Sunday Gravy

Sunday gravy with pasta

The Spruce / Leah Maroney

Prep: 10 mins
Cook: 4 hrs
Total: 4 hrs 10 mins
Servings: 6
Yields: 5 cups

Sunday gravy is a quintessential Italian-American staple. Although it’s called a “gravy,” it’s not like your traditional Thanksgiving brown gravy. Rather, it's a hearty, tomato-based sauce that’s filled with lots of different Italian meats. Some choose meatballs, sausages, and ribs, while others add beef or even pancetta.

While there is no definitive etymology of this use of "gravy," it is speculated that Italian-American immigrants called their family sauce recipe a "gravy" to make it sound more American and to assimilate into American culture. But whether you call it sauce or gravy, one thing is certain, it’s delicious. 


  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 country pork ribs (bone-in or boneless)
  • 1/2 pound beef stew meat
  • 2 sweet Italian sausages
  • 2 hot Italian sausages
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 3 large carrots, minced
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 5 cloves garlic, minced (divided)
  • 1 (8-ounce) can tomato paste
  • 2 (28-ounce) cans whole peeled tomatoes
  • 1 (16-ounce) can tomato sauce
  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon oregano
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • Parmesan cheese rind
  • Serving Suggestions: pasta and freshly grated Parmesan or pecorino

Steps to Make It

  1. Gather your ingredients.

    Sunday gravy ingredients
  2. Heat the olive oil on high heat in a large heavy-bottomed pot. Add the pork ribs and cook without disturbing the meat until it is browned, about 2 minutes. Then flip and brown on the opposite side. Remove the meat from the pot and set aside. The meat does not need to be cooked through.

    pork ribs cooked in a pot
  3. Add the beef stew meat to the pot in one even layer, cook on high heat without disturbing the meat until it is browned, about 2 minutes. Flip the meat to brown on another side. Once browned, remove from the pan and place along with the pork.

    browned beef in a pot
  4. In the same pot, add the sausages. You can either cut them or brown them whole. Brown on each side as you did with the other meats. Remove from the pot once browned.

    cooked sausages in a pan
  5. Turn the heat down to medium. Add the diced onion, minced carrots, and half of the minced garlic to the hot oil. Add the salt and saute for 2 to 3 minutes or until the vegetables are just softened. They will have much more cooking time in the sauce.

    sautéed vegetables in a pot
  6. Add the tomato paste to the vegetables and saute until the tomato paste is warmed through. 

    tomato paste and vegetables in a dutch oven
  7. Add the remaining garlic, whole peeled tomatoes, tomato sauce, pepper, oregano, and sugar. Stir until the ingredients are incorporated, breaking up the tomatoes with a wooden spoon.

    sauce in a dutch oven
  8. Add the meats back to the pot. Cover the pot with its lid and lower the heat to low. Simmer for an hour.

    Sunday gravy cooking gin a pot
  9. Then add in the parmesan cheese rind. Simmer, uncovered for another 1 to 2 hours, or up to 5 hours. Stir as needed to prevent the bottom from burning. Add more salt as needed.

    sunday gravy with parmesan cheese rind
  10. Remove the pot from the stove and break up the meat as much or as little as you like. 

    Sunday gravy with meats cut up
  11. Serve with fresh pasta and a grating of parmesan or pecorino cheese.

    Sunday gravy with pasta

    Recipe Tip

    • Often times the meat is removed from the sauce and served on a separate plate.

    What is the Difference Between Sauce and Gravy?

    This question really just depends on who you are and where you are from. Often, Italian-American immigrants referred to their classic Italian sauce as "gravy" to assimilate into American culture. Some Italian-American immigrants would still refer to their sauce as "ragu" or just sauce.

    How Do I Thicken My Sunday Gravy?

    There should be no thickeners added to a Sunday Gravy since it is a tomato-based sauce. If cooked long enough without a lid, the sauce will thicken on its own since the excess water will have cooked off. Just make sure to stir, in order to prevent the bottom from burning.

    What is a Traditional Italian Sunday Dinner?

    An Italian Sunday dinner is really all about family. It's a time to get together and gather around food. Often an antipasto platter is served with cheeses and meats, then some sort of meat and tomato sauce, like our Sunday gravy above, and pasta. Other things like braciole, chicken cutlets, broccoli rabe, and salads are also served. It really depends on your family's traditions and tastes. The dinner lasts all afternoon and evening and usually ends with fruits, cakes, and coffee.

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