Sunday Gravy, Nine Millimeter Optional

When my husband and I were first dating (if that’s what you can call it – we were already roommates), our favorite thing was to make a big pasta dish on Sunday nights and watch The Sopranos, and try to talk with a Jersey-Italian accent all night.

It was during that time that I started making what we called “Sunday Gravy” (thank you, Tony Soprano) in copious amounts and stashing it in the fridge and freezer for a rainy day. My basic red sauce can be sweetened up or spiced up, depending on your taste or the call of the dish at hand. It can also be made easily into a giant or smaller amount, and there is no math because there is no real recipe. I am going to try to explain here, as best I can, how I do it, but like I said, I’ve never written down any exact measurements, so you’ll have to do your best when you try this at home.

Please do not send me hate mail if you try this and you hate it. First of all, everyone's taste in Sunday Gravy is a little different - so feel free to alter this at will, according to what you know about your particular taste.

Okay, so here's how I do it.Get out your best heavy stockpot. We're going to make a lot. A heavy (i.e. - at least marginally expensive) stockpot is a kitchen investment. A cheap one burns stuff. A heavy one can simmer a sauce all day without a scorch. Plus, they're pretty and they make you feel like a "real" cook. Mine is featured here if you are interested. I find her very interesting.

In the bottom of your pot, drizzle some olive oil. Some = 3 or 4 tablespoons, I guess. Remember, we're making a lot. I like to use an olive oil that is basil infused for this, but usually I just have the cheap grocery store brand stuff and it works fine.Warm the olive oil over medium heat, and when it's sufficiently hot (not crackling), toss in about a half a cup of finely diced onion. (I usually use red onion, but whatever you have around is fine.) You can chop them yourself, or you can be like me and do it in the food processor because you're lazy and you love the Cuisinart more than anything else in your kitchen.Cook 'em just a little; they don't need to be translucent all the way because they are going to stay in that sauce and simmer for a very long time.

While they cook, open your canned tomatoes. I STRONGLY recommend you use Muir Glen organic tomatoes, diced.

This is one of the few times that I think brand really does count; usually I buy cheap store-brand stuff, but here you will definitely know the difference. I buy three or four of the large cans of diced (not pureed), and if I can get it, I usually buy a couple of cans that are "fire roasted" for a little extra flavor. If they have stuff that is already seasoned with garlic or basil or other Italian herbs, go for it. I usually do a mix. These delicious canned tomatoes are a great sub for the real thing; sometimes even better. At Dillon’s they are in the special "organic" section, but they don't cost much more than Del Monte, or other more famous brands.

Toss the suckers into the food processor (I have to do like six batches because my Cuisinart is small) and puree. Why not buy pre-pureed, you ask? I don't know; all I can say is that the time I tried that we didn't like it as much. Taste and texture were both a little off.

Pour the pureed (not TOO loose - leave a few chunks for that rustic appeal - you don't want it to look like Ragu) tomatoes into the pot and THEN put in your garlic. Now, we are big garlic fans, and probably use too much. Do whatever feels right to you. I am sometimes guilty of using the pre-minced stuff from the giant Costco jar, but I will admit that a few whole fresh cloves mixed with a few fresh minced is better. Anyway, I toss in three or four heaping tablespoons of the stuff, and reserve the right to throw more in later. I don't do the garlic with the onions because, remember, we are going to simmer this for a long time. We don't need to risk burning the garlic; we are sure it will cook and infuse its flavor just fine during the long simmering process. I also add a can of tomato paste; somehow I think it adds texture and salt that I like to it.

Now, I like to add my herbs early, unless they are fresh, and then I add them late. Usually I just use dried herbs for this; I'm going to freeze it later, after all. As your mixture simmers, you can throw in whatever you like. I encourage you to do a little bit of red wine or red wine vinegar - I do about two tablespoons. I do about two tablespoons (sometimes more) of dried basil, one tablespoon of oregano, sometimes a little crushed rosemary even ends up in there. My husband thinks I'm crazy but I also add one or two heaping tablespoons of sugar; I think the acid needs that sweet to counteract. Salt and pepper to taste as well. I like cracked black pepper, but whatever is in your reach will do fine. I also really recommend you throw in some fennel – especially if you don’t plan to add any Italian sausage. I add fennel on top of the Italian sausage. We think fennel is the best.

Also, crushed red pepper. How much of this you use depends on what you plan to do with the sauce. If you plan to add Italian sausage, you might use less, especially if you are able to get your hands on some HOT italian sausage, which we prefer but can rarely find a good bit of at our local grocery store. I have to get it in Kansas City, at the real Italian grocery. So, add what you like - we like a lot. By the way, Consentino’s Price Chopper on 119th and Roe has really good Constentino’s Brand hot Italian sausage. You can also get gooey garlic bread there that a woman I presume to be Grandma Consentino in her babushka will make to order, especially for you. It’s a great store, in my never-to-be-humble opinion.

