Today on the blog, I’m sharing the family recipe I created for a delicious and hearty Sunday gravy with pork.
Sauce or gravy? What do you call it? According to Matador Network, it’s not entirely clear who uses which term and why. Especially since there doesn’t seem to be a similar word or dish in Italy for what most Americans think of when they hear the word gravy. Based on the Neapolitan dish know as a ragu, it seems the term gravy may instead have been used by early immigrants as a way to assimilate. Using the word gravy to refer to a thicker sauce being poured over a meal.
No matter what term you use, on a cold winter’s day, this meat-based tomato and onion sauce will fill your tummy and warm you right up!
Italian Red Sauce
I developed this recipe after my husband Mike and I tried a new, wood-fired, Italian pizza place a few years ago.
Listed as an appetizer on their menu, Sunday gravy is one of 3 sauces you can choose from to top one of their 3 types of meatballs. We picked the lamb meatball as the vessel for the Sunday gravy sauce with pork. Out came a softball size meatball topped with a thick, meaty, hearty sauce. They served it with a bit of crusty bread and a dollop of ricotta on the side.
We fell in LOVE with this sauce and Mike asked if I could make something similar at home,
With both of us having Italian blood running through our veins, making sauce is nothing new to us! We both grew up with sacred family sauce recipes that have been passed down and made at many Sunday dinners.
Mike’s family recipe
Mike still has fond memories of being woken up on Sunday mornings to the smell of sauce simmering away in the kitchen. His grandma adds pork neck bones, meatballs, and sausage to her family’s sauce. Cooking it all day to infuse great flavor.
When it’s time to serve, the meat is removed from the sauce and served on the side to accompany the pasta. There’s always lots of crusty bread to go around to soak up every last bit of sauce.
My family recipe
The sauce I grew up with is very different in flavor and preparation from Mike’s family sauce.
My family recipe calls for lots of fresh basil and a bit of sugar to counter all the acid from the tomatoes.
Creating a recipe all our own
As much as we love our family recipes, we wanted to create a hybrid of the two. Using the Sunday gravy with pork from the restaurant as inspiration, I started experimenting in the kitchen.
The recipe I came up with is thick and hearty. Perfect for when the weather starts to cool down. In order to get such a rich, thick sauce, I use two different tricks.
The first trick is to add both pork neck bones and beef marrow bones to the gravy. The sauce simmers all day long, cooking the meat until it’s tender and falling off the bones. The collagen released from cooking the bones and the chunks of meat help to thicken the sauce.
I like the mix of using both pork neck bones and beef marrow bones. Both add tons of flavor and the marrow brings extra richness to the dish. Mike prefers it though when I make it with just the neck bones.
The second trick for achieving a thick sauce is to use a mixture of diced and whole tomatoes. As the sauce cooks and reduces down the tomatoes break down too. Thickening and adding tons of texture to the sauce.
This Sunday gravy is the perfect hybrid of our family recipes. Rich, meaty flavor, similar to the sauce Mike grew up with and LOVES, with lots of fresh basil and a touch of sugar. A nod to my family recipe and the way my grandpa liked it!
You can adjust this sauce to your liking. Adding or eliminating fresh and dried herbs depending on what you like. I like to add a little dried oregano and a few bay leaves for depth of flavor. Fresh parsley and lots of fresh basil really help to elevate this sauce making it bright and earthy.
Word of caution: Neck bones have tons of tiny bones within them. As the sauce simmers all day, reducing down and getting thicker and rich, the meat will begin to fall off the bones. It can be hard to fish them all out. If you are making this sauce and have little kids, be extra cautious when serving them up. I ALWAYS seem to miss a bone or two no matter how hard I try to find them all. If this is something you are worried about, you may want to pull the meat before it begins to break down and finish cooking it separately. You can always add the juices and the cooked meat back into the sauce and you should get similar results.
