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Sunday Gravy - Whether you call this gravy or sauce - this authentic Italian recipe is pure comfort food!

Say the words Sunday Gravy and just about everyone has an opinion! Should this amazing tomato and meat sauce be called “gravy” or “sauce”?

Either way, sugo della domenica or Sunday’s sauce – is a general term among Italians for a ‘special mama’s sauce’. Here in America, Sunday Gravy is most commonly associated with a tomato-based sauce that is cooked with a variety of meats including meatballs, pork chops, spare ribs and sausage.

Sunday gravy takes hours to cook to achieve the rich, deep flavor that inspires the love that so many people have for this dish – and the sauce is typically served over pasta with meat on the side.

Sunday Gravy - Whether you call this gravy or sauce - this authentic Italian recipe is pure comfort food!

My husband Jack grew up eating Sunday Gravy – and in his family, they actually did call it sauce and not gravy! 🙂 Every Sunday, the entire family would gather at his grandparents’ house for Sunday supper – and a delicious meal was enjoyed including this Sunday Gravy over pasta, Grandma Genacco’s Beef Braciole, and other Italian family classics.

So whether you call this gravy or sauce – this Sunday Gravy recipe is pure, delicious Italian comfort food for the soul. Mangia!

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Sunday Gravy - A Family Feast

Sunday Gravy

  • Prep Time: 15 mins
  • Cook Time: 2 hours 30 mins
  • Total Time: 2 hours 45 minutes
  • Yield: 10-12 servings


We recommend preparing this on Saturday – the day before your Sunday meal – so the flavors can meld. Also – prep time listed does not include time to prep meatballs.


  • ½ of this recipe for Italian-Style Meatballs, see here
  • 1 cup extra virgin olive oil, divided
  • 1 pound beef shin steak, or other bone-in beef cut
  • 1 ½ pounds lean bone in pork chops
  • 1 ¼ pounds pork spareribs (56 ribs)
  • 1 pound Italian sweet sausage
  • 2 cups chopped onions
  • 2 tablespoons chopped garlic
  • 2 teaspoons chopped fresh mint, divided
  • 2 teaspoons chopped fresh basil, divided
  • ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes, divided
  • 2 6-ounce cans tomato paste
  • 2 28-ounce cans crushed good quality tomato such as Cento or Pastene
  • 5 cups of water
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper


  1. Make raw meatballs according to recipe (see here) and roll into 12 even balls. Do not fry ahead but set aside refrigerated.
  2. In a large heavy bottomed pot or Dutch oven, heat ¼ cup of the olive oil over medium to medium high heat and brown all meat in three batches. Each batch should take about 3-4 minutes on each side. Do not crowd pan. As each batch is browned on both sides, remove to a platter.
  3. Next fry the meatballs on all sides and set aside.
  4. Add the remaining olive oil to the pan drippings and add onions, garlic, half of mint, half of basil and half of the red pepper flakes. Cook about three minutes or until onions are transparent scraping up all brown bits from the bottom.
  5. Add tomato paste and stir to combine. Add canned tomatoes and the water. Add salt and pepper and stir. Stir in the other half of the mint, basil and pepper flakes and place the pot over a heat diffuser.
  6. Add the cooked meat back in along with any juices collected from the platter and stir into the sauce.
  7. Gently place the meatballs over the top, spooning a little gravy over them and gently push them into the gravy.
  8. Get the heat to a medium simmer, cover and cook for one hour, occasionally making sure nothing sticks to the bottom with a large wooden spoon.
  9. After an hour, spoon out the meatballs and cook the gravy for an additional hour uncovered.
  10. After the full two hours, collect the fat that pools at the top and discard. Or chill the mixture overnight (better the next day) and pick off the fat that congeals at the top. Just before the meat is fully cooked, add the meatballs back in. Easier to spoon the fat off the top before placing the meatballs back in.
  11. Serve over spaghetti with a nice crusty Italian bread and grated Parmesan Reggiano cheese.

You may also like:

Italian Tomato Sauce

Italian_Tomato_Sauce - A Family Feast

Grandma Gennaco’s Beef Braciole

Grandma Gennaco's Beef Braciole by A Family Feast

Italian-Style Meatballs

Italian-Style Meatballs - A Family Feast


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  • Joe I Marsiglia wrote:

    My dad was born in Cefalu, Sicily and came to America in 1920 on a boat called the “SS Madona”. We were a family of 7 and had Sugo every Sunday. Your recipe is almost identical except we did not use mint AND we put 1/4 cup white sugar to offset the tomato acidity. It seems like a lot of sugar but it’s not sweet at all. We also put in all types of meat but my favorite was the Italian Sausage with fennel. I am now 60 years old and in perfect health because I have stuck with the Mediterranean diet. Thanks, you’re article brings back many good memories.

    • Martha wrote:

      Thank you Joe! What great memories! (The sausage is one of my favorites too!). Thank you for writing to us today.

  • Amanda @ The Kitcheneer wrote:

    I actually grew up making Sunday Gravy for my big Italian family! I guess I had a knack for it and they had me make it at every family gathering! So, you can say I am a bit of a fan 😉

  • Angie | Big Bear’s Wife wrote:

    mm haha I call it sauce but no matter what you call it, I want it!

    • Tony wrote:

      This is a back & forth Debate (Sauce or Gravy) all my life LOL. But a fact is when you add Meat to a Marinara Sauce it becomes a Gravy so behold thats why in Italy its called Gravy!!

      • Martha wrote:

        Thanks Tony!

  • Brenda@Sugar-Free Mom wrote:

    I have to admit my Italian Dad who comes from Rome never called it gravy, it’s always been sauce but whatever it’s called this one looks and sounds amazing!

  • Colleen (Souffle Bombay) wrote:

    The title of your post made me smile and the rest…well I am seriously drooling…Good Lord do I want this pot full of deliciousness right now…on a Monday morning!

  • Cookin Canuck wrote:

    Now that is a proper Sunday gravy! I can picture a large family sitting around the table, digging into this hearty dish and chatting away about life. That’s definitely the way food is meant to be enjoyed!

  • Paula – bell’alimento wrote:

    You can’t beat a good Sunday sauce recipe.

  • Lana | Never Enough Thyme wrote:

    I’ve never made an authentic “Sunday gravy” and it’s high time I did! Going on my to make list for when I recover from spine surgery.

    • Martha wrote:

      Oh my goodness Lana! I hope your recovery is quick and speedy! I hope you enjoy the recipe!

  • Lauren Kelly Nutrition wrote:

    This looks like the ultimate comfort food!

  • Kirsten/ComfortablyDomestic wrote:

    Holy cow! I’m pretty sure that I could eat a pot of Sunday Gravy with a crusty loaf of bread. Pinned!

    • Martha wrote:

      LOL – me too Kirsten!

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