Ardell della Loggia’s recipe for Italian Sunday Gravy.
I know most recipes start with the “ingredients”, but this one doesn’t. Ingredients as they are used will be in bold print. This week I shopped for almost everything in my gravy at Metropolitan Market in Houghton in Kirkland. I don’t have a recipe…so you can extract the recipe by making a list of the items in bold print and excerpting the “how to” from this post.
First a picture of the finished product.
Take a quick peek at the last picture display on the “calendar”.
Before you start your Sunday Gravy you decide which pasta type meals you plan to have that week. Usually Sunday Gravy cooking is to accommodate at least three dinners plus a lunch or two plus a “someone’s hungry” plate. Some will have “gravy” and some will have “pasta sauce”. They are NOT the same thing. More on that when we get to the bottom and talk about Friday’s meal.
It has to have pork and beef to be Sunday Gravy. Those are must haves.
To answer the question “Why would anyone spend 5 hours cooking “dinner”…well, maybe they wouldn’t unless special company were coming or it’s a multi-generational family meal. Sunday Gravy is cooking for the week and at least 3 to 5 meals and maybe more. That is why it takes so long and why it is worth taking so long.
Steps 1 through 16 will be covered under this first photo display (1 of 3) and each “step” is marked with a photo from the Sunday Gravy I personally made this past Sunday.
I took the pictures with my phone and other hand while cooking, but I think the pictures came out OK.The priority was the cooking and not burning myself while I was taking the pictures …so good enough.
Step one is cooking your sausage.
You have to start with the sausage because you don’t know what’s going to happen with sausage when you cook it.
You could end up with a pan of grease or no grease at all. It depends how they made the sausage and most people don’t make their own sausage from scratch, so you shouldn’t guess or it can ruin your gravy.
I used 4 links of mild Italian sausage. Could be more or less depending on what you will later use the sausage for. Could also be a different type of sausage each week for the same reason.
Picture 1 you will see a lot of steam coming up out of the uncovered pot. You need a really good deep saute pan. People who complain that they have to tend to their Sunday Gravy too much because it sticks are not using the right pot and/or not making it right either.
My “saute pan” is 4.5″ high and 12″ in diameter and a good, heavy and not thin metal pot. I think it is this “Tools of the Trade Hard Adonized 7 quart Covered Ultimate Saute Pan”, but I don’t use that cover for making Sunday Gravy. I use a universal glass insert cover with some steam holes in it.
Back to picture one. Put about an inch of water in the pot and the sausage. The water should just cover the sausage…barely. Cook that on medium high, boiling and uncovered, until the water disappears. You can pretty much smell when it is brown on the bottom and the water is gone and it isn’t burnt at all. In fact I was working in my office and automatically stood up when I heard the right sound and smelled the right smell. Cooking Italian Sunday Gravy becomes 2nd nature after awhile and you use all your senses to cook something that takes 4 to 5 hours.
Picture #2 shows the pot after I flipped the sausage with the brown side up. I add a little more water and “scrape” the bottom of the pan until the water turns brown and there is no brown left at the bottom of the pot and boil the water away again. The whole process of cooking the sausage and browning it on both sides takes 20 to 30 minutes.
You should poke the sausage with a meat fork after the water is boiling or at this stage when you have turned them and added more water. IF there is a lot of grease in your sausage it will start oozing out into the water. This step I learned from my Aunt Mary Scaramuzza and is very important. I do not start with olive oil or any oil. If there is enough grease coming out of the sausage you use it to braise your other meats in. If there isn’t, and there was none as you can see in picture #2, then when you braise your other meats you have to add oil to the pan.
This is why cooking vs baking does not have exact recipes.
If you add your sausage later…you can’t get the grease out of your gravy and yuck.
If you start with the sausage you can clean the grease out of your pan after you brown all your meats. I didn’t have to manage grease as all of my meats from Metropolitan Market were Primo Grade and not fatty.
While you are browning your sausage on the other side, take out your pork spare ribs and cut them into separate pieces. Jumping to pictures 5 and 6 here.
You take your sausage out of the pan and put it in your spaghetti bowl. Do NOT wash the pot out unless it is greasy or you burned the sausage! In this case the pot is nice and brown with sausage brownings. It could have a little fat but not a lot.
If it has a lot of grease, pour it out but you don’t wash the pan unless you burned the sausage. Obviously you don’t want a burnt taste in your gravy. Use your head here.
