Italian Sunday Gravy will get your family to the table like nothing else – the smell of a rich, hearty tomato sauce spiked with red wine, succulent cuts of pork and meatballs and the promise of a flavorful evening feast. The sound of this classic Italian dish bubbling away on the stove will only be drowned out by the chorus of hungry mouths – “Is it ready yet?”
Writing this post on Italian Sunday Gravy has been daunting because I want to give you everything – all the history of this recipe that’s been passed down to me, plus all the things I’ve learned along the way after making it literally for decades. The whole process has become a love-laden ritual, steeped in history, and you can taste it in every delicious bite. You’ll know it’s Italian Sunday Gravy day as soon as you walk through the front door, and it’s guaranteed to make your mouth water. The aromas wafting out of my kitchen (there should be an air-freshener scent). Once you bring this recipe into your home, sugo della Domenica (or “Sunday Gravy” if your Italian’s a little rusty) will become a time-honored tradition in your family as well.
WHAT I LOVE MOST ABOUT THIS RECIPE:
- It’s a family recipe that has as much history as it has flavor.
- It freezes beautifully for any last-minute Italian feast.
- My house smells A-MA-ZING!
- The flavor~there’s nothing quite like the flavor of Sunday Gravy!
What Is Sunday Gravy?
Sunday Gravy is a traditional Italian-American recipe that combines a hearty tomato sauce with several types of meat. Various cuts of beef or pork, as well as delicate meatballs, are cooked in the sauce until tender and served along with pasta that’s been tossed in the flavorful sauce.
Each of the cuts in my recipe enhances the richness of the sauce, and it’s the variety of flavors that give this gravy an authentic, meaty Italian flavor. They slowly simmer for hours, releasing all of their amazing flavors into the gravy, then are served meltingly tender, and literally falling off the bone with a big plate of penne.
What Is The Difference Between Sauce and Gravy
Sunday Sauce and Sunday Gravy are used interchangeably for the same dish, and the preference varies among Italian families. It basically boils down to whose Nonna’s Sunday gravy recipe you’re talking about.
Many Italian-Americans call this dish “gravy” because it has meat in it, which is what you’ll see mentioned in many recipes like the Rachael Ray Sunday gravy version. According to the Sunday gravy henry hill, the Italian equivalent of “gravy” is sugo d’arrosto, which translates to “juice of a roast.” On the other hand, the Rachael Ray Sunday gravy posts online, as well as many other authentic recipes, refer to this as “sauce,” possibly because the meat is removed from the tomato sauce and traditionally served on the side with a generous helping of the sauce-covered pasta.
Sunday Gravy Versus Marinara Sauce
Marinara is a simple red sauce, often just garlic, herbs, and tomatoes, with no onions. A really high quality, preferably my homemade Marinara Sauce can be used in a pinch as the tomato base for this Italian Sunday Gravy.
What Ingredient Do You Need For Sunday Gravy
Recipe Notes For Sunday Gravy:
- Quality In, Quality Out – Good canned tomatoes are an absolute necessity for this recipe. I only use San Marzano tomatoes imported from Italy. Yes, it really makes a big difference.
- Meat Selection – Our gravy includes pork necks or country style ribs, Italian sausage, ground beef and pork, meatballs, and sometimes braciole. You can mix up the meats as you like, adding different cuts and types, but this is the combo my family loves and expects. And let me tell ya, if I leave out one of our favorites, someone’s going to be all fired up!
- Browning Business – The gravy is significantly richer when the meats have been caramelized. The Maillard culinary reaction, where the sugars on the surface of the meats get nice and brown, works to seal the juices into the meat plus concentrate the flavor from the surface that will eventually be incorporated into your sauce.
- One of the tips I’ve learned over the years is to do my browning in the oven. Roasting the meats (and meatballs) streamlines this recipe, and honestly, I think the end results are every bit as good as the traditional method of browning them in the stovetop pot. You can even add a splash or two of wine to your baking sheets (if you’ve avoided any burned bits on them) and scrape the little bits of fond off the sheet to add to the gravy.
- To ensure everything browns consistently, I divide the meats into two separate baking sheets based on their approximate cooking time.
- Meaty basics – The ground meats fortify the meaty flavor of the gravy. You essentially want it to disintegrate into the gravy, so eliminate any large crumbles during the browning process.
