OK. If you're not familiar with folks in certain Italian American communities, you might be wondering what Sunday Gravy is. Well, most people's basic definition would simply be Spaghetti Sauce. Or, for the purpose of this particular recipe, Spaghetti Sauce with Meatballs & Sausages or Sunday Gravy. I learned how to make this meat based red sauce from my M-I-L, way back before I was married and she learned it from watching and listening to all of the Italian and Italian/American Mamas and Nonas in the "Little Italy" neighborhood where she grew up, in Utica NY.
About 3 or 4 times a year, we make a huge pot (20 qt. stockpot, to be exact) of "red sauce" with meatballs and 2 or 3 types of sausages and sometimes, a few pork chops thrown in for good measure. The reason we make so much sauce at one time, is because we love spaghetti and lasagna and stuffed shells and cacciatore and..... well, the list goes on and on. This basic sauce can be used in so many dishes, that it would take way too much time for me to list them all.
We'll generally look for sales on whole or crushed, canned tomatoes and stock up. This time, it just happened to be crushed tomatoes that were on sale. 10 for $10. Ya can't beat that, right?! If we buy the whole tomatoes, it adds the additional step of crushing them to the entire process, but with a blender, processor or better yet, a stick or immersion blender, it's a simple and quick step. (we use the stick blender to crush them right in the cans)
The "recipe" that I use is a meat based (sausage based) sauce and it could certainly be made vegetarian or vegan, if that's what you prefer. But for us, the meats are a must have because of the amazingly rich, deep flavor profile that they give to the finished sauce. And technically... when this sauce done without meat, it would really be a basic marinara sauce.
Basic (pork based) Sunday Gravy
- 10-12 Cans Crushed (or whole peeled) Tomatoes
- 2 - 3 Lbs Italian Sausages (assorted hot, sweet, specialty)
- 2 Lg Green Bell Peppers, chopped
- 2 Lg Yellow Onions, chopped
- 6 - 8 Lg Cloves Garlic, minced
- Fresh Basil*
- Fresh Oregano*
- Fresh Parsley*
- 2 or 3 Dried or Fresh Bay Leaves
- Salt & Pepper
- Meatballs (recipe below)
**Please see note at the bottom of these directions
In the same pan that you cooked (directions below) your sausage, saute your chopped bell pepper, onions and garlic until they are translucent and softened a bit. Add in the garlic and continue to cook for a couple of minutes. Season them with a little salt and pepper while they're cooking.
While the vegetables are cooking, pour all of the crushed tomatoes into a large stockpot and turn the heat to medium. Add in your fresh herbs, bay leaves and a little salt. Put your cooked and reserved sausage in the pot and then the meatballs when they're finished cooking. Simmer the sauce on low heat for several hours, stirring every now and then. If you can let this go for 6 to 8 hours that's great. Even longer is better. Although I've never made it in a crock pot, I don't see why you couldn't. You'd probably need two of them going at once for the amount this makes. *I use approx. 3 to 4 Tbls of each fresh herb. If you are substituting dried herbs, cut it down to half of those amounts.
**So... I have a little problem. Thanks to my dear, sweet, very helpful Hubbs I don't have any photos of the actual making of the sauce. In the middle of the day, I developed a killer migraine and after I took an Imitrex and headed up to bed to try and "sleep it away", he decided that he'd be a love and make the sauce for me. (insert Awww here) Since he's not the foodie blogger in the family, he completely forgot to take pictures as he went along. He felt terrible, but I told him that I was sure that my readers would certainly know what to do with or without pictures and that they and I forgive him. :~)
Next, I make the meatball mixture so that it can sit and let the flavors "marry" in the fridge for a while.
Mary's Italian Meatballs
- 1 Lb Ground Beef
- 1 Lb Ground Pork
- 1 Lb Ground Veal
- 1 Lg Green Bell Pepper, minced
- 1 Lg Yellow Onion, minced
- 3 or 4 Lg Cloves Garlic, minced
- 1 Cup Fresh Bread Crumbs
- 6 Lg Eggs, lightly beaten
- 1/2 Cup Parmesan Cheese, grated
- 1/2 Cup Sour Cream (I got this great tip from Chef Alex Guarnaschelli, here)
- Fresh Basil*
- Fresh Oregano*
- Fresh Parsley*
- Salt & Pepper
First, prep all of your herbs, vegetables and seasonings. Mince the onion, bell pepper and garlic very finely. Then chop up all of your herbs, beat the eggs lightly, grate the cheese and grind up your bread crumbs. I'm not a huge fan of big chunks of veggies or bread in my meatballs. Once that's done, place your three ground meats in a large mixing bowl and using a fork, break them up and mix them together just a bit.
