Of all the fine traditions of the Italian-American enclave in the United State, the Sunday afternoon ritual of making and eating a Sunday Sauce, a.k.a. “Gravy” is Italian-America’s most Time-Honored of all. Mamma, Grandma (Nonna) will make her celebrated “Sunday Sauce” and all is glorious. Sunday Sauce? What is it? Well, first off, Sunday Sauce, or as some call it, Gravy or simply “Sauce,” is without question thee number-1 undisputed “Supreme Dish” of our great Italian-American Cuisine and the Italian-American enclave as a whole. “It doesn’t get any better than a Sunday Sauce.” Ok, now, to be more specific for those who may not know about Sunday Sauce Gravy, there are a number of variations on the theme. Most Sunday Sauces are made with Italian Sausages, Braciole, and Meatballs. Some people make their versions with; Beef or Pork Neck, while others make their Gravy (Sunday Sauce) with just Sausage and Meatballs, like Pete Clemenza in The Godfather. The most popular version is with Sausages, Meatballs, and Braciole. Some may throw in Chicken Thighs or a Veal Shank into this mix. A Sunday Sauces can be made with any combination of these aforementioned meats. The meats are slowly simmered for several hours in a Sauce made with tomatoes, minced onions, and garlic. I generally like to make my Sunday Sauce Gravy with; Sausages, Meatballs, and Pork Ribs. Other times I’ll make it with Sausage, Meatballs, and Braciole.
An old tradition in some families is that mother or Grandma would start the Sauce early on a Sunday morning, get all the ingredients in the pot and start the Gravy simmering away for an hour or so on top of the stove. She’ll then let it slowly simmer for a couple hours while everyone goes to Church. When you get back home, the Sauce will be ready. “Ready to be devoured that is!”
Our family would usually start our Sunday meal with the most traditional Italian-American-Antipasto of roast peppers, Salami, Olives, Celery, and Provolone. After that, it’s on to the Main Event of Maccheroni and Sunday Sauce, a dish which is something so Blissfully and Pleasurably Sublime, that it is almost “Sinful.” Oh, yes it is.
When a meal centered around a Sunday Sauce is announced, one can have visions of Blissful Ecstasy at thoughts of eating Pasta laden with Italian Sausages, Savory Meatballs, Beef Braciola, and succulent Pork Ribs. All this has been slowly simmered to culinary perfection. Yes just the thoughts can enrapture one into a delightful frenzy of the “Most Blissful Feelings” of smelling, seeing, and consuming all the ingredients; the Sausages, Meatballs, Braciola, and the Gravy itself. This is the true meaning of Bliss. Yes a Sunday Sauce can and does have such effects on one’s mind, body, and soul. And, I do not want to sound prejudice, but this is pure fact, it is the Male of the Italian-American species who Love The Sunday Sauce in all its form, far more than the female sex. True! Meatballs too! And Italian-American men and boys Love and hold oh-so-dear, their Meatballs, Sunday Sauce, Sausage & Peppers, and Meatball Parm Sandwiches as well.
The Sunday Sauce that my mother made, it was with; Meatballs and Beef Braciole. My memories are vivid watching my mother stuffing the Braciole with garlic, parsley, Pecorino Romano, and Pignoli Nuts, then tying the bundles with butchers cord to hold the Braciole together as they slowly simmered in the Gravy. Another fond memory was helping my mother roll and shape the Meatballs.
As for me, my Sunday Sauce can vary depending on my mood. One thing I Love to do when making my sauce is to add Pork Spareribs to the Gravy. “Gravy” by the way is what many people in the New York, New Jersey (Soprano Territory) area call Sunday Sauce, particularly in Brooklyn. Not many people make their Sunday Sauce with the Pork Ribs, but to me they are phenomenal, and anyone who tries them, they are immediately hooked. As I think back, none of the ladies in our family put Pork Spare Ribs into their Gravy. I guess I read or heard about some people doing it, and I believe it was about 14 years ago or so. That’s when I started adding the Ribs into my Sauce. I haven’t looked back ever since. I Love them, as does everyone whom I serve them to, and when I make my Sunday Gravy, these babies go fast.
Frank Sinatra Making SAUCE
Whenever I make my sauce with Pork Ribs, my friends go nuts for them, and most are surprised, as they might never have had Ribs in a Sunday Sauce before. They didn’t know that you could use Pork Spareribs.
The ribs are traditional with some but not all. It is quite a shame for those who don’t add the ribs as they give the sauce a quite wonderful flavor, and the Ribs themselves, “Yumm.” The Ribs that simmer long and slow become quite tender, and they literally “Melt-in-Your-Mouth.”