- Veggies too – Sautéing the aromatics (the onion, garlic, and carrots) is just as critical as browning the meats in this dish. Adding them to hot oil (or butter) concentrates the flavor too but also helps them release flavor that’s only coerced out of these veggies with the use of hot fat.
- Deglazing – Although most of our meat is browning in the oven, the ground beef and pork will still leave tiny bits of flavor-packed goodness on the bottom of the pan. Deglazing will release those particles into the sauce, and using red wine for this process gives the sauce added richness and robustness. When selecting a wine, I always say pick something you like to drink!
- Herbs – Our gravy uses several fresh herbs, but I prefer dried oregano. Fresh has a more aggressive flavor profile, but the more subtle, dried version compliments the other herbs instead of overpowering them.
- Size matters – Use the largest, heaviest bottomed soup pot you have. I use a 12 quart stockpot. The sauce will bubble and pop, plus you need to stir the meat around in the gravy. If you don’t have at least a few inches of room at the top of your pan, you’re going to have a big mess. Unlike other crockpot favorites, I don’t like making this sunday gravy wikistyle. Frankly, I haven’t found a crockpot big enough to contain this recipe, plus leaving the lid off for maximum flavor concentration makes the temperature fluctuate too much.
- Heavy bottom pot – The heavy bottom is important for diffusing the heat during the long cooking process so the gravy doesn’t burn on the bottom. In our family, our large stock pots are literally handed down through the generations and become cherished pieces of equipment. If you don’t have one, though, it’s really worth investing in one for recipes like this. I’ve found good deals at places like TJ Maxx Home Goods.
- Flame Tamer – If you can’t invest in a heavy bottomed stock pot, a Flame Tamer may be your best bet. It’s a disk made of heavy steel that can be used on a gas or electric stovetop to distribute the heat more evenly under your pot, thus preventing hot spots in a thin bottom pan.
Sunday Gravy With Meatballs
Meatballs are a classic meaty addition to Sunday Gravy, and it’s just another way to add wonderful flavor and texture to this dish. The meatballs can be either fried or baked, depending on your preference.
Personally, I prefer to use my Baked Meatballs for this dish. Since I almost always have some Sunday Gravy stocked away in my freezer, I always make a big batch of the meatballs to freeze too and make the time-to-table a little more doable for a weekday.
The meatballs can be made as the gravy cooks, or a day ahead, baked as instructed then brought to room temperature and added to the gravy to simmer the last half hour or so. Just be sure to give the gravy a really good stir, digging down to the bottom of the pot, to move the meats around well before you add them. Once they’re in, it’s better not to stir the gravy. If you absolutely have to, stir very gently and sparingly so they won’t break up.
Even though my meatballs are baked, not fried like the ones in my Baked Ziti with Mini Meatballs, the baking technique does put a nice crust on them so they’re fairly stable in the gravy. If you prefer a heavy crust on your meatballs, though, feel free to fry them after you’ve browned the other meats.
How To Cook Sunday Gravy
Cooking Sunday Gravy basically requires putting together a flavorful tomato sauce base with onions, garlic, herbs, and some full-bodied red wine, then slow-cooking a variety of meats in the sauce.
This recipe does take a long time to prepare; there’s no whipping it up at the last minute. To really capture all the flavors of an old-school Italian Sunday Gravy, the tomatoes need time to break down into a sauce consistency, and the meat needs time to tenderize and release its flavor. It sits on the stove uncovered and gently simmers to reduce and concentrate the flavors even more. It’s a Sunday Gravy Italian families (or just rabid fans of the Sopranos and Godfather movies) will be proud to serve!
Step By Step Overview: How To Make Sunday Gravy
- Preheat oven. Line 2 baking sheets with aluminum foil and brush with olive oil. Arrange pork neck bones or country-style ribs on one baking sheet.
- Arrange Italian sausages on the second baking sheet. Brush the tops of all the meats lightly with olive oil. Cook meat in the oven and set aside.
- In a pot, brown grown beef, and pork over medium heat.
- Transfer ground meats to plate and set aside.
- Drain some fats from the pot. Add onions, garlic, and carrots. Cover and cook until they soften.
- Add the wine to the pot and cook, scrape up any brown bits from the bottom of the pot. Cook until the wine is reduced in half.
