Celebrate World Pasta Day by making your own special Sunday sauce on a weeknight. Sunday sauce, also known as Sunday gravy, is an Italian tradition, and the recipes for Sunday sauce are handed down from generation to generation. Each family has its own special Sunday gravy recipe, and we’ll share ours with you.
Western New York shoppers can find good quality olive oil at the Lexington Co-op, Budwey’s Markets, Tops Markets or Wegmans. Premier Gourmet also has a great selection of olive oil.
Tops Markets, Budwey’s and Wegmans also have good quality meats, perfect for your Sunday sauce recipe.
It’s important to buy the best extra-virgin olive oil you can afford, but don’t use a dipping or tasting olive oil, as it has a low smoke point.
Use flat leaf Italian parsley, not curly parsley. The flavor is in the flat leaf Italian parsley.
Fennel is also known as anise, and you’ll need both the stalk and the fronds from a fresh bulb.
Sunday sauce or gravy recipe
Extra-virgin olive oil (the best you can afford, you’ll need about 1/2 cup to get the flavor you want)
2 to 3 pounds of bone-in pork ribs or loin
1 head garlic (you’re going to use at least 6 cloves)
1/2 small red onion
1 bunch fresh flat leaf Italian parsley (the flavor is in the flat leaf, not the curly)
2 to 3 stalks fresh fennel with fronds (also known as Anise – can be found in the produce section – looks a little like celery)
6 cans (28 ounces each) crushed tomatoes (do not use crushed tomatoes in heavy puree)
Grated Parmesan and/or Romano cheese (I highly recommend a blend of both cheeses)
Start with the largest (at least 8 quart) stockpot you have. It should have a heavy bottom so that the sauce doesn’t burn. Heat the pan on medium high heat. Slowly and carefully add 1/4 cup of olive oil. Then add the bone-in pork***. Allow to brown completely on one side (about 30 minutes) at medium heat. When one side is browned, CAREFULLY flip, add more olive oil if needed, and allow to brown on second side (another 30 minutes or so).
Roughly chop 3 to 4 cloves and 1/2 small red onion. Once the pork has browned on both sides reduce heat to medium and add the garlic and onion and allow to get golden brown, but NOT burned! DO NOT BURN THE GARLIC, as it will have a bitter flavor. You may find you need to turn the heat down to low.
Cut the bottom 1 inch of stems off the fresh parsley.
While cooking the garlic and onions, in the food processor, finely chop another 2 to 3 cloves of garlic, the fennel, and the parsley stems you cut off (Italians waste nothing).
Add this mixture to the browned bone-in pork, along with 4 cans of crushed tomatoes. Stir to mix completely. Now, add 2 tsp. crushed dried basil and 1 tsp. crushed dried oregano. Cover and simmer on LOW heat for about 4 to 6 hours, stirring at least once every couple of hours. It’s getting close to done when the bone-in pork falls apart.
While waiting, add 2 more cloves of garlic to the food processor, along with a few more stalks of fennel with the fronds. Process until finely minced. Roughly chop 1/2 to 1 cup flat leaf parsley LEAVES only.
When pork starts falling apart, remove from pot. Stir 2 more cans crushed tomatoes, the garlic/fennel mixture, a little more basil, a little more oregano and the roughly chopped parsley leaves. Cover and simmer on LOW another 3to 4 hours, stirring at least 4 times. Stir in 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesano (or Romano, Italians aren’t picky in that respect), simmer on LOW 1 more hour, stirring at least once.
Rachael’s Recipe Notes for perfect Sunday Gravy:
I buy Western style pork ribs with the bone-in to use in the gravy. My great-grandmother used to buy a mixture of meats – pork, veal & beef – all with the bone-in. It needs the bone-in for the flavor.
I usually make this several days before Christmas and let “set” in a covered air-tight container in the fridge, then reheat and add cooked Italian sausage, cooked meatballs and the pork to about half of it and serve that with spaghetti (linguine is best – it holds the meat better). The other half I serve with no meat over manicotti.
If you can’t afford freshly grated Parmesan cheese, Kraft grated Parmesan will do in a pinch. If you don’t like a lot of garlic, cut back a little bit.
Italians are a frugal bunch by nature. They use what they have, what they can afford. Don’t get fancy. Use what you have. My great-grandfather used to raise rabbits and that’s what my great-grandmother used in cacciatore. For years, I didn’t know the difference, until I figured out that the bunnies were disappearing.
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