Sunday Gravy Recipe (Nana’s Sunday Sauce)

This Authentic Italian Sunday Gravy recipe is what I grew up eating every week. Nana’s tomato meat sauce holds a fond place in my heart, and her recipe lives on to this day in my recipe box. It’s my most requested recipe and today I’m sharing my family recipe with you.

I grew up in a big, fun Italian family, near Buffalo, NY. We even all lived on the same neighborhood block. My mom’s parents lived next door, then my aunt & uncle, then my mom’s aunt & uncle, and on and on around the entire block, seven houses in total if I count correctly…

Two things I remember most are always having cousins next door, and always having leftover food being transferred between houses.

Leftovers always included such yummy Italian food made from passed down Sicilian recipes. Like, Pasta Succo (pasta with sauce), Cannoli, Carduni, Chicken Soup. The list goes on and on.

Basically – I grew up in food heaven.

Overhead shot of bowl of sunday gravy.

The main cooks in my family were my Nana and Nanu LaMancuso (grandma and grandpa). Nana always made the Pasta Succo and the Cannolis were my Nanu’s specialty.

I actually never got a true lesson on cooking these dishes and my passion for cooking didn’t really come until after I graduated college. Once in a while, my mom would ship me some of nana’s sauce – all the way from New York to Oregon…

My grandparents have both passed on now, and I’ve developed this sauce recipe over the years from my childhood memories and with tips passed on from other family members.  

I’ve got to say that I think it would make Nana proud. It’s got an authentic Italian meaty flavor coming from three different types of meat – Italian sausage, pork and beef.

These meats simmer in the sauce and really give it a great flavor. By the end of the cooking time, they’re falling off the bone and super tender. Meaning that you can serve the meats for dinner that night and save the “succo” (or sauce) for a pasta dinner the next.

Or, you can serve the meats as a second course alongside your pasta.

Either way – You’ve got an amazing Italian feast on your hands and as Nana would say “Mangia! Mangia!” (Eat! Eat!).

Hands holding bowl of sunday gravy.

Sunday Gravy Ingredients

The ingredients for this Italian gravy recipe are simple and available in all grocery stores:

  • Olive oil
  • Pork spareribs – or pork neck bones, pork chops, etc.
  • Beef stew meat – or a small steak
  • Italian sausage – spicy or mild, based on personal preference
  • Garlic cloves
  • Tomato paste – helps to thicken your sauce and add a rich flavor
  • Crushed tomatoes – or whole tomatoes (San Marzano tomatoes are best)
  • Basil 
  • Salt and Pepper 
  • Sugar – this goes in at the end. Add more or less based on how sweet your tomatoes are.

How to make Sunday Gravy

  • Heat oil in a large heavy pot or dutch oven over medium-high heat.
  • Brown the meats in the hot oil and set aside on a plate. Drain all but 2 TBSP of fat from the pot.
  • Add the garlic and cook in the fat from the meat until golden.
  • Discard the cloves – their flavor will still remain in the pot to flavor the sauce.
  • Stir in the tomato paste and cook for 1 minute.
  • Add the tomatoes to the pot, along with water, salt + pepper. Scrape any browned bits from the bottom of the pot with a wooden spoon.
  • Return the meats to the pot and bring sauce to a simmer.
  • Partially cover the pot and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, for at least 2 hours. The long cooking time is what gives that amazing flavor.
  • At the end, add sugar, to taste, and adjust your seasonings one more time with salt and black pepper.
  • Add fresh basil leaves and serve over your favorite pasta, topped with shaved Parmesan.

