An authentic Italian Sunday Sauce is something every Italian family cherishes. It’s a part of their traditions, their memories, their love of family and food. So, you can imagine how honored I was when my friend John Graebing shared his family’s Sunday Sauce recipe with me.
John is Italian - through and through. He’s a musician, a cook and my go-to resource for weekly Denver Bronco pre-game reports! His Sunday Sauce goes back generations in his Italian family. This is an incredibly robust, hearty pasta sauce - loaded with meatballs, sausage and tender pork. Served over steaming pasta - it has flavor you will not soon forget. And, like anything worthwhile in life - it takes time, but I loved every minute of making - or I should say ‘crafting’ his sauce. Get this going early in the day so you don’t rush the cooking process. Taste testing is important as it simmers away. You’ll know when it’s ready - the flavor will balance perfectly in the end and it will be thick and savory. This recipe is a keeper for my kitchen. I have plenty for the freezer and when that’s gone - I’ll be making another batch.
I asked John if it was ok to publish on my site and he said, “of course!” (we are lucky people!!)
John’s comments and recipe below.
Thank you, John!!
John’s Sunday sauce.
Ok, this is quite a process but sooooo worth it. Definitely set aside most of a day to prepare this or make it the day before you intend to serve it. My Grandmother was a sweet little Italian lady and this is very generally the way she prepared her Sunday sauce. Some tips: DO NOT use too much oregano/Italian seasonings especially if you choose to use fresh herb. This is a common mistake in my opinion. Oregano is too bitter. Dry, jarred Italian seasonings usually have the best blend of seasonings and includes oregano. There will be a lot of meat in this and it may become difficult to stir. Add another can of sauce if you need to but start with 6 and be sure to simmer on the lowest heat possible. I measure everything by eye so I’m guessing…Here we go!
You will need:
6 - 15oz cans of tomato sauce or puree (I usually use Hunt’s sauce) Buy 7…you’ll see why later.
6-8 - Large, fresh garlic cloves minced
1/2 Large, Sweet or Vidalia onion finely chopped
Approx 2 tbsp dry Basil (or fresh to taste)
Approx 1 tbsp dry Italian seasonings.
1/4 cup? extra virgin olive oil
3 lbs Italian sausage link….Hot, mild, sweet, mix…whatever. Cut into 3 inch lengths. I buy mine at Carmine Lonardo’s Italian Meat Deli but any will do.
3 Large, Bone-in country-style pork ribs…must have the bone.
Makes 22-25 1.5 inch meatballs.
Time to get your hands really messy. Again, I measure everything by eye so I’m guessing…
In a large bowl combine:
1 lb ground beef…I use sirloin
1 lb ground pork. Sorry to say it’s better NOT to use the super lean ground pork.
3 - Large garlic cloves minced.
1 tbsp Basil.
1/2 tbsp Italian seasoning.
approx 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
approx 1 cup Progresso Italian bread crumbs.
approx 1/3 cup freshly graded parmigiano reggiano. Don’t use the cheap stuff.
Soften meat mixture with milk…not too much, or add bread crumbs to get the right consistency whichever applies.
I use my hands to blend this. When in Rome right?
Let sit in the fridge for half an hour or more. (optional)
In a 3 gallon stock pot, cover the bottom with olive oil. 1/4 cup? Place sausage links and onion in and brown them on medium heat. Allow onions to become opaque. Add garlic near the end of browning and let it render it’s wonderful aromas…3 or 4 minutes. Do not cook sausage all the way. Lightly browned is ideal. You may need to add a little more olive oil to make sure garlic can saute properly. Have sauce cans open and ready to pour in so you do not burn the garlic. Add 6 cans of sauce. Fill one of the empty sauce cans about 1/2 full of water and add it to the sauce. If you are using fresh basil, chop as small as you can and add to sauce otherwise, over the sauce/pot, pour dry basil into your palm. Use your other hand to sorta grind the basil and allow it to fall into the sauce. This process will help the herb render more aroma and flavor. Repeat the process with dry Italian seasonings. Bring to a simmer on medium heat and cover, stirring occasionally. Reduce heat to low simmer.
In a large frying pan, sear ribs on high heat. Ensure they are golden brown on all sides and add to sauce and stir. They will be rare for sure but will cook in the sauce.
Time to get your hands messy again. In a large skillet or frying pan add approximately 2 tbsp olive oil. Roll meat mixture into 1 1/2 inch round meatballs and brown in olive oil on medium heat turning them to brown them evenly. DO NOT cook meatballs all the way. They should be golden brown outside and essentially raw inside. Add them to the sauce. If your pan/skillet is not big enough to hold all the meatballs at once you may have to do this in increments.
Let sauce simmer covered, stirring fairly often, for an hour. It will be a bit thin at this point. If it’s too hard to stir because there is a lot of meat, add that extra can of sauce you bought but do it now and not later. Uncover and continue simmering for at least another hour and sauce will begin to thicken. The meatballs and sausage will cook fully in the sauce. Those ribs will be most tender and falling apart after 2 1/2 to 3 hours of total simmering time. Serve with your favorite pasta.
There are other variations of this recipe. One last note. DO NOT add salt OR SUGAR to the sauce. There is plenty of salt in the sausage and parmesan to take care of that and the meats will cure the acidity. Enjoy!!