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    Italian Sunday Gravy (Sunday Sauce)

    Ah, Sunday Gravy, the heartwarming Italian-American culinary tradition that turns an ordinary weekend into a delectable feast!!

    This is quintessential Italian-American comfort food that has not only conquered hearts, but also taste buds across generations.

    Imagine a rich tomato sauce teeming with a medley of meats like short ribs or spare ribs, meatballs, and sausage simmering for hours, and you have the masterpiece that is Sunday Gravy.

    This Sunday Gravy recipe is the ultimate Italian-American feast, where a variety of meats cook low and slow for hours. It's a true labor of love.

    This is not just a sauce. It’s a full-fledged experience. A culinary masterpiece reserved for Sundays to bring family and friends together.

    Passed down through generations, each family adds its unique flair, but the core remains unchanged: an abundance of flavor and a whole lot of soul.

    Perfect for Sunday gatherings, this recipe turns mealtime into a celebration and a bowl of pasta into an unforgettable experience!

    Trust me, once you have a spoonful of Sunday Gravy, you’ll realize that it’s not just a meal, it’s an event. You just can’t help but go back for seconds… or thirds!

    There is something about slow cooked Italian sauces. When simmered for a long time, they transform into something amazing. Our Lamb Ragu, Bolognese Sauce and even Spaghetti Meat Sauce are brimming with awesome Italian flavors.

    This time we decided to cook the ultimate Italian sauce in our kitchen, as a salute to our 500th recipe on GypsyPlate… Sunday Gravy!!

    It won our hearts big time, and made our souls happy that we are in the food business, which brings us so much joy sharing all this food with our readers. The foods that we enjoy in our kitchen, to yours.

    Meatballs, sausage and short ribs in a tomato sauce atop a bed of rigatoni.

    Here’s Why It’s So Good

    • Flavors… Flavors… Flavors: It’s an impeccable blend of tangy tomatoes, aromatic herbs, and a variety of succulent meats that melt in your mouth.
    • Simplicity: Though it takes time to cook, the ingredient list and recipe is fairly straightforward.
    • Versatility: Serve it over any of your favorite pasta shapes, or savor it with a slice of crusty bread, every bite is delicious.
    • The Bonding Ritual of Comfort Food: It’s not just food, it’s an occasion. The long cooking hours make for a splendid opportunity to catch up with loved ones. Comfort food for many at its best.
    • It’s a Giant Meal that can Feed the Town: It makes a huge batch, making it perfect for special family gatherings.
    Dutch oven full of tomato sauce loaded with a variety of meats.

    What is Sunday Gravy?

    Sunday Gravy has its roots in the Italian-American communities that flourished in the United States, particularly in the Northeast.

    The name “Sunday” comes from the tradition of making the sauce on Sundays. Families would spend their Sundays preparing this delectable feast, allowing the flavors to meld over hours of simmering.

    While the recipe might vary from family to family, the core elements remain the same: meat, tomatoes, and an abundance of love.

    It is a robust tomato sauce that’s been slow-cooked with lots of meats, which can include short ribs, spare ribs, sausages, meatballs, and sometimes even pork ribs and pork necks.

    Unlike a basic marinara or tomato sauce, Sunday Gravy is enriched with the flavors of various meats, making it more of a meat stew served over pasta.

    It’s the kind of dish that fills the house with its mouthwatering aroma, signaling a feast that gathers family and friends around the dining table.

    Dutch oven full of tomato sauce loaded with a variety of meats.

    Is Sunday Gravy and Sunday Sauce same thing?

    The debate over whether it should be called “Sunday Sauce” or “Sunday Gravy” is a longstanding one that stirs up passionate discussions, especially within Italian-American communities.

    The terms are often used interchangeably, but some purists argue that “gravy” should only be used if the sauce includes meat, making it richer and heartier. On the other hand, proponents of “Sunday Sauce” might argue that the term better connects with the Italian origins of the dish, as gravy is not a traditional term used in Italy for this type of sauce.

    The division often reflects regional preferences, family traditions, and even the wave of immigration that brought one’s ancestors to America.

    But despite the debate over nomenclature, one thing remains constant: whether you call it Sunday Sauce or Sunday Gravy, it’s a delicious, soul-satisfying dish that brings family and friends together in the best possible way.

    The name might differ, but the love that goes into it, and comes out of enjoying it, is universal.

    Sunday gravy served atop pasta on a large platter.

