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    Italian Sunday Gravy (Sunday Sauce)

    Let me tell you about Sunday Gravy, a dish I stumbled upon by accident. It’s this amazing Italian-American tradition that turns a simple Sunday into something really special. Early in the morning, families start cooking a big pot of tomato sauce. They add all sorts of meats like short ribs, spare ribs, meatballs, and sausages, and let them all cook together for hours.

    As the day goes on, the sauce gets thicker and the flavors get richer. By the time everyone sits down to eat, the whole house smells amazing. This isn’t just any meal, it’s Sunday Gravy, a time for family to enjoy a delicious, hearty dish together. It’s all about comfort food that’s been loved for generations.

    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.

    Now, how I came across Sunday Gravy. One Sunday, my friend Luca invited me to his house for what he called a “special Sunday meal.” I wasn’t sure what to expect, but the moment I walked into his kitchen, his kitchen was filled with the delicious smells of tomatoes and garlic, hinting at something special.

    As we sat down to eat, Luca served up a hearty plate of pasta smothered in a thick, savory sauce filled with meats like sausage, ribs and meatballs. “This is Sunday Gravy,” he explained with a proud smile, sharing how his family had been cooking this dish every Sunday for as long as he could remember. It was my first encounter with Sunday Gravy, and it was purely by chance that I got to experience such a flavorful tradition, all thanks to Luca’s warm invitation.

    During conversation, they also told me that this is the recipe that’s been passed down from generation to generation, with each family member putting their own spin on it. But no matter the variation, it’s always been about making something full of flavor and filled with love and warmth.

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

    Now come to present times, I’ve been racking my brain trying to figure out what to cook for our 500th recipe on GypsyPlate for the last few weeks. And just like that Sunday Gravy popped into my head. I still remembered how we couldn’t get enough of the Sunday Gravy!

    So, to mark this milestone, I figured, why not share that joy with GypsyPlate? Let’s make our 500th recipe something really special together! It’s going to be Sunday Gravy on GypsyPlate!

    What is Sunday Gravy?

    Sunday Gravy comes from Italian-American communities, especially in the Northeast of the United States. It’s a dish that has deep roots in those neighborhoods.

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

    The name “Sunday” comes from the tradition of making the sauce on Sundays. Families would spend their Sundays preparing this delicious 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.

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

    Is Sunday Gravy and Sunday Sauce same thing?

    I’ve learned that there’s a big debate over whether we should call it “Sunday Sauce” or “Sunday Gravy.” It’s a topic that really gets people talking, especially in Italian-American communities like mine.

    Some folks say “gravy” should only be used if the sauce has meat in it, making it thicker and heartier. Others argue for “Sunday Sauce,” saying it connects better with the dish’s Italian roots. It seems like everyone has their own opinion, often based on where their family comes from or what they grew up with.

    But no matter what you call it, whether it’s Sunday Sauce or Sunday Gravy, one thing is for sure: it brings us all together around the table, sharing love and good food with the people we care about. And that’s what really matters in the end.

    Sunday gravy served atop pasta on a large platter.

    Ingredient Notes

    For Meatballs:

    • Ground Beef and Ground Pork – I’ve found that using a mix of beef and pork gives the sauce just the right balance of flavor and makes it nice and juicy.
    • 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.
    • Short Ribs and Italian Sausage Links – I highly recommend using short ribs and some sausages.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 – Choose a good-quality wine that you’d actually drink.
    • San Marzano Tomatoes – I love San Marzano brand, 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: I start by combining eggs, milk, garlic, Italian seasoning, salt, pepper, and parsley in a large bowl. Then, I add breadcrumbs and ground meats, mixing everything together by hand until it’s all well combined. After that, I shape the mixture into uniform-sized meatballs, about 1½-2 inches each. I cover them with cling wrap and pop them into the refrigerator until I’m ready to cook.

    Raw meatballs on a platter.

    2. Brown the Meats: Then using a big, heavy pot or Dutch oven, I heat up 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium-high heat. Then, I start by browning the short ribs, followed by the sausage, and then the meatballs. I do them in batches to make sure they get nice and golden. It’s important not to cram them in the pot all at once. After they’re browned, I take them out and set them aside for later.

