Sunday Gravy from The Sopranos

April 8, 2010


It’d be cruel to dismiss this as some version of ‘spag bol’. It’d also be a travesty to think of this as an average pasta and sauce because this is so so much more than that. I absolutely love cooking Italian and our favourite dish is a traditional Ragu Bolognese; a deeply flavoursome and fulfilling sauce that packs a punch and puts those bastardised ‘spag-bols’ to shame. A plate of good ragu with pappardelle or fettuccine and a glass of wine is my true source of therapy and I’d take it over any fine dining meal.

It’s better than sex. There, I said it (nothing against The Captain but damn I love my ragus).


 Therapy comes in a bowl

It takes a lot for me to look past the faithful ragu bolognese but I think I may have tasted something that’d knock it off its pedestal. The adorably named Sunday Gravy (as referred to by the Italian-Americans according to the Wiki-god) is similar to a Neopolitan Ragu, in that compared to its Bologna version, this is more tomato-heavy and does not use milk. Sunday Gravy also uses whole meats to cook in the tomato gravy rather than straight out mince and this results in something so ballsy and gutsy and with such a depth flavour that I’ve never experienced before. Speaking of (meat)balls… they were dee-licious


 My poor wilting basil LOL!

This recipe, quite appropriately, comes from The Sopranos Family Cookbook and it’s thanks to a fellow Sydney Twitterer for introducing me to it. It’s a very worthy book to have, if only for the kitsch value of owning a cookbook from a drama series but that’s not to take away from the amazing Italian recipes. But trust me, they are delicious… and I’m not just saying it because ‘The Family’ ordered me to.


I can’t sing any more praises for this than I already have. It’s not just the kick-ass sauce, pasta and meatballs. It’s feasting on the leftover meats and sausages that flavoured the gravy. It was so tender that it just fell apart and oh, the flavour! My family could not stop raving about it, even through to the next day when The Sis came over and The (God)Father couldn’t stop prodding me to get her to taste it. Best of all, you don’t have to use the Sunday Gravy with pasta. Think lasagne or as a damn fine pizza sauce. Saucy, tasty, meaty and versatile – sounds like my perfect man.

Suffice to say that this was one heck of an awesome Easter Sunday dinner.


The Sopranos Sunday Gravy

(You can find the original recipe with Imperial-measurements here).

2 Tbl olive oil
500g meaty pork neck bones or spare-ribs
500g veal stew meat or 2 shoulder chops (I used 500g of veal osso buco)
500g Italian-style plain or pork and fennel sausages (I used a 450g packet)
4 cloves of garlic, crushed with a knife
1 x 140g tomato paste
3 x 800g tins of Italian peeled tomatoes
300ml of red wine
200ml water
salt, ground black pepper and sugar to taste
fresh basil leaves
500g penne, rigatoni or shells (these hold the sauce the best)

Note: If you are using tinned crushed or chopped tomatoes then you’ll probably need to reduce the wine and water by half


250g veal mince (beef can be used instead)
250g pork mince
1 tsp of finely crushed garlic
1/2 cup of fresh plain breadcrumbs (dry will do in a pinch but reduce the amount slightly)
1/4 cup of finely chopped flat-leaf parsley (I like to use basil for the flavour)
1/2 cup finely grated pecorino or fresh parmesan – purely optional (I left it out and it still tasted fab)
2 eggs
1 tsp salt
black pepper to taste
2 Tbl olive oil


In a large pot or casserole dish (trust me, you’ll need a large one!), heat the olive oil over medium heat then cook the pork ribs for about 10 minutes, turning occasionally until browned all over. Remove the ribs, then brown the veal. Remove then fry the sausages, browning it on all sides.

Drain off most of the fat in the pot (leave a little), then fry the garlic until golden. Remove the garlic then add the tomato paste and fry for a minute.

Add the tinned tomatoes and with a potato masher or your wooden spoon, crush the tomatoes finely. Feel free to have a chunkier sauce if that’s what you prefer.

Add the wine and water then season to taste with salt, pepper and sugar (to counteract the tartness and acidity of the tomatoes but it’s purely optional).

Add the cooked meats back into the pot and bring to a boil. Simmer on low heat, partially covered for 2 hours stirring occasionally. If it looks like the sauce is getting too thick, add a little water or wine.

