I’m not sure if this is an authentic Italian recipe or a Northeast American Italian recipe. I do know this, though: there are as many traditional family variations of this pasta sauce as there are Italian Nonnas. What is common is the freshness of the ingredients. Freshly diced onion, minced garlic cloves and fresh basil leaves are used in place of dried herbs and spices. I use Italian canned tomatoes, but if you’re being totally authentic, you can peel and hand-mash sweet plum tomatoes into the sauce.
Where the difference lies is in the meat. If you add meat to the sauce, it’s called gravy. And get a load of this gravy — it’s not finalized yet, but the aroma filling your kitchen is going to make you wish it were!
I like mine with beefy short rib, Italian sausage and of course, meatballs like these!
Others prefer to slow cook braciola in the sauce. Both Sunday sauce and Sunday gravy benefit from slowly simmering all-day long. This can be accomplished in a large pot on the stovetop, in a slow cooker or my preference, in a Dutch oven, cooked in my oven, set on low heat. Regardless of which you use, the pot does matter. You need a heavy pot to handle the day-long cooking.
Browning the meat is essential to get those yummy flavors into the pot, as well as searing the tenderness into the beef and sausage. In contrast, when you add the onions and garlic to the pot, you want softness, not too much color. Make sure to turn down the heat so you don’t burn the veggies. Deglazing the pot with a bit (or a lot) of wine, gathers all those tasty brown bits for the start of the sauce.
Whichever sauce you choose, make a big batch. Leftover gravy not only freezes well, but you can use the sausage and meatballs in hoagies; the short rib meat is an excellent filling for ravioli. Making Sunday Gravy on Sunday is freeing! The recipe allows you to prepare it in the morning and walk away for hours. When it’s time to call the family to the table (and they will be pestering you all day from the aroma wafting around the house), drop the pasta into boiling, salted water and take the top off that simmering pot. The rich sauce is done and ready to ladle. If you’re more of a visual learner check out my #AtHomeIntheKitchen segment below…
Making Italian style gravy: a short video
And here’s the recipe for nonnas, nanas or just about anyone who loves a good pasta!! A disclaimer, though: a starving grandchild ate every last meatball from my plate before I took this shot…
Serves 6 or more
All Day Cuisine
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 meaty beef short ribs
3 teaspoons kosher salt
2 teaspoons coarse black pepper
4 links Italian sausage
2 large white onions, peeled and diced, about 2 cups
6 garlic cloves, peeled and minced, about 2 tablespoons
2 cups red wine
2 (28-ounce cans) crushed tomatoes
1 (6-ounce) can tomato paste
1 quart homemade beef stock, or prepared low sodium broth
2 teaspoons granulated sugar
12 (2-inch) meatballs (see Cook’s Tip for recipe)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
1 pound dried fettucine pasta
Heat the olive oil in a Dutch oven (or large pot) over medium high heat. Season the short ribs with salt and pepper. Brown the short ribs on all sides until they are well browned. This should take you about 10 minutes. Transfer the short ribs to a platter.
Cut the sausage links in half creating two smaller links. Cook the sausage in the oil until well browned, about 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer the sausage to the same platter as the short ribs.
Reduce the heat to medium, add the onions to the oil, and cook until softened and beginning to turn golden, about 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic. Pour in the wine. Simmer until the wine almost completely disappears. Pour in the crushed tomatoes. Stir in the tomato paste. Pour in three cups of the beef stock. Stir in the sugar and season with salt and pepper. Add the short ribs and sausage back to the sauce. Cover and simmer on very low heat until the rib meat is falling off the bone, 4 hours or more on the stove top, 8 hours on low in a slow cooker, or 6 hours in a 250°oven.
Preheat the oven to 400°. Coat a rimmed baking sheet with 1 tablespoon olive oil. Place the meatballs onto the baking sheet and gently roll them in the oil. Bake until the meatballs are cooked through and the outside are golden brown, about 15 minutes. Gently place the meatballs into the sauce. Add the fresh basil. Simmer for at least another 30 minutes. If your sauce is too thick, you can add more beef stock. If your sauce is too thin, you can stir in more tomato paste. Taste and add more salt if you like.
Cook pasta in salted boiling water according to the directions on the package. Drain the pasta and pour into a large bowl. Ladle some of the Sunday Gravy over the pasta and toss to coat the noodles. Ladle more sauce over the pasta and include the short rib meat, sausage and meatballs. Sprinkle with additional fresh basil. Serve family style with grated Parmesan cheese on the side.
You can purchase prepared meatballs in the butcher department of the grocery store. But, if you would like to make your own, it’s easy to do. Soak 2 to 3 slices of bread with about ¼ cup milk for 10 minutes. Place ¾ pound of lean ground beef with ¾ pound ground pork in a small bowl. Season with ½ teaspoon dried oregano, 1 teaspoon chopped fresh parsley, 1 tablespoon of grated Parmesan cheese, salt and pepper. Add the bread and any excess milk to the meat. Use your hands to gently combine all the ingredients and form into 2-inch balls. The gentler your hands, the fluffier the meatball.