Variations

  • Meat: Use any combination of meat that you have on hand. Sometimes I’ll use all pork (I find that pork gives the best flavor). Sometimes I’ll leave out the sausage if I’m not serving a large group. But for the best flavor, use at least one cute of meat that has the bones attached. The slow simmering of the meat on the bone gives amazing flavor. Some great options are pork chops, short ribs, pork shoulder, and neck bones. For a more thick + hearty sauce, you could add in some browned, ground pork.
  • Parmesan Rind: If you have a parmesan rind on hand, throw it into your sauce as it simmers for some added delicious flavor!
  • Herbs & Spices: Feel free to add a bit more flavor by adding in a pinch of dried oregano, red pepper flakes, onion powder, garlic powder or Italian seasoning.
  • Red Wine: Try adding in a splash of red wine as your sauce simmers away. It will add color and a bright flavor to your sauce.
Side view of plate of sunday gravy.

FAQ

Why Do They Call it Sunday Gravy?

“Gravy” is another name for sauce, and typically it was served as a big family meal on Sundays.

How Do You Serve Sunday Gravy?

Typically the meats are removed from the sauce and served on the side. The remaining sauce is served with cooked pasta and parmesan on the side, with extra bread for sopping up the sauce, and parmesan cheese for sprinkling on top.

What’s the Difference Between Tomato Sauce and Sunday Gravy?

Sunday gravy is similar to tomato sauce, in the fact that it’s a tomato-based red sauce. However, Sunday Gravy includes meat. Typically flavorful cuts, that are on the bone, like pork ribs, beef, and sausages, are simmered in the sauce all day. It adds a ton of flavor that can’t be matched by a standard marinara sauce. 

Is Sunday Gravy the Same as Bolognese?

No. Sunday Gravy is a sauce made from simmering whole meats, then the simmered meats are served on the side. Bolognese is typically made with ground beef.

How can I Thicken my Sunday Gravy? 

If your sauce is too thin, try simmering it for a bit longer on a bit higher heat (being sure to stir to prevent burning). Simmer it uncovered. This will cook off some of the extra liquids. You can also add in more tomato puree if you have some on hand. Or, if you don’t mind a little extra texture in your sauce, you can stir in some plain breadcrumbs to thicken things up.

Hands holding plate of pasta.

I consider this to be the best Sunday Gravy recipe, and it’s easy to master with some simple steps.

Tips for Making It

  • Use whatever meat you have on hand. Often, our grocery store has a section in the meat department of mark downs. Stuff that’s still good, but needs to be used soon. I’ll throw in a combination of whatever I can find, steaks, beef or pork ribs, stew pieces. No matter the combination, it ends up delicious in the end!
  • You can also make slow cooker Sunday Gravy. Prepare up to Step 11 on your stove, and then throw everything into your slow cooker. Cook on low heat for up to 8 hours.
  • I’ve also updated this recipe so that you can now make it in even quicker with this Instant Pot Sunday Gravy.

Wine Pairings for Sunday Gravy

  • Since we’re eating authentic Italian Meat sauce, I’m going for an authentic Italian wine – Try a Chianti, Barolo or Teroldego.
  • READ MORE —> the BEST pasta wine pairings.
Bowl of pasta with red sauce.

Did you make this pasta sauce?

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What to Serve with It

More Italian recipes:

PS – Need a way to preserve that extra basil? Try my method for how to freeze basil.

Overhead shot of bowl of sunday gravy.

Sunday Gravy Recipe

This Authentic Italian Sunday Gravy is what I grew up eating every week. Nana’s tomato meat sauce holds a fond place in my heart, and her recipe lives on to this day in my recipe box. It’s my most requested recipe and today I’m sharing it with you.
3.92 from 172 votes
Print Pin
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 2 hours
Total Time: 2 hours 10 minutes
Servings: 8 people

Ingredients

  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 lb. pork spareribs
  • 1 lb. beef stew meat
  • 1 lb. Italian sausage ( spicy or mild, based on personal preference)
  • 6 cloves garlic (peeled and left whole)
  • ¼ cup tomato paste
  • 3 28-oz. cans crushed tomatoes
  • 1 cup water
  • 8 leaves fresh basil (torn into small pieces)
  • Salt and Pepper (to taste )
  • 1 Tablespoon sugar (more or less based on the flavor of your tomatoes)
  • Parmesan (shaved, for topping)
  • Pasta

