Serious Eats: Recipes

Meat Lite: Mushroom-Sausage Red Gravy

Philadelphia food writers Joy Manning and Tara Mataraza Desmond drop by each week with Meat Lite, which celebrates meat in moderation. Meat Lite was inspired by the book coauthored by the two, Almost Meatless, due out in spring 2009.

"This one resembles my sauce." --Joy Manning. Photograph from Martin Kingsley on Flickr

Growing up, there were always two pots of red sauce simmering on my grandmother's stove for family dinners. One was red gravy--tomatoes slow-cooked with fried meatballs and a marrow-rich beef bone--and the other was meatless marinara, a thin and mostly flavorless sauce intended for my mother, my sister, and me. The vegetarians.

In the pre-dinner bustle, as my sister filled the glasses with ice and my mother grated the Parmesan, I always stole a hunk of Italian bread and dipped it in that meaty gravy. (If I avoided any actual meat bits, I reasoned, it was still vegetarian.) Today, I still like a meat-infused sauce, but I skip the beef bone and traditional pile of meatballs and opt for a half pound of hot Italian sausage. Plenty of mushrooms amplify the meaty flavor and homemade chicken stock provides body and depth. I've been serving this sauce over homemade fresh spaghetti lately, but it's got a million applications. It freezes very well.

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