I add the herbs and veggies first and give it all a little mix. Then, I add in the eggs, bread, sour cream, parmesan and a fair amount of salt & pepper. Give that a light stir with a fork to get things started, then roll up your sleeves and get right in there with the tools God gave you. I don't know about you, but I've never found a better way to get all of the ingredients for meatballs or meatloaf fully combined.
Cover the meat mixture very tightly with some plastic wrap. I place some of the plastic wrap right down on top of the meat mixture and then place another sheet on top of the bowl. This helps to keep the meat from getting a little "gray" or oxidizing. It's going to do that a little bit anyway and it doesn't mean that the meat is spoiled. Believe me, it's perfectly fine. If there's a thin layer of oxidization on the top when you take it out later, you can scrape that off, if it's more aesthetically pleasing to you.
Next, comes the sausage. We always use both a hot and a sweet Italian sausage when we make this. If our local grocery store also happens to have their garlic and cheese flavored version available that day, we get a package of that too. It just adds another level of flavor to the sauce, so how bad can that be?
Put a little bit of vegetable or light olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat, until you see it shimmer a little. I usually want the oil to almost reach the smoking point when I'm searing steak or pork chops, but I don't do that when I'm browning sausage. I like it to be almost completely cooked through before I put it in my sauce and that takes a little more time.
I also cut up the sausages differently so that we can tell them apart when it's time to eat. The hot sausage always stays whole because cutting it allows some of the heat to leach out in the sauce and if you all remember from previous posts, Hubbs is the only one around here who has an asbestos tongue. I am a total wimp when it comes to spicy hot food.
Cook the sausages slowly, over medium to medium-high heat and space them out in the pan so that they don't "sweat" out too much liquid. They won't brown well if that happens. Turn them every now and then too, so that they cook through and brown evenly. I pour a couple of cans of the crushed tomatoes into a waiting stainless steel mixing bowl and place the cooked sausages in it, as I'm doing each batch.
Now, it's time to cook the meatballs! OK, I don't want any of the "meatball purists" to start yelling at me, but I bake my meatballs in the oven. There. I admit it. For years, I fried them. Years. But, once we got the ovens we have now, that all changed. I have a feature called "convect roast" on my ovens. What that feature does, is cause the broiler to turn on intermittently (every couple of minutes) as food is cooking. Just from that extra little on and off blast of heat, any kind of meat will cook up as though it's been seared off in a pan first. Frankly, it is the best thing to have ever happened to ovens, in my opinion. The result? My "baked" meatballs come out as perfectly browned, juicy and tender as they would if I'd fried them.
I use a small ice cream scoop to measure out each meatball and just place the scoops right onto the cookie sheet to start. Once I have it all scooped out and my cookie sheets are full, I go back and roll the meatballs into nice round shapes.
I make them on the small side when I'm doing a big batch like this, but I will use a larger scoop if I'm making them specifically for sandwiches or as a main dish meal. This recipe makes about 4 dozen small meatballs.
You can use this method, even if you are going to fry your meatballs. It's just easier than doing them and placing them in the pan one at a time.
Bake the meatballs in a pre-heated 400 degree oven for approximately 15 to 20 minutes, depending on the size of the meatball you make and your individual oven.
When they're done, you can remove them to a paper towel lined platter or cookie sheet to soak up any excess grease, or you can just toss them directly into the pot of prepared, simmering sauce, if they're not very greasy.
Simmer the sauce over a low flame/heat for as many hours as you can. The longer it all cooks, the better. You can add more crushed tomatoes, herbs, etc. throughout the day if you want to. Especially when you have a family members who like to stop by the pot throughout the day and "take a little taste".
You can now use this sauce for all kinds of recipes. I take the meatballs and sausages out and put them in freezer bags and the sauce in those screw top 1 Qt containers and freeze them separately. It will keep in the freezer for at least 6 months. Enjoy!
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