How to make Sunday Gravy

21 Jul
It’s not as easy as it looks, okay.
Trust me. I’ve had a lot of mediocre Sunday Gravy (that’s tomato sauce to you civilians). Hell, I’ve made a lot of it myself.
Not lately, though. It appears that I have gotten the Red Sauce thing down pretty well. It is not the sauce that my mother prepared each week of her adult life, no. But it is a good sauce. Worth sharing, I think.
This is how I start most every Sunday Gravy these days: an onion, a couple celery stalks, two or even three small carrots, maybe four large garlic cloves, a little hot pepper, three or four anchovy fillets, and about half a dozen each of pork ribs and sweet Italian sausage.
You have questions, yes? I thought so.
Okay, about the anchovies. If I hadn’t mentioned them you might never have known they were in there. To me the fillets are like using salt, except they also add a little depth to the flavor. I still use salt in my gravy, just not as much as I would if the anchovy wasn’t in there. Just try it. It ain’t gonna kill you.
Next. This is not a spicy sauce, not at all; the amount of hot pepper provides only the slightest hint of heat, and so it is easy enough to not use if you choose.
What else? Oh, the carrots. That’s just my way of adding a little sweetness to the sauce. Many people add sugar, but I started using carrots some years back and like this way a lot better.
I don’t mess around when starting a sauce. I use a lot of extra virgin olive oil to saute the vegetables, plus some butter. The anchovies are in there too, and I used some fresh oregano and even a little fresh rosemary this time. (Just so you know, I’ve been known to add some diced pancetta or guanciale at this stage, or even prosciutto. I even threw in some chopped fennel a couple times.)
Once things have sauteed awhile you add the ribs and the sausage and let them brown a bit. You’re not cooking the meat here, just rendering some of the fat. As soon as you’ve accomplished this remove the meat and set it aside in a bowl or on a plate.
After the meat is removed I add maybe a cup of red wine and allow it to reduce by at least half, if not more. I don’t do this step all the time, but do think it adds a little complexity.
Then it’s time for the tomatoes. I use peeled whole Italian tomatoes (108 ounces here, as company was coming over), then break them up, first with a potato masher and then with my fingers. (Right inside the pot, yeah.) Turn up the heat to medium high and bring to a boil.
Once the tomatoes start to boil, add the ribs and sausage, along with whatever juices have collected in the bowl, then lower the heat to a slow simmer.
You made meatballs for your Sunday Gravy, right? Of course you did. Well, toss them in too. (If you didn’t make them, here’s my meatball recipe. I’m told they’re not half bad.)
At this point I toss in three, maybe even four tablespoons of butter. I find that this mellows the sauce a bit, plus it adds richness. Then I add salt and pepper to taste and let things simmer (using a very low flame, so that you barely see a boil at all) for a couple hours.
This is what was left of last Sunday’s Gravy at Casa Polpette, after the imaginary couple from Illinois, The McTinderdonks of Holy Loch (don’t ask), helped to lay waste to an enormous pot of the red stuff.
I am happy that my guests enjoyed themselves so much, of course. But my own Monday night dinner did not, shall we say, quite go as I had imagined.

25 Responses to “How to make Sunday Gravy”

  1. Claudia July 21, 2011 at 10:12 pm #

    Pretty close. I use pork neckbones for flavor. It's a Gresio thing. But I'd happily scarf yours down.

  2. Ciao Chow Linda July 21, 2011 at 10:56 pm #

    So what time can I come by for dinner? Seriously, yours is very close to mine, but I never thought to use the anchovies or the butter. Looks fantastic.

  3. Anonymous July 21, 2011 at 11:44 pm #

    the only thing I do differently is saute my Onions, Carrot and Celery in the fat of the meat that was just browned. You can never properly brown gravy meat with all those veg in the pot. Other than that, you're good!!

  4. Jeannie July 22, 2011 at 12:53 am #

    I'd know where to look the next time I am craving for some red sauce:)

  5. Mavis July 22, 2011 at 1:41 am #

    Dare you to make a veggie version with no meat! Or maybe I'll try it and let you know how it turns out…

  6. Mister Meatball July 22, 2011 at 1:46 am #

    Mavis: Love to help you out on that, but then it wouldn't be \”Sunday Gravy,\” now, would it?Nice try, though!

  7. Thomas Henry Strenk July 22, 2011 at 12:29 pm #

    There's enough meat in this sauce to feed a family of five for a year!

  8. Mister Meatball July 22, 2011 at 12:34 pm #

    Tell that to the McTinderdonks, Tommy. No Monday Night Leftovers? Just ain't right!

  9. Proud Italian Cook July 23, 2011 at 3:30 am #

    There's a lotta love in that pot!

  10. Charlene Ann Baumbich July 23, 2011 at 7:32 pm #

    McTinkerdonks. Hm. Curios. Nonetheless, it's my new favorite word. BTW, I'm growing a fennel plant. It looks terrific but I had no idea what to do with it. Until now. Thanks!