In the meantime, make the meatballs:

Place all ingredients in a bowl (except the olive oil) and mix until all combined. Wet your hands slightly with cold water and form 4cm balls (I got about 21 meatballs out of it).

In a pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat and fry the meatballs until browned all over. Set aside.

After 2 hours, add the meatballs to the sauce and simmer for another 30 minutes until sauce is thick and meats are tender.

In the meantime, cook the 500g pasta in boiling salted water until al dente and drain.

After cooking time, remove the meats (not the meatballs) and set aside. Grab about 10 large leaves of basil and tear it with your hands into the sauce and stir through.

Add the pasta to the sauce and stir gently until all mixed.

Serve with grated pecorino or fresh parmesan. Serve the pork ribs, veal and sausages alongside or as a separate course or on another day. Personally I love shredding the meat and cutting up the sausages into pieces and adding it to my pasta.

Recipe Alternative:

Instead of serving it with pasta, make lasagne! Make meatballs the size of grapes and make Sunday Gravy as instructed. Use the gravy to layer with fresh pasta sheets and fresh ricotta and topped with grated mozzarella and parmesan and baked until all golden and melted.

Recipe adapted from The Sopranos Family Cookbook by Allen Rucker and Michele Scicolone


{ 36 comments… read them below or add one }

Neil H January 13, 2013 at 16:34

Definitely fairly authentic Italian-American. Like Das Ubergeek, we shortly fry dried herbs in the oil. Usually just a generous pinch of thyme and basil. I love that garlic is removed in this recipe, and that the amount used is not overpowering; I was beginning to think that this was specific to only my family. Waaayyyyy too much garlic in most recipes, and it NEVER needs to stay in. I also love that oregano isn’t used; it is of little good use in Italian-American cooking, and my family wouldn’t touch it EVER because it was used only by “mountain people” back in the old country to mask the poor quality of the foods that were available to them. No need to be so strict on the meats unless you want the traditional courses; the flavors can be infused using other cuts and in various ways. My mother used to make so many meatballs for breaking up into lasagnas, freezing, etc. that she never put anything but meatballs and sausage in the pot. Her meatballs included beef, pork, and veal, but NO cheese. I do it both ways.. depending.


Das Ubergeek April 28, 2010 at 06:54

It's fairly authentic, yes. We fry dried herbs in the oil, in addition to the fresh herbs. I always add the cheese, but I use the rind from "old" grating cheese and fish it out later.

If you make it with rabbit, use rosemary and call it ragù di coniglio.


citrusandcandy April 28, 2010 at 06:34

Thanks so much for the advice! I knew it was suppose to be two courses but I just couldn't resist piling it altogether on one plate. Oops my bad!

Would you say in your expert opinion that this is a pretty authentic recipe? Or do you know of one that's even better? I'd love to try all the different versions :)


Das Ubergeek April 28, 2010 at 01:39

Looks good. One note from an Italian-American (we invented this here, you see; meat was much too expensive in Italy to eat once a week in 1935).

Sunday gravy is always, always a two-course meal. That insane sauce is served over pasta as the starter, then the meats are served with bread and simply-dressed (olive oil and red wine vinegar or lemon juice, salt and pepper).

Looks fantastic though. Abbondanza e nostalgia!


mashi April 22, 2010 at 04:03

YUM! The pictures are truly beautiful and I'm sure it tastes just as good as it looks. Will definitely attempt this over the long weekend x


julie April 12, 2010 at 16:25

I know what I wanna be doing this Sunday…yum!


Katherine April 12, 2010 at 12:42

Look delicious Karen. I love the photos. The basil shot is great.


Sweets By Vicky April 12, 2010 at 01:14

I absolutely dig this! I wanted to make spag and meatballs last night but they all called for stale bread and I didn't have any gluten-free ones handy. but i DO have dry crumbs! :) Great recipe!


SarahVino April 11, 2010 at 07:43

Beautiful… Love traditional meals made good…


penny aka jeroxie April 10, 2010 at 13:11

I love good meatballs. This is right up my alley.


bedroom dressers April 10, 2010 at 10:07

Looks awesome! the sauce looks amazing. What a great recipe!


Lemonpi April 9, 2010 at 21:09

Looks awesome! Hard to explain why I'm always a bit lazy to make meatballs, even though I love eating them.