- Add the whole tomatoes along with the juice and add the tomato paste.
- Add water.
- Add fresh basil and rosemary.
- Add dried oregano, bay leaves salt and pepper.
- Add browned ground meats back to the pot.
- Add the brown pork necks or country style ribs back to the pot.
- Add sausages. Bring the gravy to a boil. Simmer uncovered for 3-4 hours, while stirring occasionally so the meats don’t stick. Add water if the gravy thickens. While the sauce simmers, make the meatballs. After the sauce is nicely thickened and cooked, stir and add the meatballs. Continue to simmer the gravy without stirring. Cook until the meatballs are hot and the flavors marry. Remove bay leaves. Serve.
**See Full Recipe Instructions Below**
Sunday Gravy With Pork Neck Bones And Or Country Style Ribs
Country Style Ribs and or pork neck bones are mandatory. If I had to choose one over the other I’d lean towards Pork Neck Bones. Why for the same reason you use other types of bones in a good stock. They’re full of flavor, and the long, slow cooking allows them to release their gelatin into the sauce for enhanced richness and subtle thickness.
Pork neck bones are used in many authentic Italian Sunday Gravy recipes. And in Sunday gravy Sopranos style dem bones are a must! Traditionalists would say do not skip them as they’re the secret ingredient that really takes the gravy to the next level. They’re fatty and generally inexpensive and add some unique, amazing flavor. That said, country-style ribs are the first thing to disappear from my pot. Obviously, I’m conflicted….
Some grocery stores sell them frozen, some fresh, and either will work well in this recipe. Whether you find these yourself or have to ask your butcher, make sure you buy whole bones, not cut-up ones, so they’ll stand up to the long cooking time. When cut, they can, and will, splinter and are next-to-impossible to strain out.
If you have a hard time finding them, check out your local Chinese and Korean markets. In Orange County, CA, I find them at 99 Ranch Market.
Sunday Gravy And Macaroni
Sunday Gravy is served with a side of pasta that’s been coated in the sauce left in the pan after the meat has been removed. The pasta can be macaroni, spaghetti, or whatever pasta you prefer.
I like to use penne rigate since all the ridges really help cling to the sauce. The meal itself is really hearty, so I like to use this bigger, chunky pasta rather than something more delicate. For an extra decadent treat, you can serve Sunday Gravy with a creamy, cheesy polenta instead.
How To Serve Sunday Gravy
Arrange al dente pasta, and toss in the remaining tomato sauce. Serve as the first course.
Arrange all the meats on a serving dish, slicing as needed, then serve the meat course.
Though this may be the traditional way to serve an authentic Sunday Italian dinner, my family prefers a big platter, mounded high with pasta, and the chunks of tender meat, sausage links, pork, and meatballs piled as high as a mountain.
I warm up my biggest shallow serving dish with hot water then dry it when the pasta is finished, I pour 2-3 cups of Sunday Gravy over the bottom. I then drain the pasta really well (to avoid watering down the gravy), pour it into the dish, then ladle 2-3 more cups of gravy.
I like to arrange the cooked meats and meatballs over the top and serve this magnificent monster of a dish with a chunk of fresh Parmesan, a fruity red wine, and a simple green salad. Now that’s living Baby. Bada Bing!! Bada Bang!!
Italian Sunday Gravy-Recipe Handed Down From Nonna.
- 1/4 cup Olive Oil
- 2 Pounds Country Style Ribs Or Pork Neck Bones
- 2 Pounds Italian Sausage
- 1/2 Pound Ground Beef
- 1/2 Pound Ground Pork
- 1 Large Yellow Onion, Chopped
- 1 Tablespoon Garlic, Minced
- 2 Large Carrots, Peeled and Grated
- 1 1/2 Cup Red Wine
- 3 (28 Ounce) Cans Peeled Whole San Marzano Tomatoes Including Juice
- 6 (6 Ounce) Cans Tomato Paste Preferably Imported From Italy
- 8 Cups Water
- 2 Bay Leaves
- 1 Tablespoon Dried Oregano
- 1 Cup Fresh Basil, Julienned
- 2 Tablespoon Fresh Rosemary, Chopped
- 1 1/2 Teaspoon Salt
- 1 Teaspoon Black Pepper
- 1 Recipe Meatballs
- Heat oven to 425 degrees. Line 2 large, rimmed baking sheets with aluminum foil. Brush the foil with olive oil.
