Picture this: you’re trying to impress someone you really like by treating them to dinner. It could be your parents, that guy on the floor above you, Doug from the Moulton dining staff or even your grandma! That’s all well and good, but let’s be real: you’re a broke college student who probably can’t even afford to treat the cockroach living behind your dorm’s refrigerator. Maybe you’re so afraid of the oven that if you even breathed near it, you’d fear that it would set your dorm room alight. I know, these are depressing thoughts. But hey, I can help you!
Most dishes you find in restaurants range from slightly overpriced to downright criminal because restaurant owners know that the majority of people will pay for convenience. And many people say they can’t cook just because they haven’t learned the patience required to do it. But you? You’re a proud student of Bowdoin College! You woke up this morning and synthesized a few stem cells before breakfast. A little extra time and work in the kitchen should be nothing for you, especially when it tastes this good! So, let’s get down to business and make my family’s homemade Sunday sauce.
Meat sauce, Italian gravy, so on and so on—Sunday sauce has had many iterations and names over the years, but we’re going to take it back to Jersey, where this meal was always shared by my great-grandparents and extended family every Easter. First, we’ll start off with the meat. Yes, this meal is not vegetarian, but if you are a vegetarian or are making this for someone who is, you can either skip the meat entirely or use meat substitutes where your companion and wallet will allow. What you will need is a pack of boneless, skinless chicken thighs, a pack of link sausages (I like Italian sweet sausage the best) and three beef short ribs. That last ingredient is optional only due to the price. On the date I’m writing this, Walmart had Italian sausage links at $3.98 for 19oz, chicken thighs at $4.68 for 1.5 lbs and short ribs for $10.15 for 1.6 lbs. If you are cooking for four people, use all of what was just listed and if not, cut the ingredients by half.
To prepare the meat, take a deep pan or skillet and lightly grease it with your favorite fat (I prefer olive oil myself). Then, individually sear all sides of each piece at medium to medium-high heat. Searing means that you’re just trying to get the outsides nice and crispy, so don’t worry about cooking it all the way through. Once you’re done, de-skin and dice two shallots and add them into a deep pot with all of the meat. Set the burner to low, take two 24 oz jars of your favorite red sauce (half if you’re making it for two) and dump it into the pot. At either store, neither Prego or Ragu were priced over $2.20, but if you want to go all out, my favorite brand, Victoria, is at Walmart for $4.58 and at Hannaford for $5.89. Put a lid on and let it sit for at least six hours, stirring when you feel like it. What you are doing is letting the fat from the meat fuse with the sauce, creating a much less acidic and more flavorful tasting marinara. You can let it sit longer if needed, but a good way to check doneness is by pulling out one of the sausages and cutting it open to see if there’s any pink left. If you decide to add the ribs, they should be falling off the bone (checking for pinkness should also still apply).
Boil a pot of your favorite pasta, which I would start making once you’re sure that the meat has been cooked all the way, and enjoy knowing that you made dinner for yourself and three other guests for only $25.71, including the ribs and using the most expensive ingredients ($6.43 per person). Now all you need is someone to eat with. I’m sure Doug would love that invite if your original date fell through!