    Ingredient Notes

    For Meatballs:

    • Ground Beef and Ground Pork – Using a mix of beef and pork ensures a balanced flavor and juicy texture.
    • Binders – Eggs and Breadcrumbs.
    • Milk – To help keep your meatballs juicy.
    • Seasonings – Garlic, Italian seasoning and fresh parsley.

    For the Rest of the Gravy:

    • Olive Oil – A high-quality olive oil will start your sauce off right, adding a layer of richness to your dish.
    • Short Ribs and Italian Sausage Links – These meats are the stars of your gravy. They will become fork-tender and infuse the sauce with incredible depth.
    • Yellow Onion and Carrots – These veggies add a subtle sweetness that balances the tanginess of the tomatoes.
    • Red Wine – Adds complexity and a bit of zing. Choose a good-quality wine that you’d actually drink.
    • San Marzano Tomatoes – With their sweetness and low acidity, they are the gold standard for Italian sauces. Crush them by hand in a large bowl.
    • Tomato Paste – This will give your sauce that rich, concentrated tomato flavor.
    • Herbs and Spices – Fresh basil, fresh rosemary, dried oregano, bay leaves, salt and pepper.

    Step-by-Step Instructions

    1. Make the Meatballs: In a large bowl, whisk together eggs, milk, garlic, Italian seasoning, salt, pepper, and parsley. Add breadcrumbs and ground meats. Mix by hand until well combined. Form the mixture into 1½-2 inch same-sized meatballs. Cover them with cling wrap and keep in the refrigerator until ready to use.

    Raw meatballs on a platter.

    2. Brown the Meats: In a large heavy-bottomed pot or Dutch oven, heat 2 Tbsp of olive oil over medium-high heat. Brown the short ribs, then sausage, then meatballs in batches. Do not crowd the pan. Plate them out.

    Collage of browned meats.

    The sausage and meatballs will go into the sauce after quite some time, so keep them stored in the refrigerator after browning.

    3. Cooking the Veggies and add Wine: Add a dash of oil if needed and sauté onion and carrots for 3-4 minutes. Add garlic and sauté for another minute.

    Onion and carrots cooking in a dutch oven.

    4. Deglaze and Reduce Wine: Add red wine, scraping up any brown bits from the bottom. Cook until the wine is reduced by half (about 3-4 minutes).

    Wine added in to the pot.

    5. Build the Gravy: Add crushed whole tomatoes, tomato paste, water, basil leaves, rosemary, bay leaves, and dried oregano.

    Tomato sauce with a bunch of fresh and dried herbs.

    6. Add the Short Ribs: Add the browned short ribs. Cover and cook for 2-2.5 hours on medium-low heat, stirring occasionally. While it simmers low and slow, check out our collection of favorite Sunday Dinner Ideas!

    Adding short ribs into the gravy.

    7. Add Remaining Meats: You will add the meats at intervals. First add the browned sausages and cook for 1 hour uncovered. If the gravy is too thick, add a splash of water.

    Next add meatballs and continue cooking uncovered for another one hour, stirring occasionally and making sure most of the meats are cooking, submerged under the gravy. Maintain the heat throughout so the gravy is always on a gentle simmer. Skim off the excess fat. Taste and adjust for salt and pepper.

    Final product, ready to serve.

    Tips and Tricks

    • Quality Ingredients: Always use fresh, good-quality meats and San Marzano tomatoes. The better the ingredients, the more flavorful the gravy.
    • Meat Variety: Use a mixture of meats to add layers of flavor. Some people even throw in a pork bone or ribs for extra richness.
    • Brown the Meat in Batches: Don’t overcrowd the pan as they won’t get a nice brown sear, which is very important for flavors. If you crowd the pan, they might just steam without browning.
    • Wine Choice: Use a good quality red wine. Don’t cook with a wine you wouldn’t drink.
    • Low and Slow: Patience is key! Allow your gravy to simmer for hours to let all the flavors meld beautifully.
    • Stir Occasionally: Make sure to give the pot a gentle stir every now and then, ensuring nothing sticks to the bottom.
    • Adjust Consistency: If the gravy becomes too thick, a splash of water or broth can loosen it up. Remember, Sunday Gravy should be on the thicker side, but not paste-like. Similarly, if the gravy is thin, cook uncovered.
    • Skim the Fat: After long hours of simmering, there might be a layer of fat at the top. Skimming it off keeps your meal from being too greasy.
    • Taste as You Go: Always, always taste your gravy as it cooks. Adjust seasonings, particularly salt and pepper, towards the end.
    • Rest Before Serving: If time permits, letting the gravy sit for a few hours or overnight deepens the flavors, making it even more irresistible.
    Large platter of pasta topped with Sunday sauce.