Instructions

  • Heat the oil in a large heavy pot over medium heat.
  • Pat the pork dry and put the pieces in the pot.
  • Cook turning occasionally, for about 15 minutes or until nicely browned on all sides.
  • Transfer pork to a plate.
  • Brown the beef in the same way and add it to the plate.
  • Place the sausages in the pot and brown on all sides.
  • Set the sausages aside with the pork and beef.
  • Drain off most of the fat from the pot.
  • Add the garlic and cook for about 2 minutes or until golden.
  • Remove and discard the garlic.
  • Stir in the tomato paste and cook for 1 minute.
  • Add the tomatoes to the pot.
  • Add the water; season with a pinch salt and pepper. 
  • Return the pork, beef, and sausages to the pot and bring sauce to a simmer.
  • Partially cover the pot and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, for at least 2 hours.
  • If the sauce becomes too thick, add a little more water.
  • At the end, add sugar, to taste, and adjust your seasonings one more time with salt and pepper. Add basil leaves and serve over your favorite pasta, topped with shaved Parmesan.
Did you make this recipe?Mention @platingsandpairings or tag #platingsandpairings!

Nutrition

Calories: 348kcal | Carbohydrates: 4g | Protein: 24g | Fat: 25g | Saturated Fat: 8g | Cholesterol: 87mg | Sodium: 502mg | Potassium: 361mg | Sugar: 2g | Vitamin A: 150IU | Vitamin C: 3.6mg | Calcium: 21mg | Iron: 2.3mg

Be sure to check out my tips on how to clean a dutch oven after using it.

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This post was originally published in 2017. It was updated in 2022 to add new photographs. The original Sunday Sauce recipe remains the same. Enjoy!

76 thoughts on “Sunday Gravy Recipe (Nana’s Sunday Sauce)”

  1. I love recipes like this that are passed down through generations. What a special thing to share – thank you for sharing it with all of us! It sounds absolutely delicious too. I can just imagine how wonderful it must have been growing up with this! I’m sure your Nonna would be so proud that you carry on her tradition 🙂

    Reply
  2. Thanks for sharing this great recipe! I made Sunday Sauce for a personal chef client once. It was the only thing he wanted that day, but it did take me a while! Love heirloom recipes and I look forward to trying this!

    Reply
  3. I like it. It’s simple and good. My family is from Sicily. I would carmelize a couple onions to start off but would substitute beef short ribs for the neck bones. They’re much meatier and really season the gravy well.

    Reply
    • Thank you Morreale – Yes! The best part about this recipe is that you can easily make substitutions based on your preferences or what you have on hand. Enjoy!

      Reply
      • Uhhh maybe you don’t read. Nobody said she used neck bones. They just stated they prefer the neck bone as it has more flavor. They accidentally said beef ribs instead of pork but I’m sure they meant pork. Idiot

        Reply
  4. 5 stars
    Great old school recipe…we add a little white wine when cooking the meat…and drink the rest of the bottle..lol

    Reply
  5. Read the entire recipe and can’t wait to try it. However, there is no way that the prep time could be 10 min. Prepping and browning all 3 meats would take a minimum of 45 min. Peal and brown the garlic. 10 min. Just op opening the cans of tomatoes, tomato paste, and process tomatoes in blender.would take more than 10 min. I would conservatively guess prep time to be an hour. Totally worth it though.

    Reply
  6. 5 stars
    I’m also in the Pacific Northwest, an east coast transplant from a Southern-Italian family. This looks similar to the gravy I make (based on my family recipes). Pork neck bones were always hard to get out here. Now I can’t find them anywhere. Nothing else would be the same. Any suggestions how to get neck bones out here?

    Reply
    • Hi Bonnie – I’ve had the best luck finding pork neck bones at Winco. But whenever I can’t get my hands on them, I usually just use some ribs instead. Hope this helps and thanks for stopping by!

      Reply
      • Thanks! I just called them; out of stock but normally carry it. So best to call ahead. My mom and I used to eat every bit off of those bones before dinner was served (messy!).