You put your pork spare rib pieces into the same saute pan/pot and brown them on THREE sides. See picture 9. You brown them on both sides and you turn them up with the rounded “back” down and brown that side too.
Now jump back to picture 3 and 4. I did this earlier while the sausage was boiling. I used one big can of whole peeled tomatoes. You need all of that very watery juice in there and you squeeze out the tomatoes and pull out the hard or yellow parts. I used to remove the seeds, but that’s a little overboard.
After your pork spare ribs are nice and brown you put the liquidy tomato mixture of squeezed whole tomatoes into the pot and scrape it with a hard rubber spatula. All the brown in the pan should mix with the tomato mixture and be very liquid and soupy. I than added two cans of CRUSHED tomatoes and not “puree” which are supposed to be the same but are not. Again…cooks don’t have recipes because sometimes you open the can and it is too thick. Never too thin. Too thick is what makes your gravy stick.
You do not want to thicken the gravy until the last 30 minutes to an hour. It should remain pretty liquid with tomato pieces. I don’t know why I use some whole and squished tomatoes and some crushed tomatoes. I just do. The important thing is that it be liquidy at this stage. In fact you might want to use one can of whole squished and one can of crushed and save the 2nd can of crushed in case it starts getting thick on you during the first 3 to 4 hours. In fact I think I added the 2nd can of crushed after the pork was done (that comes later) and before I put in the meatballs. That will come up later. Not a big deal when you put the 2nd can of crushed tomatoes in. Not to worry.
I often use an Italian brand like Cento, but these Metropolitan Market canned whole and crushed tomatoes were fresher and very good. Picture 10 you put your cooked and browned sausage and your browned pork ribs into the now boiling tomato mixture in the pot. NO SEASONINGS YET! Your saugsage links should still be whole at this point.
Picture 11, very important, cover with a lid and cook for a couple of hours.
You have to cover it or it will stick. I use the steam hole lid so too much water doesn’t form from the steam and drop back in during these two hours. You do have to check it once in awhile to make sure it’s not sticking, but mine didn’t stick at all. I still checked as any “stuck” stuff will burn.
Really hard to get the burnt smell out once you have the tomatoes in…so just don’t burn it or you will cry. Well, I used to cry when I first started making this 40 years ago. Today I would curse in Italian…but luckily I never have that problem anymore. 🙂
We are at Picture #12 above…the sausage and ribs have been cooking in the tomatoes for about two hours at this point. You check your ribs and the COLOR of your “gravy”. By now the color should be changing because of the brown in the bottom of the pan from the braising and cooking of your sausage and ribs and also from the brown of the meats themselves cooking for two hours in the tomato chunks liquid. I blew this picture up a little bigger. THAT is why THIS is gravy and not pasta sauce. We will cover pasta sauce and spaghetti sauce (two different things; neither are gravy) at the end.
You can see the changing color in picture 12 with some still red and some turning a reddish brown. You can also smell “gravy” and you won’t have a heavy acidy-tomato smell in your house anymore. It will smell like meat. It has BECOME “gravy”…or not. If it still smells very tomato then it isn’t gravy yet. Not a difference of opinion. Not semantics. A difference in the sauce’s color, smell and taste makes it gravy or not.
In picture 12 the pork rib is getting done but not done yet. “Getting there” in picture 12. Now I take OUT the sausage as the sausage was really cooked already and the spare ribs take longer to cook than the sausage. In fact you should fully cook your sausage in the beginning before it went in the tomato sauce and take it out of the sauce after about an hour and put it on a plate. See picture 13. The ribs stay in…the sausage comes out…sometime after the first hour or two. If you look close you will see one of my sausage links started splitting, so I took them out for awhile. They will go back in later.
VERY IMPORTANT: Picture 13 is when you start making your Pasta Dough ONLY if you are making home made pasta for Sunday Dinner.
I did make home made pasta for Sunday dinner. Pictures 13 and 14 show that. The dough has to be wrapped in plastic and “rest” for, in this case, one hour in the fridge. So when your rib bones are starting to protrude with the meat shrinking back like that as shown in picture 14, your pasta dough should be done and resting at that point.
Once your rib bones are starting to show, it’s time to start the meatballs. See below and picture 17. There is no picture 16…something inconsequential disappeared in the pictures. Don’t worry about picture 16. It no longer exists. haha I’m moving the text for the next steps under this next photo array of photos #17 to #28.
