Italian 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.” In Goodfellas there is a scene where Paulie Cicero and Vinnie are making red sauce in prison.
This recipe is loosely based on both of those recipes and is a rich, full-bodied sauce. Italian “Sunday Gravy,” is a great general purpose red sauce that can be doubled, if needed, and frozen for another day. Combine this with our homemade meatballs from this blog for a perfect Italian dish, sure to please everyone.
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 pastas. Using a bronze dye has the same characteristics of homemade egg pasta, along with the careful selection of ingredients and slow drying.
The dye is connected directly to the mixing tank and it is used to extrude the dough of semolina and eggs into a pasta sheet. Thanks to the bronze die, the surface of the pasta sheet stays rough and, since it works slowly, the dough is not damaged or overheated. Mass produced pasta skips this step and uses steel or teflon dyes which speed up the process, but stretches the surface of the pasta to produce a shiny and slick product. Industrial made pasta makes it difficult for any sauce to adhere to surface. This is why home cooks using industrial pasta can’t get the same texture and flavor of fine Italian restaurants.
For high quality pasta available in the US I prefer Rustichella d’Abruzzo pasta or Marcelli Formaggi (mail order). You may very well have a local pasta maker that is 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. There are fine Californian plum tomatoes offered as well, 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 are sold for higher prices with questionable quality. As professional cooks we are expected to 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)
I like to make a huge batch of this sauce and freeze it to have a taste of summer during the winter months. Be sure to read through all of the instructions before you begin.
- 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
- 1/2 whole sweet white onion, finely minced
- 4 cloves garlic, very thinly sliced
- 3/4 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 tomatoes, peeled, seeded and puréed
- 6 leaves fresh basil, torn
- 6 leaves fresh mint, torn (optional)
- 2 cups water
- 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
- 1 tsp sugar (or to taste)
- 1 knob butter or olive oil to finish
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp pepper
- 1 tbsp ricotta cheese (optional)
In a large heavy pot (or Dutch Oven) over medium heat, add the olive oil and bring up to temperature. Never overheat the oil to smoking.
Season the meaty pork bones and stew meat 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 over crowd the meat. (Depending on the size of your pot, it may take a few batches to brown all the meat.) Once all the meat has been browned, remove and reserve in another mixing bowl or large plate.
Add the sausage to the same pot (using the fond) and cook through until all sides of the sausage are browned. Remove from the pot and place the sausages with the pork neck and beef.
Drain most of the oil from the pot. Leave 1-2 tbsp of oil and add the finely minced onion. Stir the onion and cook for 2 minutes. Add the thinly sliced garlic and stir in with the onions. Cook for an additional 2 minutes. Be careful not to brown the garlic, just soften it.
Deglaze with 1/2 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.
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. Stir into the pot along with the 2 cups of water. The sauce can also be run through a blender at the very end to make it super smooth. (Just remember to remove bones first!)
Add all the meat/sausages along with any accumulated juices into the pot with the tomatoes. Bring to a low simmer. Partially cover with a loose fitting lid.
Cook the tomato sauce at a low simmer for at least two hours. Stir the sauce often to check moisture content and ensure nothing sticks. If the sauce has become too thick, add a bit of water.
Check the sauce for sweetness and add a pinch of sugar (if needed). Salt and pepper to taste.
After the sauce has cooked, remove any bones and discard. If you wish to add homemade meatballs, this is the time. Heat everything through.