        Reply
    • Hi Tara – That’s totally up to you! Sometimes I like to serve them together if we have a big group, but sometimes I serve the meat the first night and the sauce the second night, or vice versa. I hope you enjoy!

      Reply
  7. 5 stars
    Wow! I love it, I grew up in North Buffalo and loved my food! Before I moved away I lived on Santasiero’s.(Lafayette and Niagara). Can’t wait to use this to bring back the home flavor!

    Reply
  8. 5 stars
    Hi Erin, I was just wondering if your nana ever used fresh plum tomatoes? If she did can you please tell me how I can use fresh tomatoes? How many would I need and how to parboil them? Thank you so much.

    Reply
    • Rita, Fresh tomatoes don’t act the same as stewed. Your sauce would be really watery and separate. You would need to cook them like you were canning them first – then they would be fine. Think about how long you boil tomatoes when canning…just do that (and maybe a little longer!)

      AND Erin….this recipe looks amazing. What brand of italian sausage do you use (I live in PDX too)? Have you ever used Silva linguica?

      Reply
      • Hi Jenny – Thank you for the clarification! And, as for sausage, I tend to just use whatever I find in my local store, spicy or mild sausage links. That Silva linguica would probably give it some great flavor though!

        Reply
  9. 4 stars
    Made a pot of sauce tonight on a whim. I have always “cheated” when making sauce and although tonight’s fare tasted good and there was no cheating I wanted to compare it to other recipes when I came across yours. It’s very much the same. I come from an Italian family from Rochester and was too young to be in the kitchen when my grandmother made her delicious, everything fresh and from scratch meals so never really learned how to make a proper Sunday sauce. I see a couple of people who suggest neck bones. The one thing I have always done is use pig hocks (really hard to find these days). They add sooo much wonderful flavor and the meat couldn’t taste better. Thanks for sharing your recipe!

    Reply
    • Try a little less water and a little more paste. Also make sure your lid is cracked just a little to allow the excess moisture to leave the gravy.

      Reply
  10. 5 stars
    This tastes EXACTLY as I remember my mom’s sauce. We are not Italian, but our neighbor Mrs. Finnizzi, taught my mom her recipe for “gravy”. Mrs. Finnizzi sauce used hot and sweet sausage, meat balls with beef/pork but it tasted just like this. I have struggled to reproduce this for years, thank you!

    Reply
  11. I grew Up on the west side of buffalo in the 80s and 90s. My neighborhood was all Italian and we are Irish. We had a lovely little Italian lady who lived next door to us who made sauce every weekend and always sent a huge container over every Sunday. I never Asked Rosie for her recipe, but have been chasing that flavor of sauce for years… I am making Your sauce right now and am happy to tell you It’s so close to Rosie’s sauce from 19th st circa 1987.. I can not wait for my 6 year old daughter to try it! ❤️

    Reply
  12. Wow this is to great. I’m from Buffalo – I never learned how to properly make sauce. I could not find a recipe that had a boned pork cut listed – yet I knew that’s how I saw it done. When I saw I grew up in Buffalo I knew I had a winning recipe – can’t wait to make this 🙂

    Reply
  13. 5 stars
    I have made this sauce twice; GREAT we love it. have had to cut it half as there is only two us to eat it. I cut the tomatoes in half and the meat sometimes we add Italian meatballs. leave the spices as for a whole batch. simmer in a slow cooker for about 10 hours. best sauce/gravy I have ever tasted. we use spare ribs for the pork.

    Reply
  14. I use meatballs instead of stew meat fry them till browned then throw them in with ribs and sausage. I like to cook mine until it’s almost a deep red /orange. I add a little sugar to counter the garlic and use onions browned as well – bay leaves,basil and oregano salt and pepper. Thanks for your recipe- I like seeing variations on my mom’s recipe.

