Italian-American Sunday Gravy Recipe

Sunday gravy with pasta

The Spruce / Leah Maroney

Prep: 10 mins
Cook: 4 hrs
Total: 4 hrs 10 mins
Servings: 6 servings
Yield: 5 cups
Nutrition Facts (per serving)
832 Calories
33g Fat
95g Carbs
43g Protein
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Nutrition Facts
Servings: 6
Amount per serving
Calories 832
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 33g 42%
Saturated Fat 10g 50%
Cholesterol 89mg 30%
Sodium 1775mg 77%
Total Carbohydrate 95g 35%
Dietary Fiber 10g 37%
Total Sugars 21g
Protein 43g
Vitamin C 30mg 151%
Calcium 187mg 14%
Iron 9mg 48%
Potassium 1639mg 35%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)

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.

Depending on the family tradition, Sunday gravy is sometimes called Sunday sauce, or even ragu. Whether you call it sauce or gravy, one thing is certain: it’s delicious. The recipe is straightforward, and the sauce is slow-cooked in a pot for many hours, allowing the flavor to really develop. Once done, it's served over pasta and becomes part of a larger Sunday family dinner alongside other tasty dishes.


  • 3 tablespoons olive oil

  • 3 bone-in or boneless country pork ribs

  • 1/2 pound beef stew meat

  • 2 sweet Italian sausages

  • 2 hot Italian sausages

  • 1 large onion, diced

  • 3 carrots, minced

  • 5 cloves garlic, minced, divided

  • 1 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste

  • 1 (8-ounce) can tomato paste

  • 2 (28-ounce) cans whole peeled tomatoes

  • 2 (8-ounce) cans tomato sauce

  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

  • 1 tablespoon oregano

  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar

  • Parmesan cheese rind

  • Cooked pasta, for serving

  • Freshly grated Parmesan cheese, or pecorino, for serving

Steps to Make It

  1. Gather the 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 sauté 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 1 hour.

    Sunday gravy cooking gin a pot
  9. Add 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. Serve and enjoy.

    Sunday gravy with pasta


    • Often, the meat is removed from the sauce and served on a separate plate.
    • For a vegetarian Sunday gravy, skip the meat and cook the remaining ingredients according to the recipe. Leave out the Parmesan rind to make the dish vegan.

    Why Is It Called Sunday Gravy?

    The long cooking time means Sunday gravy is often reserved for Sunday dinners when the entire family could get together for a big meal. In this context, there really is no difference between gravy and sauce; it really just depends on who you are and where you are from. It is speculated that Italian-American immigrants called their family sauce recipe a "gravy" to make it sound more American and assimilate into American culture. Some Italian-American immigrants would still refer to their sauce as "ragu" or just sauce.

    How Do I Thicken Sunday Gravy?

    Since it is a tomato-based sauce, there should be no thickeners added to a Sunday gravy. If cooked long enough without a lid, the excess water will cook-off and the sauce will thicken on its own. Just make sure to stir often 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, which varies with a family's traditions and tastes. An antipasto platter is often served with cheeses and meats, then some sort of meat and tomato sauce (like Sunday gravy) and pasta. Other dishes like braciole, chicken cutlets, broccoli rabe, and salads are also served. The dinner lasts all afternoon and evening and usually ends with fruits, cakes, and coffee.