    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: If the pot looks dry, I add a dash more oil, then toss in the onion and carrots. I sauté them for about 3 to 4 minutes until they start to soften. Then, I add the garlic and cook for another minute, just until it becomes fragrant.

    Onion and carrots cooking in a dutch oven.

    4. Deglaze and reduce wine: Next, I pour in some red wine, making sure to scrape up any delicious browned bits stuck to the bottom of the pot. I let it cook until the wine reduces by about half, which usually takes around 3 to 4 minutes.

    Wine added in to the pot.

    5. Build the gravy: After that, I add in crushed whole tomatoes, tomato paste, water, fresh basil leaves, rosemary, bay leaves, and dried oregano. These ingredients come together to create a rich and flavorful base for the gravy.

    Tomato sauce with a bunch of fresh and dried herbs.

    6. Add the short ribs: Then, I add the browned short ribs into the sauce. I cover the pot and let everything simmer over medium-low heat for about 2 to 2.5 hours, 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: Time to add the browned sausages first and let them cook uncovered for about 1 hour. If the gravy starts to get too thick, I add a splash of water to keep it just right.

    Then, after the sausages have been cooking for a bit, I add the meatballs and let everything simmer for another hour, still uncovered. I stir occasionally and make sure most of the meats are submerged under the gravy. It’s important to keep the heat gentle, so the gravy is always just simmering. Along the way, I skim off any extra fat that rises to the top. Finally, I taste and adjust for salt and pepper, making sure it’s seasoned just right.

    Final product, ready to serve.

    Alpana’s Tips

    • 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: I avoid overcrowding the pan because I want a nice brown sear on each piece, which is key for flavor. If it’s too crowded, they might just steam instead of browning properly.
    • Wine Choice: I always 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: I remember to give the pot a gentle stir every now and then, making sure 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. I make sure to skim it off to keep my 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 allows, I like to let the gravy sit for a few hours or even overnight. This really deepens the flavors, making it even more irresistible. Be sure to refrigerate it if resting for more than an hour.
    Large platter of pasta topped with Sunday sauce.

    Possible Variations

    1. Meat Swap: Instead of short ribs, I suggest trying oxtails, beef shank, pork ribs, or country-style ribs for a unique layer of flavor. They cook beautifully over a long period and really enhance 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: Sometimes I switch between spicy and sweet Italian sausages, depending on my mood or my 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

    When I serve Sunday gravy at my house, I like to do it a bit differently. I separate the meats like meatballs, sausages, and sometimes Braciole onto one platter, and pasta tossed with a little sauce is served on another. This way, everyone can customize their own plate.

    For the pasta, I cook it al dente, so it’s got a little bite to it. Rigatoni, spaghetti, or ziti are my go-to picks. Then, I combine the pasta with some gravy in a pot and cook it for an extra 2-3 minutes. This lets the pasta soak up the sauce, making every mouthful full of flavor.

    I lay out the tomato sauce-covered pasta on a big platter and pile all the meats on top. Picture it: a big mound of perfectly cooked pasta with rich Sunday Gravy-soaked meats on top… absolutely delicious!

    I also like to have extra gravy on hand, either in a gravy boat or a small bowl, since some folks like their pasta swimming in it while others prefer just a coating.

    And of course, I can’t forget the fresh, warm, crusty bread to go with it all. And as for drinks, red wine is my favorite pairing with this hearty Sunday sauce.

    Platter of Sunday gravy over pasta.

    There you have it, epic Sunday Gravy. From Luca’s American Italian household 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!

    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.

    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 and Storing: Sunday Gravy tastes even better the next day. After letting it cool, store it in air tight containers in the refrigerator for up to 4-5 days. If you need to store it longer, Sunday Gravy can be frozen for up to 2-3 months. When freezing, leave a little space at the top of the container for expansion. To enjoy it again, simply reheat the gravy on the stove over medium-low heat or in the microwave, stirring occasionally. If it's frozen, thaw it in the fridge overnight before reheating.

    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?

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    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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