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Anthony Bourdain Makes Sunday Gravy

Photo by Bobby Fisher

Anthony Bourdain is probably the most well-traveled and well-fed television travel show host in the world. But he’s also got a domestic side—something he calls his “psycho Ina Garten-like need to feed people.” That element of the lanky, witty host of CNN’s Parts Unknown shines through in his best-selling cookbook, Appetites: A Cookbook, which focuses on home-cooked, comfort-food favorites. Bourdain delves into many tomato-friendly dishes in the book, such as a classic tomato salad, which spring from childhood memories. “To my mind, heirloom tomatoes are akin to Burgundy wine,” he writes. There is also a cream of tomato soup that his mother would make after school (soothing after a fistfight with a classmate), that reminds the author of “comfort and security.”

Bourdain has also made no bones on his shows about his love for pasta (his daughter is half-Italian), and he just wrapped up filming a new Parts Unknown in Rome and producing a documentary about the global food waste epidemic. Here, he shares with us his recipe for Sunday gravy with sausage and rigatoni—and how it came to be:

“I was always bitter that I wasn’t Italian American. You know that scene in Saturday Night Fever, where Tony Manero is eating with his family? All the yelling and the smacking? That looked good to me.

“We were discouraged from talking with our hands at my childhood dinner table. Voices were supposed to be maintained at a reasonable level and used for civil discourse only. Definitely no smacking. Mopping sauce with bread—getting too physically involved with your food at all—was something my mom was unlikely to approve of.

“So, this Italo-American Jersey classic—a riff on the Napolitano strategy for (a) turning a bunch of bony, low-quality off-cuts of meat into something delicious, and (b) stretching one thing into two courses—is a realization of all my childhood yearnings.”

Sunday Gravy with Sausage and Rigatoni
From Anthony Bourdain’s Appetites: A Cookbook
Serves 4 to 6


2½ pounds oxtail, cut into pieces
Salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons olive oil
2–3 pounds pork neck bones
2 pounds sweet or hot pork sausage links
1 large or 2 medium white or yellow onions, peeled and finely chopped
5 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
3 tablespoons tomato paste
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes, or to taste
2 cups dry red wine
2 cups Dark Universal Stock
2 (28-ounce) cans crushed tomatoes
2 bay leaves
2 sprigs fresh thyme or rosemary
1 sprig fresh basil
1 pound dry rigatoni
4 to 6 ounces Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, for grating

Equipment needed:

Butcher’s twine


Heat the oven to 300 F. Season the oxtail with salt and pepper.

In a Dutch oven or large, heavy-bottom ovenproof pot with a lid, heat the oil over medium-high heat until it shimmers.

I was always bitter that I wasn’t Italian American.

Add the neck bones and oxtail, working in batches if necessary to avoid overcrowding the pan, and brown on all sides in the oil. Using tongs, remove the browned pieces and set them aside on a sheet pan or platter, which will collect their juices while the remaining pieces cook. Brown the sausages and set aside.

Once the sausages and bones have all been browned and removed from the Dutch oven, add the onion and cook over medium-high heat, stirring often and scraping the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon so that the onion picks up the browned bits. Salt the onions a bit to release their juices as they cook.

Add the garlic, cook for 1 minute, then add the tomato paste, oregano, and pepper flakes and cook for a few minutes, until the tomato paste is dark reddish-brown and has begun to stick to the pan. Deglaze the Dutch oven with the wine and let reduce by half.

Add the stock, tomatoes, and bay leaves. Wrap the herb sprigs in the cheesecloth and secure the bundle tightly with the twine to make a bouquet garni. Return the oxtail and bones to the Dutch oven. Season with salt and pepper and bring to a boil. Cover the Dutch oven and transfer to the oven to cook for about 2½ hours. Remove the Dutch oven from the oven, add the browned sausages, and return to the oven to cook for another 30 minutes. The ragout should be thick but still juicy.

Remove and discard the bouquet garni and keep the gravy and sausages warm. In a large, heavy-bottom pot, bring salted water to a boil. Cook the rigatoni according to the package instructions until just al dente. Drain the pasta in a colander and return it to the hot, empty pot. Toss the rigatoni gently over medium heat for about 30 seconds to dry it completely, using tongs if necessary to keep it from sticking to the sides of the pot. Ladle in as much of the warm sauce as necessary to coat but not drown the pasta. Serve the pasta and sausages together, with the extra sauce and grated Parmigiano-Reggiano alongside.

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