A lot of my food blogging friends have been posting their versions of Sunday Gravy lately. Since it is one of my favorite dishes to make, I figured I might as well jump into the fray…
First of all, for those southerners here that know what real gravy is, this isn’t it. No pan drippings thickened with flour, milk or broth, and then seasoned with salt, pepper and tabasco. Nope, it isn’t that.
Sunday Gravy is an Italian-American dish, an extra hearty, meat-centric concoction of meat simmered in tomato sauce and served on pasta. Usually it has meatballs and Italian sausage at minimum. Then it may have pork chops, pork loin, beef roast, chicken pieces, or any other assorted meats cooked into it. And it simmers all day, so whatever meats are in it, they are fall off the bone tender and delicious. Most of you and many Italian-Americans themselves would call it pasta sauce, instead of gravy.
You see, among Italian-Americans, the sauce versus gravy debate is as heated an argument as the equally long running Texan feuds about beans or no beans in your chili, sauce or no sauce on your ribs, or country fried versus chicken fried steak. I say on all counts—who cares? Call it what you want, eat it how you wish. You should eat food the way you like to eat it, and It will taste the same going down no matter what you call it. I call it gravy, because that’s how I learned it.
Although I am not Italian, I often think I should have been. I live in the kitchen, cook for everyone within a 3 mile radius, and can’t talk with my hands tied behind my back. My kitchen is loud and busy, and full of people and laughter and food. Sunday Gravy is, for me, the quintessential Sunday family meal. One of those dishes that takes all day to prepare, but there is never a question that the time and labor is worth it. It’s something my Granny would have made on those days when the whole family gathered at her home for dinner. It is a meal that will grab your dinner guests by the shoulders, kiss them on both cheeks, and shake them vigorously while shouting “ I LOVE YOU” right in their face. It tastes like THAT.
As long as it takes to make, it mostly passive cooking time, so don’t be turned off by that. The long simmering time is what allows the sugar in the tomatoes to caramelize and develop fully, and for the meat to render down into a fabulously tender ragu…Next time you are cooking a large meal for people you really love, let your inner Italian Grandmother out and give this a try.
**to make meatballs uniform and fast, I use a 2” cookie dough scoop. Roll them just enough that they hold together—too much rolling will make them tough and very dense.
**although you can use any canned tomatoes, I would only use the cheap ones if you cannot find anything else in your area. At the very least, use a brand that lists only tomatoes as ingredients on the can. If salt and/or citric acid is listed, the tomatoes do not have a good sugar content. Try to find San Marzano tomatoes–Cento brand crushed tomatoes are widely available. The end result is far superior.
**I smoke my boneless ribs before adding to the pot, but this is optional.
- 1 pound ground chuck
- 1 pound ground pork
- 1 pound ground veal
- 4 beaten eggs
- 3 large cloves fresh garlic, finely chopped (only use fresh)
- 3 t salt
- 1 1/2 cups freshly grated Parmesan cheese
- 1 1/2 cups bread crumbs, unseasoned
- 1/2 C fresh basil, thinly sliced
- 1/2 C olive oil
- 2 pounds spicy Italian sausage links
- 2 pounds boneless country-style pork or beef ribs (or a combination)
- 6 32 oz cans of premium canned tomatoes
- 1/2 c sugar
- 1/2 c thinly sliced fresh basil
- 6 cloves finely chopped fresh garlic
- 3 t salt (or more, to taste)
In a large bowl, mix together the first nine ingredients. Mix until just incorporated–do not over mix the meat mixture or the meatballs will be tough. Form meat mixture into balls that are 2″ in diameter, or slightly large if you wish. Heat olive oil in a large skillet to a medium high heat. Brown the meatballs in batches, on all sides. Place them in a large Dutch oven or non-stick stock pot as they are browned (they will not be cooked through yet). Keep Dutch oven on medium low heat.
Cut sausage into 1 inch pieces (leave in the casing). Brown in the hot skillet and add to the Dutch oven. Cut boneless ribs into 2” chunks. Brown in the hot skillet until a nice crust appears on all sides. Pour meat and hot oil to the Dutch oven. Cover with remaining ingredients, stir gently, and cover. Simmer over medium low heat for 3-4 hours.
Serve over cooked spaghetti or linguine.