Whenever I make the Sauce, and I’m dishing it out to friends and family, I always make sure that I have my fare share of the Ribs. Pork Ribs cooked in this manner, simmering in the sauce are oh so succulent and tasty that they are without question Beyond-Belief-Tasty. These Sunday Sauce Ribs are, “Out-of-this-World.” Basta!
And what to serve with the Sunday Sauce you ask? Any short Maccheroni such as Rigatoni, Ziti, Cavatelli, or Gnocchi are best.
The rituals of cooking, serving, and eating Sunday Sauce is a time honored one. It is a quite a beautiful thing, same as making a Mole in Mexico, or Cassoulet in France. They are all wonderful things of beauty and taste that delight mans every sensory perception of; sight, smell, taste, and feel. First, you probably smell the “Sauce’s” heady aroma wafting through the air. The smell is so intoxicating, it gets your juices flowing immediately. Once you smell it, you want it, and can’t wait to sink you teeth into it. Second you will see it in all its gloriousness. You will then eat it, whereupon you taste and feel and experience one of Italian-America’s greatest pleasures, the Sunday Sauce, Italian Meat Gravy. A Sunday Sauce (Gravy) takes time and effort to make. It is made and served with Love. All these great dishes bring together friends and family, and for Italian-Americans, Sunday Sauce Gravy is the King of all dishes.
If you utter the term Sunday Sauce to any number of millions of Italian-Americans, they will immediately start salivating at the simple mention of its name. The wheels start turning in their heads, with thoughts of how tasty it is, with its various components; the Meatballs, Sausages, Braciole, maybe Ribs, Beef or Pork Neck, or Pig Skin Braciole, as well as the Pasta, and the tomato Gravy itself. They think about sitting at the table with friends, family, and people they love. They’ll ponder the Antipasti, wondering what it might be; mixed Salumi, Baked Clams, Grilled Octopus, or Calamari? And with the meal, there will surely be wine, Italian Wine, which might be a good Chianti, or perhaps Montepulciano d’Abruzzo. With Uncle Frank and Uncle Tony, the wine was usually Carlo Rossi Paisano or Gallo Hearty Burgundy, two solid Italian-American Winemakers.
When thinking of a Sunday Sauce, you’ll think about the warmth in the air, of loved ones, of Sinatra, Dino, and the star of the show, the Sunday Sauce itself. “It’s a beautiful thing!” If you’ve never done it, “Try it!” If you haven’t cooked one for some time, plan a get-together with friends and family, soon, there’s nothing better one can possibly do. Sunday Sauce, it brings people together, in a most delightful way. And as the Big Boys would say, It’s a Beautiful Thing.
EXCERPTED From SUNDAY SAUCE “WHEN ITALIAN-AMERICANS COOK”
by Daniel Bellino Zwicke
SUNDAY SAUCE (a.k.a. GRAVY)
This Sunday Sauce (Gravy) is the most popular. It’s made with; Sausage, Meatballs, and Braciole. Some, like Clemenza, make it with just Sausage & Meatballs. You can, as you’ll see, add; Pork Ribs, Veal Shank, and various other items according to how you like it, but this is a great one, I’m sure you’ll agree.
½ cup olive oil
2 medium onions, minced
12 cloves garlic, minced
6 – 28 oz. cans of crushed tomatoes
1 small can tomato paste (optional)
2 lbs. sweet Italian sausage
1 cup water (don’t worry, the water will evaporate
by the time the sauce is done. You need it.)
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1 ½ teaspoons Sea Salt
1 tablespoon black pepper
1 batch Braciole from recipe, page 62
1 batch of Meatballs from recipe on page 44
Place onions in olive oil in a large pot. Sauté onions over a low flame for 4 minutes. Add garlic and sauté on low flame with onions for 3 minutes.
Add all the tomatoes and water. Raise flame to high. Bring the tomatoes up to the boil, then lower the sauce to a very low simmer, and let cook.
Season all the Braciole with salt & pepper. Brown the Braciole in a separate pan over medium to high heat until all the Braciole are nicely browned, about 10 minutes.
Place Braciole in pot with tomatoes and simmer over very low heat for 1 hour & 30 minutes.
In the same pan you browned the Braciole in, brown the sausages over medium heat until nicely browned. About 10 minutes. Add sausages to pot with tomatoes and Braciole and cook over low heat for 30 minutes.
Make the Meatballs (recipe follows) up to the point where they have cooked in the oven for 10 minutes.
After the sausages have been cooking for 30 minutes, add the browned meatballs and cook over low heat for about 35 minutes, being careful not to break meatballs when you stir.