If your meat is in brown paper you can just leave it on the paper. I have mine on the cutting board. I am using only lean grown beef as I have pork and sausage in the gravy. I don’t use a meatball mixture of various meats. I use beef. I always have. Just how I do it. You make a well in your meat and put in your egg(s) I used 1.3 lbs of ground beef. You use ONE egg per lb. of beef. Not exact here and less is best or your meatballs will be rubbery. You don’t add a 2nd egg unless the beef is 2 lbs or slightly less or more than 2 lbs.
1 to 1.5 lbs. of meatballs is enough to make all of the things in my last picture including some soup and some meatball sandwiches and spaghetti and meatballs another day. Depends on the size of your family.
Pictures 17, 18 and 19 is how I do meatballs. I add some salt and pepper into the egg and mix that up with a fork breaking the egg at the same time. If I am making meatballs without gravy and just a spaghetti sauce, I add garlic. In this case the garlic is going into the gravy later, so no. After the egg is mixed with the dry seasonings I add parsley. Today I used fresh parsley cut up small. In one of the pictures you should see a block of romano cheese and a grater. I grate the cheese on top of the parsley. I pour Italian breadcrumbs on top of that and mix the meatballs. Dry parsley is what I usually use and then it would go in with the egg before the cheese.
I can’t tell you how much bread crumbs or salt or pepper or cheese to use. salt, pepper, parsley and cheese is “to taste”. Everyone uses a different amount and really it doesn’t matter much how much. Season any way you want and the way you usually do a meatball. This is a recipe for gravy, not meatballs. haha
Don’t start browning your meatballs until your ribs are done. See Picture 21. VERY IMPORTANT. Your ribs are done when the bones have no meat on them.
You need a NEW pan to brown your meatballs. Obviously. The other pot/pan is busy.
You brown your meatballs on all sides as best you can. There should be no red or pink on your meatballs when you put them into your gravy.
I have seen people drop raw meatballs into their gravy or spaghetti sauce, but to me that is skeevatz! Brown your meats!
When most of the rib bones are in the sauce with no meat on them I start browning the meatballs. When the meatballs are all brown then I remove the bones from the ribs. Picture 23. You should be knocking the bones with the wooden spoon NOT cutting the meat off the bones. If the meat won’t knock off with the wooden spoon the ribs aren’t done yet. You could eat the ribs before the bone comes out. They are “done” enough to eat. But they are not done enough for your gravy.
Picture 24 looks the same as picture 21, but it isn’t. In picture 24 all the rib bones are OUT and I am breaking up the rib meat with the wooden spoon. This is my gravy with meat. Basically a rich meat gravy vs a basic “meat sauce” which I will describe at the end. In picture 24 you can see that this gravy is VERY THICK and too thick and brown to cook my meatballs in. Here is where you add another can of crushed tomatoes before you put the brown meatballs in. If you put 2 cans in before, then you will need a 3rd can. If you put one can in before than you are putting in the 2nd can. There are never too many tomatoes except as to what your pot can hold.
I cut my sausage links in half or quarters at this point and put them back in with the browned meatballs. I do this so the seasoning in the sausage leaks into the gravy. It is part of the way you season your gravy. You don’t want to cut the sausage link into more than 4 pieces as you want to be able to identify them at the end.
Your meat will not cook if your gravy is too thick. Again…this is cooking…and you should know that. If your gravy sticks and your meatballs aren’t cooked in the center, it is not about the amount of time you cooked them. It is because meat can’t cook if the gravy isn’t boiling and if it is too thick it won’t boil…it will pop up and out all over your stove and walls. Thin it down so it can boil without popping like oatmeal. I thin it down with the liquid from the cans of whole or crushed tomatoes…not with water from the tap.
This next step you can do first or in the middle…I did it last. If you are not making ribs in your gravy but using another type of pork that cooks faster, you would do this after the sausage. In other words, you don’t want these things to be in the sauce or gravy for more than an hour or so, or these flavors will permeate too long overtake everything. For those wondering why I just said “sauce or gravy”, we’re back to what it is called and the age old argument is it sauce or is it gravy. It depends on the color. If you decide to stop while it is still RED it is sauce. If you put this next step in at the beginning while it is still red, you are putting it in the sauce. If you keep going for hours until it is no longer the same color as the tomatoes when they were in the can…and it is reddish brown vs red…it is gravy. If it is still strong tomato taste and you are trying to drown out the acid by adding sugar or tarragon…it is sauce. If you can barely tell there were once tomatoes in it except for the nice chunky pieces of tomato…then it is gravy. It is what it IS…not what you choose to call it.