    Possible Variations

    1. Meat Swap: Instead of short ribs, consider using oxtails, beef shank, pork ribs, or country style ribs for a different layer of flavor. They cook well over a long period and enrich the sauce.

    2. Sunday Gravy with Braciole: Braciole is thinly sliced beef that is rolled up with a variety of fillings like garlic, herbs, breadcrumbs, and cheese. These rolls are then secured with kitchen twine or toothpicks and browned before being simmered in Sunday Gravy. It’s mostly incorporated for special occasions.

    3. Sausage Choices: If you’re using Italian sausage, you can switch between spicy and sweet depending on your mood, or your family’s taste preference.

    4. Tomato Twist: Use the San Marzano tomatoes as your base but try adding a small can of fire-roasted tomatoes for a smoky undertone.

    5. Parmesan Rind: Adding Parmesan rind to your sauce adds delicious flavors.

    6. Swap the Wine: Make the same sauce, but use a white wine instead of red.

    7. Cheese in the Meatballs: Add grated Parmesan or Pecorino Romano to your meatball mixture for an extra cheesy bite.

    Overhead view of the potful of sauce.

    Serving Suggestions

    Serving Sunday gravy might be different from family to family. The meats like meatballs, sausages, and special additions like Braciole are often served on a separate platter and pasta tossed with a little sauce is served on another. This way, each person can customize their own plate.

    We like ours as following:

    Cook the pasta al dente to stand up to the robust gravy. Rigatoni, spaghetti and ziti are popular picks. Now marry the pasta and gravy!

    A crucial step often overlooked is combining the pasta and some gravy in a pot and cooking for an additional 2-3 minutes. This allows the pasta to absorb some of the sauce, making every bite a harmonious blend of flavors.

    We serve this tomato sauce flavored pasta on a large platter and then arrange all the meats heaping on top.

    Imagine a heaping platter of perfectly cooked pasta acting as a velvety bed for the rich, meat-infused Sunday Gravy… simply irresistible.

    You can serve additional gravy in a gravy boat or small bowl, as some people love their pasta swimming in it, while others prefer just a coating.

    You can also pair Sunday gravy and pasta with fresh, warm, crusty bread. And please don’t forget your favorite wine… We love our reds with this robust Sunday sauce.

    Platter of Sunday gravy over pasta.

    Leftovers and Storing

    Sunday Gravy tastes even better the next day, as all the flavors accentuate overnight, making it an excellent dish for leftovers or make ahead. Some people make the sauce an entire day before serving.

    Allow the sauce to come to room temperature before storing. You can store the gravy and meat together or separately, depending on your plans for leftovers. If you think you’ll use the gravy for another purpose, maybe separate it from the meat.

    Use airtight containers to prevent any odors from seeping in or out. Glass containers are ideal, as they don’t absorb smells. Stored properly, Sunday Gravy should last up to 4-5 days in the refrigerator.

    It also freezes beautifully for up to 2-3 months. Be sure to leave some space at the top of your container for expansion. For easier defrosting and serving, consider freezing in portion-sized amounts.

    Thaw overnight in the fridge if frozen. Reheat on the stovetop over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally until warmed through. You can also use a microwave, but be sure to cover and stir periodically for even heating.

    This Sunday Gravy recipe is the ultimate Italian-American feast, where a variety of meats cook low and slow for hours. It's a true labor of love.

    There you have it, epic Sunday Gravy. From American Italian households to the GypsyPlate kitchen, and now to yours. This dish is more than just a recipe, it’s a symbol of comfort, home, and togetherness.

    The best thing about Sunday Gravy is that it’s a labor of love, a dish that gets better with time, just like a fine wine or a lifelong friendship. May your Sunday Gravy be as rich and fulfilling as the company you share it with!

    Thank you for joining us in reaching the 500th recipe mark on GypsyPlate. Until next time, happy cooking and even happier eating.