Italian sunday gravy with pork
- 2 28 oz Can Tomato Sauce
- 1 28 oz Can Whole Tomatoes
- 1 28 oz Can Diced or Crushed Tomatoes
- 1 5 oz Can Tomato Paste
- 1 pkg Pork Neck Bones
- 1 pkg Beef Marrow Bones optional
- 1/2 cup Diced Onion vidalia or sweet onion
- 1/4 cup Water or White Cooking Wine
- 1/8 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil plus 3 tbsp
- 1-2 pkg Fresh Basil thinly sliced
- A Handful of Chopped Fresh Parsley plus more for garnish
- 4 Bay Leaves
- 1-2 tbsp Sugar Start with 1 and add additional if needed. I'm not looking to sweeten the sauce, I'm just trying to balance out all the acidic flavor. You can skip this if you prefer not to add it.
- Salt and Pepper for Seasoning
- Grated Parmesan Cheese optional
- Pasta of Your Choice For this recipe, I recommend fresh, homemade pasta. I love the pappardelle or the black pepper spaghetti from Ohio City pasta. If you have a local brand you love or want to make your own this gravy is perfect for it! No homemade pasta, no worries! Any of your favorite pasta shapes or brands will do just fine!
- In a 6 quart, cast iron, dutch oven (or large stock pot) heat 3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil on high heat.
- Season the pork neck bones and beef marrow bones (if using) with salt and pepper on both sides.
- Place the meat bones into the pot and sear each side until browned, about a couple of minutes per side. If using both types of meat, you may need to do this in two batches so as not to crowd the pot and allow for some great, caramelized, brown color on the meat.
- Remove meat from pot and set aside.
- With the heat still on high, add the water or white wine to deglaze the pot, scraping up all the brown bits from the bottom. This is great flavor that we want to incorporate into our sauce!
- Once the water or wine has cooked off, turn the heat down to medium and add the diced onion.
- Cook the onion until transparent and a bit caramelized.
- Add all the meat back into the pot along with the cans of sauce, whole, and crushed or diced tomatoes.
- Add the bay leaves and any dried seasonings like oregano.
- Give it a good stir and put the lid on.
- From here, I let the sauce simmer away for a couple of hours. Letting it cook the meat, break down the whole tomatoes, and develop in flavor. I’ll give it a good stir every 20-30 mins or so.
- Once the sauce starts to reduce down, after about 2 hours or so, I will remove the lid and turn the heat down a bit. Next, add in the tomato paste, sugar, olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste. Give it all a good stir.
- At this point, I will either remove the lid altogether or leave it on but crack it a bit so some of the steam and moisture can escape. I do this based on how thick the sauce is and whether or not I'm trying to do other things around the house. I've found that by leaving the lid on and trapping all that heat and moisture, the sauce tends to take longer to reduce down and thicken. If I leave the lid off and walk away, I know I'm going to come back to a bit of a mess.
- Once the sauce starts to reduce down it's time for my favorite part, tasting! We always have a good loaf of crusty bread sitting nearby ready for just this purpose. My husband and I will break pieces off and dunk them into the sauce. Making sure the seasonings are just right. Tweaking and adjusting as needed as it cooks.
- I continue to cook the sauce for another few hours letting it reduce down even more and thicken up. Adding the fresh basil and parsley in once it's good and thick. You’ll know the sauce is ready when the meat starts to fall away from the bones. Once this happens it’s time to finish the sauce!
- I try to fish out all the bones but inevitably I will miss a few. Neckbones, many times, are comprised of lots of smaller bones making it hard to ensure all are removed.
- When serving this Sunday gravy to guests, it helps to portion out some of the sauce into a smaller bowl making it easier to locate any rouge bones.
- At this time, I will also remove the bay leaves.
- Once the sauce is ready, reduce to low heat to keep warm on the stove while you make your pasta. We typically use fresh, homemade pasta from a local vendor that only takes minutes to cook up, but this sauce is great with store bought, dry pasta as well.
- Once the pasta is ready, serving up a big old plate is easy! Dish yourself out a generous helping of pasta, spoon some of this glorious Sunday gravy over top, and top with some of the remaining chopped basil, parsley, and parmesan cheese if you like! Enjoy!