This recipe is based on my Pop Pop's Sunday gravy. Although we didn't traditionally eat this every Sunday like most Italians, almost anytime we went to Pop Pop's house, he'd be standing there at the stove, wearing an apron, stirring the pot with a wooden spoon. As soon as you opened the door, you could smell the garlic and the tomatoes and the different cuts of meat. Even as a child, I loved all things food so I would beeline for the kitchen, give my Pop Pop a big hug and that's when he would take that wooden spoon, get a little sauce, blow on it until it was cool enough for me to try and usually say something like "the secret is in the braciole."
When I was growing up and we were having a party at my grandparents' house, for whatever reason, the men were always the ones in the kitchen. I have so many memories of being in the kitchen with Pop Pop: everything from turning salami slices into hats to wrapping cheese and prosciutto in pizza dough and then deep frying them or something as simple as helping to grate the Parmesan into the bowl for the table. I didn't realize how much of an effect this sauce had on me until I started to make it my own as I got older.
Pop Pop passed away just weeks before my restaurant opened so he never got to see my dream come to fruition. And the first time I made this sauce at the restaurant, as I lifted the lid to check on everything and give it a smell, I couldn't help but start to cry. I was instantly transported back to being a 10-year-old kid, hanging out at the stove with his grandpa. This is something that happens almost every time I’m at an Italian restaurant or in an Italian household making something similar. I miss my Pop Pop very much and this sauce is one of the ways I get to keep in touch with him.