Goodfella’s Sunday Gravy
I love movies. They are a great way to get the flavor of different cultures, and some of the most iconic movies have undercurrents showcasing the best of their cuisines. Two of the greatest gangster movies are perfect examples of this. In The Godfather, there is a moment where “Fat Pete” Clemenza, Don Corleone’s top captain, teaches his son how to make a sauce for “20 guys someday.” Likewise, in Goodfellas, there is a scene where Paulie Cicero and Vinnie are making the red sauce in prison.
This recipe is loosely based on both of those recipes and is a rich, full-bodied sauce. In addition, Italian “Sunday Gravy” is an excellent general-purpose red sauce.
A Note on Bronze Dye Pasta
I use a bronze dye pasta when preparing any pasta dish, which is different from the lower quality supermarket pasta. The dye is connected directly to the mixing tank, and it extrudes the dough of semolina and eggs into a pasta sheet. Using pasta made by passing through a bronze dye is prepared slower. The result is a pasta with micro ridges and valleys that allows the sauce to adhere to the surface. Henceforth, home cooks using industrial pasta can’t get the same texture and flavor as fine Italian restaurants.
I prefer Rustichella d’Abruzzo pasta or Marcelli Formaggi (mail order) for high-quality pasta available in the US. However, you may very well have a local pasta maker worth exploring, so don’t be afraid to try them out.
For High-Quality Pasta and Tomatoes
See our Shop Ingredients section for quality artisan Italian bronze dye pasta and recommended authentic San Marzano tomatoes. My personal favorite are Gustarosso or Sapori Vesuviani Piennolo del Vesuvio DOP. In addition, there are fine Californian plum tomatoes offered, such as Muir Glen and (in a pinch) Red Gold.
Just as most of the European Extra Virgin Olive oil imported to the US is low quality, the same is true for 95% of San Marzano tomatoes. These products are voluntarily regulated and arbitrary for producers, which means many items sold for higher prices may have questionable quality. As professional cooks, we know the difference. I hope this post helps you recreate authentic restaurant-quality tastes at home.
Vecchia Scuola Italian Salsa di Pomodoro (Old School Italian Red Sauce)
- heavy pot with lid
- chef knife
- cutting board
- measuring cups and spoons
- saute pan
- Microplane zester
- Microplane mandoline (optional)
- 4 tbsp olive oil, good quality
- 1 lb pork neck bones, meaty (See Recipe Notes below for substitutes)
- 1 lb beef shank
- 1 lb Italian sweet sausage
Tomato, Spices, and Wine
- ½ whole sweet white onion, finely minced
- 4 cloves garlic, very thinly sliced or grated through a Microplane
- ¾ cup white wine, good quality or fruity red, also good quality (Pinto Grigio (white) or Valpolicella (Red))
- 2 6 oz cans tomato paste
- 2 28 oz cans Italian San Marzano DOP tomatoes, peeled, seeded and puréed
- 6 leaves fresh basil, torn
- 6 leaves fresh mint, torn (optional)
- ½ tsp red pepper flakes
- 2 cups water
Finish the Sauce
- 1 tsp sugar, granulated/caster (or to taste)
- 1 knob butter, or olive oil to finish
- To taste salt
- To taste pepper
- 1 drizzle oil, olive extra-virgin
- ½ tbsp parley, Italian, finely chopped
- 1 tbsp Parmigiano-Reggiano, grated or shaved
- 1 tbsp Pecorino Romano, grated or shaved
- 1 tbsp ricotta cheese (optional)
- In a large, heavy pot (or Dutch Oven) over medium heat, add the olive oil and bring it up to temperature. Never overheat the oil to smoking.
- Season the meaty pork bones and beef shank with salt and pepper. Place into the preheated pot. Let the meat sear, forming a nice brown crust on one side. Turn over and repeat on the other side. Try not to overcrowd the meat. (Depending on the size of your pot, it may take a few batches to brown all the meat.) Remove the meat from the pot and separate the meat from the bones—Reserve the cooked meat to another dish.
- Next, add the sausage to the same pot (building the fond) and cook through until all sides of the sausage have color. Remove from the pot and place the sausage links with the separated pork neck, beef shank meat. Reserve
- Drain most of the fat from the pot. Leave 1-2 tbsp of fat, and add the finely minced onion. Stir the onion and cook for 2 minutes. Next, add the thinly sliced garlic and stir in with the onions. Cook for an additional 2 minutes. Be careful not to brown the garlic; make it fragrant. Next, add the red pepper flakes, torn basil leaves, and mint leaves (optional).
- Deglaze with ½ cup of white wine. Stir the mixture and scrape up the brown bits on the bottom of the pot. Cook until almost all of the wine has been cooked out.
- (Remove bones first!) Then, add the tomato paste and the peeled/seeded Italian tomatoes. If using peeled whole tomatoes, crush them slightly with the back of a spoon or tongs. Next, stir into the pot along with the 2 cups of water. Reduce the heat to barely a simmer. Return the pork neck, beef shank meat (No bones) to the sauce. Place the lid slightly ajar and cook for two hours. If the sauce has become too thick, add a bit of water. (The sauce can also be run through a blender at the very end to make it super smooth.)
- Check the sauce for acidity and add a pinch of sugar (if needed)—salt and pepper to taste.
- If you wish to add homemade meatballs, this is the time. Heat everything through.