At this point your are ready to simmer this sucker as long as you can stand it. Stir it with a wooden spoon now and then. Your house will smell like Grandma Luisa's kitchen (who is Grandma Luisa? I have no idea) and the temptation to eat it by the spoonful will likely be overwhelming.

So here's the (vague) list:

3 tablespoons of olive oil

1/3 to 1/2 cup finely chopped red onion

4 large cans of Muir Glen tomatoes, one fire roasted

1 can of tomato paste (also get a good brand)

4 or 5 cloves of garlic (if it's the pre-minced stuff, use more)

1/3 cup red wine or red wine vinegar

2 tablespoons sugar

2 tablespoons basil

1 tablespoon oregano

whatever italian herbs you have on hand, fresh or dried (like fennel, rosemary, thyme, whatev.)

1 tablespoon cayenne pepper

salt and black pepper to taste

Simmer simmer simmer, stir stir stir.

Now, I use this when I do all manner of pasta dishes, and we love a good big batch of something like Lasagna or Cavatelli to cuddle up with on a chilly Sunday night. But what I REALLY love is pulling the leftover out of the freezer when I'm all by myself, and pouring it over whatever shape of pasta my heart desires, and topping the whole thing with some fresh parmesan or mozzarella, and feeling like my little quickie dinner is a gourmand's delight. I have been known to butter up a piece of sandwich bread and sprinkle on some thyme and garlic, and toast it under the broiler to finish off the italian night for one I've whipped up for myself. And all of that, once you have your sauce, will take about five minutes total.

You can barely heat a frozen Weight Watcher's tray in that time.


amyglester 13 years, 3 months ago

I tried it. We loved it. No comparison to the jarred stuff.

April Fleming 13 years, 3 months ago

i use a variation that is more or less similar, but also includes italian sausage and lots of chili powder. i love homemade gravy.

alm77 13 years, 3 months ago

Bookmarking NOW.

Can't wait to try it!!

bloozman 13 years, 3 months ago

Megan, when you get to the simmering point, is the pot uncovered? Do you have to watch for over-thickening?

There's no rush to answer -- but I plan to try this Saturday! Love the blog.

Megan Green Stuke 13 years, 3 months ago


I leave the lid off for the whole thing, which isn't a problem because my pot is so huge. I suppose you could put the lid on if you are worried about splattering, but I simmer it very low.

If you leave it on for a VERY long time over low heat, it will thicken up. The tomatoes, esp. after you further puree them, are pretty watery, so it starts out pretty runny. We like it thick, so it's usually okay for us. If it seems like it's getting too thick, though, just add a little water! I do, from time to time, have to do so.

Megan Green Stuke 13 years, 3 months ago

Another note about thickness: if you don't have long to simmer, drain your tomatoes. If you have all day, don't drain 'em.

Bryan Anderson 13 years, 3 months ago

I throw in the garlic at the tail end of the onions. It doesn't burn, and makes a nice base. I don't food process (because I don't have a good one) but I do use the hand blender to chop things up a bit. Any excuse to use the hand blender.

I highly recommend throwing some capers in.

justthefacts 13 years, 3 months ago

I have a recipe for "gravy" from a guy who was born in Italy, raised in Philly, and is so Italian it's obvious from just looking at him. It takes all day and involves (a) studding a whole onion with cloves and cooking it so long it all disintegrates into the sauce and (b) using plumb tomatoes (canned). Oh, and he swore that no real Italian every used Oregano in gravy (that is for Americans and pizza he said). Basil yes. Oregano, no. It is a giant pain to make, but worth it every time. And I second the "you must have a real stock pot" motion. Good blog. Keep providing us with good recipes!

amyglester 13 years, 2 months ago

You can buy a stick blender at the wal-marts for about nine bucks. Mine works great and is a must-have for tomato soup and Sunday gravy. I have saved many a sauce with it.

alm77 13 years, 2 months ago

So, I went out and bought a new stock pot just because of your blog (they had them at TJ MAXX super cheap) and today we made your gravy. I think you saved my marriage. My husband said it was the best spaghetti he ever had and he even went for seconds.

Aufbrezeln Eschaton 11 years, 2 months ago

Have you ever tried sauteeing your tomato paste with the onions just after they've turned translucent? I'm never going back, it just adds a depth of flavor that blows me away. And also I get to do it in my cast-iron skillet so the tomatoes leech some iron into the dish, which is a big plus for me because I'm chronically anemic but iron supplements make poo-ing a very painful weekly event.

alm77 11 years, 2 months ago

I'm going to have to get myself a cast iron skillet. We're in the market for new cookware.

Megan Green Stuke 11 years, 2 months ago

Nope, but will start immediately. Any excuse to use cast iron.

Evan Ridenour 10 years, 7 months ago

You should also toss your red pepper flakes into the oil before adding the tomatoes.

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