Tomato Sauce BECOMES “gravy” when and only IF the color changes from red to reddish brown by the time you are done.
Here I am using the same pan from the meatballs that I already put in the saute pan with everything else. I put in some EVOO (Oh…I added some EVOO when browning my meatballs too because the meat was TOO lean. usually I don’t have to do that. You don’t want the leanest beef for your meatballs because it’s better to brown the meatballs in their own fats…but again, use your noggin’. Too dry…add oil while browning.)
Picture 29 is fresh basil that I bought at Metropolitan Market. Picture 30 is a great garlic product that we get at Safeway or QFC. Basically each bulb of garlic is peeled and the cloves shrink wrapped and there are separate shrink wrapped packages for each bulb in that bag. Stays fresher than bulbs left out on the counter and I don’t like those jars of minced cloves in liquid. Picture 31 reminds you to add tomatoes if you want to increase the volume. You can even transfer pots at this point and add a lot more volume, as long as you cook afterward for another 30 minutes or so. Now is the time to add volume. I didn’t need more volume so I didn’t add. Sometimes the gravy is too brown at this point and so some people add more red. You can manage your color this way.
I don’t use tomato paste. Most people do. I don’t increase the volume with paste and water. I think you can ruin the gravy badly by doing that. Many good cooks can add paste and know how long to cook that paste. But it’s a dangerous add…and I don’t use any paste in any of my tomato sauces. I don’t even ever buy paste. Paste was used as a “stretcher” because it was cheap. I don’t need to do that. If you need to increase volume, better to use a can of Hunt’s Four Cheese Sauce than to add paste. It’s an immediate volume stretcher…it blends in well…and it doesn’t change the taste of your 4 to 5 hour product as much as paste. IMO paste can ruin everything. My $.02 My Italian friends will disagree now, as will my brother and sister. LOL!
I put some basil leaves and some garlic and olive oil and onion in a pan and sauted that a bit and threw it in after the meatballs. Put the lid on again and cook those flavors in for about 30 minutes while the meatballs are finishing up. OK…let’s talk about onion. No you are not supposed to put onion in Italian Gravy. You can add some and pull it OUT. Leave it as a floating whole small onion or big chunks you can pull out. You don’t need onion at all. Use plenty of garlic instead. Most people think the garlic and onion cancel each other out somewhat and so you use one or the other. I agree. BUT Kim likes onion as did my husband…so what good is cooking for 5 hours and not pleasing the people you want to please most. Don’t be a die hard about your recipes.
If your man likes onion…put it in. If he wants onion in his coffee…let him have onion in his coffee. Life’s too short. Please your loved ones often and always. Otherwise…no onion…just garlic.
Always buy whole white mushrooms when making pasta sauce with meat of any kind. You may or may not have to use them. I didn’t, but I had them and I like them so I tossed them in the pan there and into the gravy.
WHOLE WHITE FRESH (NOT JARRED IN LIQUID) MUSHROOMS ABSORB GREASE!
I learned this from Bob Hawthorne’s Mom from Marlton, NJ who was not Italian. For years people asked me why my authentic Italian Gravy is not greasy like ones they have had in other Italian homes. The trick is the whole mushrooms. They will absorb any grease and leave your gravy or pasta sauce grease free! You can pull them out at the end and serve as a side dish if you put a lot in. If you cooked your sausage the way I told you to…you shouldn’t need them at all, or maybe a few if your pork ribs were a little fatty.
Picture #36 is my finished dinner. But I don’t have a family of 5 anymore to cook for all week. Below is why Sunday Gravy was “invented” and why people make it most of the time.
Now let’s look at the pictures above and talk about the ideology of Sunday Gravy. Everyone knows that women are busier now than ever. Everyone knows that Americans eat WAY to much “fast food” because they “don’t have time to cook”. Sunday Gravy is not a dinner. It is a way to cook your meats for the whole week!