- Arrange (in a single layer) pork neck bones or country-style ribs on one baking sheet and the Italian sausages on the second baking sheet. Brush the tops of all the meats lightly with olive oil.
- Cook meats in the preheated oven, until deep golden brown on all sides, turning as needed to cook evenly. Allow approximately 1 hour for the pork necks and ribs and 40 minutes for the sausage. Set cooked meats aside.
- Meanwhile, in a very large, heavy-bottomed stock pot, brown ground beef and pork, over medium heat, crumbling into small pieces. Remove ground meats to plate and set aside.
- Drain all but 2 tablespoons of the fat from the pan. Add onions, minced garlic, and carrots and cook over medium heat for 6-8 minutes until they soften and begin to caramelize.
- Add the wine to the pot and cook, scrape up any brown bits from the bottom of the pot. Continue to cook until the wine is reduced by half.
- Add whole tomatoes with their juices, tomato paste, water, bay leaves, oregano, fresh basil, rosemary, salt, and pepper.
- Add the browned grounded meats, pork necks or country style ribs, and sausages back to the pot. Bring the gravy to a boil then reduce the heat and simmer.
- Simmer, uncovered for about 3 1/2--4 1/2 hours. If you have the temperature right, you should see a cheerful little bubbling on the surface of the gravy. Moderate the heat to maintain this gentle simmer throughout out cooking time.
- Stir occasionally so the meats don't stick. If the gravy becomes too thick as it simmers, add water. (If it's simmering gently, you shouldn't need to add any extra water.)
- While the sauce simmers, make the meatball. After the sauce has cooked for 3 1/2 - 4 1/2 hours and is nice and thick, give it a very good stir, digging down to the bottom of the pot, then add the meatballs. Continue to simmer the gravy without stirring for another 30-40 minutes, or until the meatballs are hot and the flavors marry. Remove bay leaves. You're READY to Serve. Mangia! Mangia!
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Sunday Gravy With Braciole
Braciole, a thin steak rolled around a stuffing of seasoned breadcrumbs, cheese, and other ingredients can be added to Sunday Gravy for an extra impressive meal.
We usually add it when we’re expecting a really big family turn out, or on special occasions or holidays. It adds more time to this already time-consuming recipe, but it’s a show-stopper sliced on the beautiful tray with all the other meats in this dish. “Stay Tuned”—Braciole Recipe coming on GWS soon!
Can You Freeze Sunday Gravy?
Sunday Gravy, like most tomato sauces, freezes well and will last 3 – 4 months in a regular freezer (longer in a deep freezer).
This recipe yields a big batch, and with all the love and time invested in creating this amazing gravy, the leftovers are liquid gold. It even works well in baked pasta dishes like my Million Dollar Spaghetti, Baked Mostaccioli, or Five Cheese Ziti Al Forno.
I generally freeze 2-cup portions so that I can call up these beauties at will instead of using the standard 24-ounce prepared red sauce (even the jarred Sunday gravy Henry Hill of Goodfellas’ fame makes can’t compete with my recipe, just sayin’). It’s the pro move for whipping up a quick dinner that packs a whole lot of amazing flavor. You can use it in just about any recipe.
Plastic containers or Ziploc bags will work. You just need to remove as much air as possible to prevent freezer burn. You’ll want to squeeze the extra air out of the bags before sealing them or choose a container that’s just the right size for whatever amount you’re freezing. You can also add a layer of cling wrap pressed onto the top of the sauce before sealing if your container is a little too big.
I prefer the bags since I can spread them out on a baking dish and let them freeze flat for easy stacking once they’re solid.
More Italian Recipes…
- Authentic Ragu Bolognese Sauce – is unbelievably rich, has tremendous depth of flavor, and has a sublime, natural sweetness to it, that is amazing!
- Italian Stuffed Peppers- have a meaty stuffing bursting with classic Italian flavors, marinara sauce, and cheese all packaged up in a sweet bell pepper!
- Italian Dressing Chicken- Move over chicken parm, our Italian Dressing Chicken packs in Italian flavors & takes 5 minutes to assemble! Add pasta & veggies for a quick midweek meal!