Italian-American Sunday Gravy recipe

Ever since I moved to Moab, I’ve promised Joan I’d make a batch of what people of a certain generation, ethnic group, and region of the country called “Sunday Gravy.”

“Sunday Gravy” is the Italian-American spin on Neapolitan Ragu.  Call it sauce, gravy, or ragu.  It is yummy. And something I wrote about before.

After making a batch recently, and posting a photo, some friends asked me for my recipe.

Being me,  I have to say there is no one, correct, and absolute way to make Neapolitan style-ragu..aka tomato sauce..aka “Sunday Gravy.”

And being me. I have to tell a story first. 🙂

I do enjoy telling a story a smidge. And perhaps talk with my hands a bit. And may have had a glass of wine or two. 🙂 PCO Joe W.

The whole key to making Italian-American Sunday Gravy is to make it “low and slow.” Let it take time. I let my “gravy” start sometime in the evening, and don’t serve it until the following evening.

But, is it “authentic?” Anthony Bourdain asked the same question when did his “Red Sauce Trail” episode in Naples. Bourdain did his usual traveling to gourmet restaurants. And street scenes abounded. I always chuckle when I hear the word “STUNAD!” in the background. Some person from Naples yells at Boudain and crew in Neapolitan to express displeasure. A word I did NOT learn in Mrs. DiPretes’s Italian class back in high school. 🙂

The highlight, though? A member of the Naples crew invited Bourdain to his mother’s house. A real Napoli Sunday dinner. I doubt the residents of Napoli would call what they ate “gravy.” What I do know is that the Nonna had a large stock pot on the stove, the tomato-based sauce had the meat slowly simmering, then you hear the “PLOP!” “PLOP!” “PLOP!” sound resonating. Scenes from my childhood..and for many others where there is a vibrant Italian-American community.

The family meal starts at around 30:00

So here’s a recipe for “Sunday Gravy”. One of the many that people use. There is not that much difference between the recipes. What I list below is not a recipe. I just wing it. Think of the ideas below as a suggestion! Just do it low and slow. Share it with friends and family after. And do not rush the meal. I guarantee it will taste good.

Macaroni is a traditional course. Meat and greens the second. But a little more macaroni is always welcome.


2  – 28 oz cans crushed tomatoes OR equivalent fresh garden tomatoes boiled down if you are lucky!
1  – 6oz can tomato paste
Olive oil
1 carrot (adds natural sweetness, helps cut down on acid or metallic taste)
5 cloves garlic
1 large onion
Fresh basil, parsley, oregano, bay leaves
Salt, pepper, red pepper
Balsamic vinegar
Red Wine
3 lbs various cuts of meat (pork cutlets, stew meat, sausage ended up being on sale, so that is what I used. Mix it up!)


Add olive oil to the bottom of stock pot.
Simmer on low heat
Sautee’ onions until glassy. Add garlic and saute’. Do not brown.
Add canned tomatoes. Stir
Add salt, pepper, red pepper to taste. Stir.
Add basil, oregano, Italian parsley, bay leaves. Stir.
Add finely diced carrot. Stir
Add a splash or two of balsamic vinegar. Stir.
Add tomato paste and stir.
I’ll give a quick taste at this point and might add more of the above herbs, spice, or even vinegar.

Next, brown meat in a little bit of oil on a frying pan. Set to side as you brown each type of meat. Place the meat in the stock pot when done. Stir in the pot and slowly simmer. Deglaze the frying pan with red wine and add the goodness to your stock pot. Stir again.

Cook all the above on a low flame. Shut off at night, leave on the stove to marinate, bring it back up again the following day. Taste and adjust as appropriate.


Serve with ziti, penne, or similar. Top with pecorino romano or similar cheese.

Add “greens and beans” soup, sauteed greens, cold cuts, cheese, chilled broccoli with lemon and olive oil, frittata, salad, fresh fruit, nuts, dried figs, dates, pizzelle to get the full Sunday meal experience. 🙂

My brothers and I with Grandma Magnanti around 1980. I’m the oldest. With a thick head of black hair at one time!

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5 years ago

Perfect. Gotta love Sundays! Add a loaf of good como or something with a nice chewy crust…

5 years ago

That doesn’t sound bad, but my grandma said that oregano was for posers. Not really, but she never put it in any sauce she made.

Tom Sabido
Tom Sabido
5 years ago

Great post, as always. Is there a way to adapt your recipe so that the sauce can be dehydrated, vacuum sealed, and later rehydrated on the trail?

Tom Sabido
Tom Sabido
5 years ago
Reply to  Paul Mags

Thanks! I will check out the link

5 years ago

I hope that’s escarole in the greens dish 😉