Sunday Gravy – NYC Italian style

by Michelle

Sunday Gravy became famous, beyond the borders of Little Italy, from the kitchen scene in The Godfather where Clemenza is teaching Michael how to make Sunday Gravy, aka Mob War Sauce.

My friends John Wong and his wife Gina Chiarella introduced me to Sunday Gravy several years ago. It was love at first bite!

Sunday Gravy - NYC Italian style l bitebymichelle.comSunday Gravy – the Italian culinary masterpiece that’s more than just a meal.

It’s a time-honored tradition, a delicious journey through family history, and a heartwarming experience that transcends generations. Whether you’re an Italian-American or just someone who loves good food, you can’t help but be charmed by the magic of Sunday Gravy.

Let’s start with the name: “gravy.” For some, it’s a source of endless debates and raised eyebrows. Is it a sauce or a gravy? Tomato-tomahto. The truth is, when it comes to Sunday Gravy, the name is less important than the heavenly aroma wafting from the kitchen.

Picture this: It’s a crisp Sunday morning, and Nonna (or any talented cook in the family) is in the kitchen, armed with the biggest pot they could find. They’ve got a simmering concoction of tomatoes, garlic, onions, and various meats. The tantalizing smell of garlic and the rich, hearty flavor fills the air. It’s a scent that makes you want to hug your family members, even those you argued with at breakfast.Sunday Gravy - NYC Italian style l

Sunday Gravy is like the United Nations of meat.

You’ve got pork, beef, sausages, meatballs, and maybe even a few mysterious cuts you can’t quite identify. The meats simmer in the tomato sauce for hours, releasing their flavorful essence into the mix. It’s like a delicious meat symphony, where each instrument plays its part to perfection.

The cooking process is a labor of love. No shortcuts are allowed. Slow and steady wins the race. And by race, we mean the race to the dining table, where empty plates await.

The pasta for Sunday Gravy is usually something sturdy and thick, like rigatoni or penne.

You need a pasta that can stand up to the robust sauce without wilting like a delicate flower. These pasta choices aren’t just for holding the sauce – they become a part of the sauce, absorbing its flavors like a culinary sponge.

Sunday Gravy isn’t just a meal; it’s a time for storytelling and bonding. Family stories flow as freely as the wine, and laughter fills the room. It’s a time to reconnect and reminisce about old times.

Sunday Gravy isn’t just about the food; it’s about the love and tradition that accompany it.

It’s about spending quality time with family and sharing stories and laughter. It’s about keeping a delicious tradition alive and passing it down to the next generation.

So, whether you call it sauce or gravy, whether you’re Italian or not, Sunday Gravy is a reminder of the simple joys of life – the joy of sharing a meal with loved ones, the joy of tradition, and the joy of indulging in something so delicious that it feels like a warm hug for your taste buds.

John arrived at my house with everything he needed to prepare his famous Sunday Gravy. I gave him a knife, cutting board and pot and did my best to capture the magic.


As you can see from the photos, this sauce is all about the meat or, better yet, the variety of meat. Pork back ribs, spicy Italian sausage and cheap beef meat each get their own sizzle time. The tiny handmade meatballs are poached for hours in the final sauce. I was intrigued more with what didn’t go into the sauce than what did. Having already tasted John’s sauce, I’d made assumptions that turned out to be false.

Sunday Gravy - NYC Italian style l

I use fresh herbs and garlic in almost all of my Italian cooking. John’s Sunday Gravy has no garlic except what he minces up for the meatballs and the herbs he uses are dried. To calm my concernes over the dried herbs, he finished the sauce with a bit of fresh basil. It wasn’t necessary. His sauce has a rich, deep flavour from the hours of simmering his selection of meats, onion and dried herbs in the tomato base.

Sunday Gravy - NYC Italian style l bitebymichelle.comThe recipe makes lots so invite a house full this Sunday and dig in!

Thanks for reading.

Sunday Gravy

Rating: 5.0/5
( 1 voted )
Serves: 8 Prep Time: Cooking Time: Nutrition facts: 200 calories 20 grams fat


¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
2 lbs back ribs, cut into 2 rib pieces
8 links hot Italian sausage, halved horizontally
1 pound boneless top blade roast, cut into 2 inch pieces
1 onion, chopped
1 teaspoon fine sea sal
1 large bay leaves
1 tablespoons dried basil
2 teaspoons dried oregano
6 cups passata [strained tomatoes] - available at most grocery stores
parmigiano-reggiano cheese, rind
1 cup dry white wine
16 small meatballs- 1½ inch diameter - click link for meatball recipe


Make the meatballs and set aside until later.
Heat olive oil in a heavy-bottomed pot.
Add ribs in batches, brown and remove to a platter.
Add sausages and brown on all sides. Remove to a platter.
Add beef and brown on all sides. Remove to a platter.
Add the onions and salt.
Sauté over medium heat stirring frequently and scraping up any bits left behind by the meats, until the onions are soft and golden.
Add the white wine and bring to a boil.
Put the meat back in the pot with any juices from the plate.
Add tomato passata and gently stir to combine with meat.
Gently drop in the meatballs, 1 at a time into the sauce, shaking the pot a bit to encourage them to nestle in with the other meats and to make room for the addition of more meatballs.
Drop in the cheese rind and bay leaf.
Cover the pot, bring to a boil; decrease the heat, and simmer on the lowest heat until meats are tender. Up to 6 hours.
Stir often and enjoy the aroma!


THE LOVE: When you’re frying the meats, work in batches to avoid the meat sweating. Also, watch the liquid throughout the simmering process. You don’t want the sauce to go below the level of the meat. Add a little water when necessary.