    Reply
  15. My husband talks often of his Italian grandmother’s pasta sauce but doesn’t know how to explain much more than “it was thin… barely there… and the best I’ve ever had.” Not helpful. Lol. The picture you posted with this recipe looks like this might be thin. Do you think this might be the type of sauce he’s looking for, and, if not, do you have any recipes for the type of sauce he’s explaining? Thanks. 🙂

    Reply
    • You can serve those meats on the side as well. I don’t normally shred them and add to the sauce, but you can totally do that if you prefer a heartier meat sauce. Hope that helps!

      Reply
  16. Hey quick question. Do I leave the spare ribs on the bone? Or will they become so tender that they just fall off the bone and I will just have to discard the bones from the sauce?

    Reply
    • Hi Rob – I often serve the ribs and other meats on the side, not actually in the sauce. However, the meat will definitely be fall of the bone tender and you can shred that up and leave it in the sauce if you prefer. Hope that helps!

      Reply
  17. Can’t wait to try this! Have shied away from making sauce, but can just TELL that this’ll be GOOD! Thank you!

    Reply
  18. My mom, in the 1950’s, learned to cook Italian from her sister-in-law, Aunt Marie, and family, coincidentally, also from Buffalo – I was born in Batavia, but that ain’t germane to the story…lol. I came along later, but the Italian love in her cooking inspired me to give this a real try. It’s been a couple years since I actually made “gravy,” but it was an at-least every-other-week if not more staple growing up. My roommate went out today with a friend, and on returning noticed. As soon as you open the door, gravy joy smacks you right in the face. Thank you for this recipe. I use country style ribs, stew meat and hot Italian sausage, leave the garlic in (how I was taught), add mushrooms and my secret ingredient (oops), a splash or two of Chianti. Just like-a mama, and auntie, used to make-a. Awesome! Thanks again.

    Reply
  19. 5 stars
    Erin, I really appreciate you sharing your Nana’s recipe. It looks perfect to accompany any pasta. Thanks so much for all your helpful tips as well.

    Reply
  20. 4 stars
    We are visiting my Nona for the final time most likely this week as she has terminal cancer. This recipe is VERY close to the gravy I learned to make with my Momma Nona and Nonno as a small boy. So feeling nostalgic, I made the Sunday gravy on a Wednesday night.
    The only differences between our recipes are
    1: I used jars of tomato sauce from Nonnos garden in the same quantity.
    2: After browning the meats and removing the browned. garlic and adding my paste, I deglazed the pan with as Nonno would say “un assaggio di vino”.
    3: I made bracciole, meatballs of pork and veal and home made sausages.
    4: I added two bay leaves to the pot once it came to a simmer.
    5: We always use a generous amount of fresh oregano with the basil.
    I didn’t add any sugar as the tomato’s Nona makes are already sweetened just a bit. My wife is Italian and told me “ questo è il sugo della mia giovinezza. il mio sugo di nonas“ which means that it is just like the gravy her Nona made when she was a girl. I find the differences between heirloom recipes with interesting. Yours is the real thing! Thank you for sharing.

    Reply
  21. 5 stars
    I made this without any deviance. It smelled like my grandmother’s house every Saturday night in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Your recipe is much simpler that others and it was absolutely irresistible and authentic. THANK YOU!!!!!!!!!!!

    Reply
    • Thanks April! Yes, I do leave the casings on the sausage. Then I serve them on the side. I hope you love this recipe. It’s the one I make the most over and over again!

      Reply
  22. 5 stars
    Hi Erin,
    I am a teacher, and today I was blessed with a teach from home virtual day due to ice concerns. Your sauce is on my stove right now, and it smells and tastes wonderful. I did add some onion, and only had hot italian turkey sausage on hand, but no concerns here. I grew up eating my Italian Aunt Joanie’s spaghetti sauce, but have never been able to recreate it. Alzheimer’s disease stole her and her recipe 🙁 My daughter, husband and I all agree your recipe is pretty darn close! Thanks for the olafactory and gustatory memory. I am excited to serve this for dinner tonight.

    Reply

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