  11. Fred July 24, 2011 at 11:45 am #

    Here's my story, sad but true. My wife makes the pasta sauce (can we use interchangeably with gravy?) in my house and it is nearly perfect every time. I've followed her steps PRECISELY, even side by side with her, and yet it never comes the same or as good. I'm convinced there is something in her body oils that makes the difference as she mashes the tomatoes by hand. Meanwhile, the reigning king of meat sauce in my family is my son–who hasn't made one for me since the blackout of 2003 (no joke!). Looks like I'm coming to your house for Sunday dinner. Oh, that's today. Be right there……….

  12. Mister Meatball July 24, 2011 at 12:07 pm #

    Sad indeed, Fred. Yet, oh, so common. For years all of my aunts tried mightily to mimic my mother's meatballs, many times making them at her side. Never could. The family became convinced it was mom's left-handedness that held the secret, and so they tried that too. No dice. Life in the kitchen can be confounding.As for today's gravy, come over around four. Just bring me some sfogliatelle!

  13. Thomas Henry Strenk July 25, 2011 at 12:25 pm #

    I've been pondering this recipe and one thing seems missing: No herbs or spices! Where is the oregano, rosemary, thyme, etc.? Where is the Italian accent, Mr. M?

  14. Mister Meatball July 25, 2011 at 12:57 pm #

    THS: Well, now I know how carefully you read this stuff. Or maybe the following passage, whilst visible to others, was not so to you:\”The anchovies are in there too, and I used some fresh oregano and even a little fresh rosemary this time.\”

  15. Anonymous May 15, 2012 at 8:15 pm #

    LOL I just read this and I'm curious how you met the McTimderdonks of Holy Loch. I too know them from the old country. Please tell me they didn't show the McTimderdonk film to you.Pam

  16. Mister Meatball May 15, 2012 at 9:20 pm #

    Those from the Holy Loch are dear friends from long ago, but not so long ago as to hail from the old country, no.

  17. Anonymous May 15, 2012 at 11:12 pm #

    Ah…I realize I got the Mr. Meatball link from Lord McTimderdonk. I worked alongside his Lordship in Holy Loch. Glad to know they didn't stay with the haggis always. :)Pam

  18. mike February 17, 2013 at 6:47 am #

    Awesome first issue!The Bolognese recipe is virtually identical to the one I have used for years. I got it from an \”Old World\” Italian Cookbook.Meatballs as well, I have always found bread soaked in milk resulted in the best meatballs. (fresh parsley and sometimes a bit of fresh basil)It was always SAUCE for us. Gravy was brown.Looking forward to more great stuff, thanks.

  19. Paul Ferrario December 5, 2013 at 9:38 pm #

    Thank You! After 30 years of marriage into an Irish American family, I still catch myself calling \”it\” Spaghetti gravy. That's what Nonna, Mom and Dad called it, and I had never heard different until I left the nest. My wife makes fun every time I slip. Lately I am re-embracing my heritage and it shall be \”gravy\” from now on.

  20. gabagool July 9, 2014 at 10:45 pm #

    Listen I know how varied italian food can be…so I'm NOT saying you're wrong, but I know of NO ONE off the boat fron the campania region of Italy ( all my relatives) who uses oregano in ANY sauce except for pizza and PIZZAIOLA sauces.Were your parents first gen italian americans..cause that's who I see using oregano a lot…….in Italy, it really ain't a big deal…..

  21. Mister Meatball July 10, 2014 at 4:12 pm #

    I use whatever fresh herbs I have around. Don't have a heart attack.

  22. chiffonade September 16, 2015 at 12:27 am #

    I love your gravy! And thanks for calling it gravy. My mom always put in pig's feet and skin, bracciole, meatballs and sausage. She also put in one small whole onion which was like butter when the gravy was done. Bravo!

  23. AJ November 28, 2015 at 9:11 pm #

    My great-grandma made hers, my grandma made hers, my mom and my aunts made theirs, I make mine. None of them come out the same. That's what I call magic. Yours is slightly different than mine (I'm going to try the butter thing) and I'll bet yours is terrific. Thanks for sharing.

  24. Maura October 20, 2017 at 7:15 pm #

    I love going back to New York for visits after 22 years of living in Oregon. With that said, I had the honor of eating my Aunt Vicenza's gravy a few weeks ago when I was in Queens visiting her. Once I tasted her gravy, I was brought back to the \”after church\” Sunday table from 45 years ago. Seriously, if you ever saw the movie Ratatouille you would know what I mean. Since Aunt Vinnie does not part with secrets that easily, I need to get yours – do you have a great recipe for chicken parmigiana that I could make and scarf down with your gravy?

  25. Mister Meatball October 21, 2017 at 2:38 pm #

    Funny, I never make chicken parm, sorry. However, I'd likely go with a light tomato sauce than Sunday Gravy.

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