    Sunday Gravy, on our Gypsy Plate… enjoy!

    serving of sunday sauce on the Gypsy Plate

    More Special Sunday Dinners
    Steak Pizzaiola
    Oven Baked Ribs
    Beef Birria Tacos
    Chicken Provencal
    Firecracker Salmon
    Chicken Scarpariello
    Hungarian Goulash
    Caldo de Res
    Kalua Pork

    featured image for sunday gravy recipe

    Italian Sunday Gravy (Sunday Sauce)

    Yield: 10-12 servings
    Prep Time: 15 minutes
    Cook Time: 4 hours 30 minutes
    Total Time: 4 hours 45 minutes

    This Sunday Gravy recipe is the ultimate Italian-American feast, where a variety of meats cook low and slow for hours. It's a true labor of love.



    • 1 pound ground beef
    • 1 pound ground pork
    • 2 eggs
    • ¼ cup milk
    • 2 garlic cloves, minced
    • 1½ Tbsp Italian seasoning
    • 1½ tsp salt
    • ½ tsp black pepper
    • ¼ cup fresh parsley, chopped
    • ⅔ cup Italian style breadcrumbs

    Sunday Gravy

    • 2 Tbsp olive oil
    • 2 pounds short ribs
    • 2 pounds Italian sausage (spicy or sweet)
    • 1 medium yellow onion, diced
    • 2 carrots, grated
    • 6 garlic cloves, chopped
    • 1 cup red wine
    • 3 (28oz) cans Whole San Marzano Tomatoes with their juices , crushed by hand
    • 6oz tomato paste
    • 3 cups water
    • 1 cup fresh basil leaves, packed
    • 1 sprig rosemary
    • 2 bay leaves
    • 1 Tbsp dried oregano
    • salt to taste
    • pepper to taste


    1. In a large bowl, whisk together eggs, milk, garlic, Italian seasoning, salt, pepper and parsley. Add breadcrumbs and ground meats, and mix by hand until well combined. Do not overmix. Form the mixture into 1½-2 inch same-sized meatballs. Cover them with cling wrap and keep in the refrigerator until ready to use.
    2. In a large heavy bottomed pot or Dutch oven, heat 2 Tbsp the olive oil over medium high heat and brown short ribs on all sides. Remove to a plate, then brown sausage links. Remove to a plate, then brown meatballs. You will be adding these browned meats to the sauce at intervals, once cooled down refrigerate sausage and meatballs until they go in the gravy.
    3. Add a dash of oil if needed and sauté onion and carrots for 3-4 minutes. Add garlic and sauté for a minute.
    4. Add red wine and deglaze, scraping up any brown bits from the bottom of the pot. Cook until the wine is reduced by half, about 3-4 minutes.
    5. Add crushed whole tomatoes, tomato paste, water, basil leaves, rosemary, bay leaves, dried oregano, salt and pepper. Mix well.
    6. Add the short ribs to the gravy. Cover, reduce heat to medium-low and cook for 2-2.5 hours. Stir occasionally, making sure nothing is sticking to the bottom of the pan.
    7. Add the sausages to the gravy and cook for 1 hour, uncovered. If at any point gravy is becoming too thick, add a splash of water. (Sunday gravy is meant to be on the thick side)
    8. Add meatballs and cook uncovered for another one hour, stirring occasionally and making sure most of the meats are cooking, submerged under the gravy. Maintain the heat throughout so the gravy is always on a gentle simmer.
    9. Towards the end of cooking time, skim off the excess fact. Taste and adjust for salt and pepper.
    10. Serve Sunday Gravy over your favorite pasta shape, along with parmesan, fresh basil and crusty bread.


    1. Leftovers can be refrigerated in an airtight container for 4-5 days, or frozen for 2-3 months.

    Nutrition Information
    Yield 12 Serving Size 1
    Amount Per Serving Calories 819Total Fat 56gSaturated Fat 21gTrans Fat 1gUnsaturated Fat 35gCholesterol 219mgSodium 1105mgCarbohydrates 17gFiber 2gSugar 7gProtein 57g

    Nutrition information calculated by Nutritionix.

    Did you make this recipe?

    Please leave a comment on the blog or share a photo on Pinterest

    Picture of Alpana, blogger and recipe developer at GypsyPlate

    Welcome to GypsyPlate! I'm Alpana, former wordwide tour manager and professional caterer, now full time blogger. I love exploring cuisines from around the world, and my recipes have been featured on sites such as MSN, Parade, Brit + Co, CNET and AOL. You can explore my entire collection of sortable recipes in my Recipe Index or learn more about me here.

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