On Sunday at the stage where you are making your meatballs and waiting for your ribs to be done, you make some tiny meatballs, fry them up, but in some chicken broth and some small pasta and escarole and you have wedding soup for lunch on Sunday. Quick and easy as you are making meatballs anyway. See picture above.
When the gravy is done, you pull out your meatballs and your sausage. Your gravy will have tiny pieces of pork from the ribs. You cook up some rigatoni and you toss it in the gravy. Rigatoni has a big hole, and you want the meaty gravy to go inside that big whole. THAT is your Sunday Dinner. Rigatoni with gravy. People ask about seasoning the gravy. Your gravy should be very tasty from all the seasonings in the sausage and the meat flavors and the seasonings in your meatballs. Taste it. It should not need more seasoning. Some people put oregano in their gravy. To me oregano is for pizza. Period! Not in my pasta sauces or Sunday Gravy. But that’s me. Make yourself happy.
You take your sausage and cut it into small pieces and put it in the fridge. Come Wednesday or so when your Sunday meal is gone including the leftovers, you cook up some rotini with chopped tomatoes and a little basil or escarole, whatever you have left from Sunday as to greens and then saute your cooked rotini with your sausage and greens and that is lunch or dinner. You can put that in a container for your husband or children to bring to work for lunch. Sausage is very tasty. You don’t need a lot. One link per person or even a half link per person with rotini.
You take your meatballs that you cooked on Sunday and you put some in the freezer and some in the fridge. Someone is hungry? They can have a meatball sandwich any day of the week at any time. Someone came home late from work and is hungry at 10 p.m.? No problem. Have a meatball sandwich. Spaghetti and meatballs doesn’t need a lot of sauce or gravy. Just the amount you stored your meatballs in. Whether you put things in the freezer or fridge depends on what day they are for. Wednesday night was traditional spaghetti night. You boil up some spaghetti, you can use a can or jar of sauce if you want to heat up your meatballs and have extra spaghetti sauce, nice and red. The meatballs are already made and cooked so dinner takes about 15 minutes for Spaghetti and Meatballs. No fast food needed.
Now we are at Friday. Tuesday and Thursday you had leftovers or something else. Tuna casserole. Whatever. Friday you did not eat GRAVY! That is why gravy vs pasta sauce is not semantics. When I was a kid and for most of the Sunday Gravy days from it’s inception, people who made Sunday Gravy were not allowed to eat meat on Friday. So yes, there is a difference between pasta sauce and gravy or even Spaghetti Sauce. Spaghetti Sauce has meat cooked in it. Meatballs. It is still red and only has meatballs cooked in it. Or it can have ground meat fried up and thrown into a red sauce. That is Spaghetti Sauce and not “pasta sauce” or “gravy”.
Pasta sauce is a “condiment” with NO MEAT in it. Look at the Friday pictures. We are having stuffed shells. The shells are boiled and then filled with ricotta cheese. In the ricotta cheese you can put most anything except meat. You can put spinach…or parsley. You can put grated cheese or shredded mozarella cheese. You can add sugar and nutmeg as we from Abruzzo do or lemon zest like the people from naples. Anything except meat. The pasta sauce can be nothing more than some heated crushed tomatoes…like a relish. It can be a can of red meatless sauce or a jar of red meatless sauce. You line the bottom of a pan with that and put your shells on it and cook for 20 to 30 minutes in the oven.
Look closely at those four Friday pictures. The bottom two have a meat sauce or a gravy. The top two have pasta sauce which is meatless. These days you only have to make it the top way on Good Friday and not every Friday. So there you have it. Sunday Gravy MUST have pork in it or it is not Sunday Gravy. Should have both Pork and Beef and maybe Veal. Spaghetti Sauce has beef in the form of meatballs or if you are in a hurry, just some fried ground beef or sausage. Pasta Sauce is used sparingly as shown on the stuffed shells and is usually meatless and takes about 15 to 20 minutes to make. Gravy takes 4 to five hours to make.
Last but not least is Sunday Gravy can be made on Tuesday. If you work on Sunday and you have Tuesday off…well then Tuesday may be the day that you need to cook three or four days worth of meat for your weekly meals. Sunday Gravy is about preparing 3 to 5 meals on your day off. That day off is not Sunday for me most of the year. I am a real estate agent and often work Sundays. You may be in retail and work Sundays. Sunday Gravy in your house may be made on a Tuesday. 🙂