The Sauce (Gravy) is done. Total cooking time between 2 ½ and 3 hours.
Serve the sauce with your favorite short-pasta such as Rigatoni, Cavatelli, Gemelli, Campanelle, or Ziti.
NOTE: The sauce should simmer on a very low flame. It is important to stir the bottom of the pot with a wooden spoon every few minutes to keep the sauce from burning.
Spaghetti and Meatballs! What’s more Italian than that? Well, a lot of things actually. There is a constant ongoing debate over whether “Spaghetti and Meatballs” is an authentic Italian dish or not. Of course spaghetti is very Italian and so are Meatballs, however Italians (in Italy) do not eat them together (“so they say?”, this is an Italian-American tradition and a great one at that, as Lidia Bastianich and other have written, Italian-American is a great cuisine in itself. The Cuisine of Italian-America is most truly authentic Italian with a few twists here and there, like eating Meatballs on the same plate with Spaghetti instead of two separate courses as they do in Italy. What’s wrong with that? Maybe the Italian-American mammas of way back (100 years ago, around 1905) didn’t want to clean twice as many dishes so they combined the two courses into one. I believe this to be true. “It has to be!” Out of the billions of times that Meatballs and Pasta have been served in the same meal in Italy over the years, it’s impossible that on some occasions that the two weren’t served on the same plate, the Pasta & Meatballs. “It has have to been done I tell you.” And “impossible” that it never wasn’t done. Impossible I tell you! The odds are against it, that it never was. “Basta!”
Let me tell you one thing, in case you didn’t know. Meatballs, and yes they are Italian and eaten in Italy, meatballs are infinitely more popular in the United States than they are in the mother country of Italy. Italian-Americans eat millions more of them a year than their Italian brethren. The Neapolitans and Sicilians eat them the most in Italy and because of the fact that these are the areas where the greatest number of Italian immigrants to the U.S. came from, this is the reason the dish became such a great favorite of Italian expatriates, their children, grandchildren, and millions of Americans, including people of other ethnic origins who happen to love Italian-American food. It is one of the world’s great cuisines. You don’t have to be Italian to love their food, the same as many Italian-Americans love to eat Chinese food. It’s tasty, so we Mangia!!!
Oh yes, you want to know what kind of meat goes into the Meatballs? Well the most common in Italian America are Meatballs made of ground Beef, Pork, and Veal. However, many make their meatballs solely with Beef, and in Italy and especially Tuscany, Veal Meatballs Polpettini are quite popular. Whatever meat you choose, just make the meatballs tasty, and you’ll have people coming back for seconds, even third helpings.
One more thing, Meatballs in Sauce (Gravy) are great but if you ever want a little change when making them? When making Meatballs for a Sunday Sauce or to serve with Spaghetti on their own, reserve 8 or so meatballs that you don’t cook in sauce. Brown these Meatballs, then pop in the oven to finish cooking and serve on their own without tomato sauce gravy, and just a little bit of the juices the Meatballs cook in, with some chopped fresh parsley on top. They taste great this way. You can serve as starter course (Antipasto), in a Sandwich, or as a main course with Mashed Potatoes, or a salad on the side or whatever you choose to serve them with, they’re “Great.” Try it some time!
1 lb. ground Beef
½ lb. ground Veal
½ Pound Ground Pork
4 Tbs. fresh Italian Parsley, chopped
1 minced onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 Tablespoons plain breadcrumbs
2 large eggs, ¼ cup Milk
Salt & pepper
½ cup grated Parmigiano or Pecorino
Note: If you want, instead of this beef, pork, and veal proportions, you can use just Beef (2 lbs.) or 1 lb. Ground Beef & 1 lb. Veal.
In a small bowl, add bread-crumbs and milk and let soak for 10 minutes. Squeeze out excess milk.
In a large bowl, add all the remaining ingredients. Add eggs and mix well with your hands.
Shape meat mixture to from balls that are about 2 inches in diameter.
Coat the bottom of a cookie sheet or roasting pan with a thin film of olive oil. Cook Meatballs at 350 degrees for 10-12 minutes.
Take meatballs out of oven and simmer for one hour in a batch of Tomato Sauce from the tomato sauce recipe.
Serve Meatballs with Spaghetti for the Classic Italian American favorite Spaghetti and Meatballs or do as the Italians do, especially the Neapolitans and serve the sauce first with Spaghetti, Rigatoni, or ziti. Then serve the Meatballs as the main course with a Salad or potatoes on the side.
The RAGU BOLOGNESE COOKBOOK
by DANNY BOLOGNESE
VISIT NEW YORK ITALIAN