Memoria April 8, 2010 at 07:29

Man. Your photos are so rich and clear!! I love how deep the colors are. This sauce looks amazing.


thatssoron April 8, 2010 at 03:50

slurps! yummo!


FFichiban April 8, 2010 at 03:44

Oh yuummmm, haven't had Italian in too long! and with this cooling weather its time for some warm hearty carb-loaded dishes


Howard April 8, 2010 at 03:10

Awesome, just the right time of year for it as well with the weather cooling down.


Kathy April 8, 2010 at 01:54

You should try the Zeppole recipe from the same cookbook….amazing!


Steph April 8, 2010 at 00:23

Mmm that looks amazing Karen! Hahaha I've been waiting for you to say something was better than sex! But I can't disagree, after seeing this post the first meal I cooked after getting my stove top fixed was something very similar to this.


Carolyn Jung April 7, 2010 at 15:45

This is my dream meal. First, I can never say no to carbs of any sort. Second, a thick, rich meat sauce makes me swoon. But third, add meatballs to it, and I just go crazy. ;)


jo April 7, 2010 at 14:51

Oh gosh, the sauce looks amazing. What a great recipe!


Kathy April 7, 2010 at 12:50

I don't know what to say. Your recipe look so great and delicious, really mouth watering, and of course, as you said it- It's better than sex! There I said it too! It is a good thing that you used penne on this one, I certainly agree with you that these type of pasta absorb the sauce more. And the more the saucey it is, the more it is heavenly. Thank you for sharing your wonderful recipe. Perfect!


Conor @ HoldtheBeef April 7, 2010 at 12:22

I would totally share a bed with a horse head to get some of this. A whole horse, even (not like that!! Shame on you!)


Rose April 7, 2010 at 11:08

Thanks so much for the recipe – this will be making an appearance on the dinner table once it gets colder :)


mlle délicieuse April 7, 2010 at 08:46

Mmmm…saucy & ballsy!


citrusandcandy April 7, 2010 at 07:27

Yes but to call it spag bol is an insult. Spag Bol or Spag Meatballs represents that westernised horrible goulag that is a pale comparison to the authentic thing. In any case there's no such thing as Spaghetti Bolognese in Italy. And we can't call this a Bolognese because it's not from the area and it has meatballs. I only made that statement because I had people look at it and go 'ooh, fancy spaghetti and bolognese!' *covers face in exasperation*

Culinary lesson over hehehehe… now you go and make it and enjoy! :D


Trissa April 7, 2010 at 05:59

Karen this looks soooo good! I didn't even know the Sopranos had a cookbook – that's just so cool and I am sure it is one of those comfort foods you can have as the weather is starting to cool. Thanks for sharing the recipe!


@vanillandlemon April 7, 2010 at 05:12

This is MY kind versh of spag bol! hahahaha. Spag bol has never looked so appealing! the spag bol my mom makes sad to say is meh, but i am going to change all that by passing her this recipe! yay! cannot wait!
p.s i have a whole packet of the nectarines that looks like the ones on your banner and yummmm they are.


bily@atablefortwo April 7, 2010 at 04:25

yummo, good old meatballs with ragu. I am too lazy to make ragu and always stick to spag bol hahahaa… but i think i might give it a try when i can be bothered :P


NasiLemakLover April 7, 2010 at 01:50

This look so delicious !


Simon@theheartoffood April 7, 2010 at 00:16

It would be cruel to dismiss it as spag bol as it's clearly some version of spaghetti & meatballs :)

Judging from the ingredients of the "Sunday gravy" that really does look like one hearty pasta sauce.


johnbek April 6, 2010 at 23:28

This looks so delicious. I've already printed the recipe so I can make it very soon!


oneshotbeyond April 6, 2010 at 22:35

gorgeous looking!


Angie April 6, 2010 at 22:23

Why do I always torture myself with foodblogs first thing in the morning… *Looks at Musli Bar on desk*

Looks and sounds awesome!


Sam@The Cooks Larder April 6, 2010 at 22:09

Even the Sunday Gravy recipe is alone enough to make my mouth water – what a full-of -flavour recipe. Can wait to try it, especially with the rainy weather just set in!


@authentacity April 6, 2010 at 20:55

I can practically taste that sauce. Looks amazing.


Amy @ cookbookmaniac April 6, 2010 at 18:11

OMG! This looks double-delish. I wants it!


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