just the right amount of spicy depth to break up and balance fattier flavours, but it also just tastes like the holidays. Cinnamon and nutmeg can do the same.
I don’t have my step-grandmother’s sauce recipe to share, only a recommendation that you try a little bit clove and/or cinnamon in the stews, braises, and chilis you make over this holiday season. You don’t need a lot — two or three cloves, a 1/4 teaspoon of fresh nutmeg, and/or one cinnamon stick per pound of meat in your sauce work beautifully. Add the spices when you reach the simmering portion of your recipes, and let them impart their cosy goodness to your meaty meal.