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Paul's Sunday Gravy

Updated: Jan 22, 2021

I hold this meal closer to my heart than all others. There are better dishes, more intricate recipes, meals with more finesse, but I cannot name one that means more to me than Sunday Gravy.

The mere mention of slowly-simmering red sauce sends my brain into a state of endorphin overdrive. Just reading the title conjures up the smells, sights, and sounds of closely-held, memorable meals. It’s the historical connection that drives me to love Sunday Gravy. This dish is a handshake with the past: for nearly a century, my family has been making some version of utility red sauce for weekend gatherings. My father always told me about his grandmother’s Sunday Gravy, and how she would start it before church so that it could simmer on the stove-top for hours before a late afternoon dinner. It’s a familiar story, and I would wager that most families tracing their roots from the early twentieth century Italian diaspora to America, those who left the “South” following unification, have some family version of this recipe.

I would also wager that no two recipes are the same. Even the version that we’re sharing has noticeable differences in taste each time we make it. Much in the same way man never steps in the same river twice, we also never make the same red sauce twice. And that’s the magic of this dish: there are so many variables (temperature, cuts of meat, amounts of aromatics, time in the oven, direct or indirect heat, etc.) that there is no standard to which this dish could aspire. Sunday Gravy is less of a dish, more of an experience, as any meal that has a day of the week in the name would suggest. Whomever is cooking it is meant to be out of the kitchen and sharing time with friends and family. Sunday Gravy means a lot of daytime wine, and rewarded patience as you smell the sauce for hours before it’s ready.

Another reason we love this dish is because I made it for Sam mere weeks after meeting her. We were in that evaluative phase of a few bar dates on neutral territory, and I mentioned that I had a tradition of making red sauce on Sundays. I knew that we shared similar standards for what passes as Italian food in America, so I had to really pull this off; I would be laughed out of house for bragging about making Prego every weekend. Fortunately, she loved it, and the recipe we’re sharing is essentially the one I used to win her over. This preparation has become a staple in our household.

I hope you take some time this weekend to make this pasta sauce. It’s a simple recipe, one that requires maybe 30 minutes of actual “work,” and more than anything else, it’s fun. Feel free to add or replace the meats, introduce additional vegetables, and make it truly yours. The most important part, though, is that you invite some friends or family over and share the experience.



  • 3 tablespoons olive oil

  • 2 - 28oz cans San Marzano tomatoes (whole, peeled)

  • ½lb oxtail (roughly 3 large pieces)

  • 3 links each hot and sweet Italian sausage

  • 1 large yellow onion, diced

  • 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper

  • 4 large cloves garlic, minced

  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano

  • ½oz tomato paste

  • 2 bay leaves

  • 1 whole carrot, peeled

  • 1 canned anchovy

  • ½ cup red wine (rec. Montepulciano d’Abruzzo or Nero d’Avola)

  • sea salt


Dutch oven

Immersion blender


1---Preheat your oven to 350 F. Pat-dry oxtail pieces with a paper towel, and season with salt and pepper on a platter. In a large bowl, pour the San Marzano tomatoes, and roughly crush each tomato with your hands. Set both aside.

2---Place a Dutch oven on the stove-top over medium-high heat. Add the olive oil to the bottom of the Dutch oven when it’s warm. When the oil is hot and begins to shimmer, add the oxtail and sausage to brown. Work in batches if necessary to avoid overcrowding the bottom of the pot. Turn each piece of meat when it moves freely without sticking to the bottom, about 5-7 minutes depending on the size of the oxtail. Do not cover. Remove meat when browned on both sides and set aside, keep heat at medium-high.

3---Add onion to the Dutch oven and stir occasionally to distribute the rendered fat throughout the onions. Cook onions until soft, about 5-7 minutes.

4---When the onions are soft, add aromatics: first, the anchovy and some of the oil from the anchovy jar/can, then the red pepper flakes and oregano. Stir to assimilate with the onions, let cook for about a minute. Then, add the minced garlic, stir until fragrant. Add the tomato paste, and stir everything together for about a minute. The bottom of the Dutch oven should be fairly brown. Turn the heat up a bit, pour in the wine, and deglaze. Stir vigorously with a wooden spoon, making sure to scrape the bottom of the Dutch oven to release the brown bits. Reduce the wine by about 2/3rds.

5---Reduce heat to medium, add the tomatoes, stir to combine. Blend the sauce with a handheld blender for about 15-20 seconds, just long enough to break up the tomatoes and create a semi-smooth, consistent sauce. Re-introduce the sausage and oxtail to submerge, add the carrot and bay leaves, and add a pinch of salt. Let the sauce heat to a simmer.

6---Cover the Dutch oven, and place in the preheated oven. Let cook for one hour.

7---After one hour, reduce the oven temperature to 225 degrees. Cook for an additional hour (OPTIONAL: the meat - especially the oxtail - can produce a bit of fat that rises to the top of the sauce. Each hour, you may use a spoon to skim some of fat. I tend to leave it in there, but I’m sure I’ll pay for that later).

8---Following the second hour, reduce heat to 200 degrees. The sauce should be done after about 3 hours, when a paring knife easily pierces the meat and carrot, or when you can no longer bear the smell of your house and need to eat.


  • pasta! (your choice, your amount)

  • butter

This is a wonderful utility red sauce that you can use with any pasta of your choice, and the meat is perfectly fine on its own as a secondo piatto or combined with the pasta. I always recommend sautéing the pasta with the sauce to finish, as described in a few examples below. Adding about a tablespoon of butter to the sauce before tossing with the pasta smooths out and deepens the flavors of the sauce. You can always ladle more gravy on your pasta as desired (you spent three hours on it, after all), but pasta is the true star of this dish and should not be washed out, swimming in sauce. This method will give you a high-quality, Italian-approved, result.


1---Remove the carrot from the sauce and discard, remove the meat, shake off excess sauce, and place the meat on a cutting board.

2---In a large pot, heat a large pot of salted water to boil. While awaiting the water to boil, dice the sausage. Remove the oxtail from the bone (should be done fairly simply with a fork, the oxtail will be very tender) and dice as well.

3---Add dried or fresh pappardelle to the water when it has reached a rapid boil. In a sauté pan, add enough of the gravy to coat the pasta, and heat over medium-low heat. Cook the pasta until al dente, for fresh pasta about 4 minutes, and dried pasta will take about 10 minutes.

4---Add about a tablespoon of butter to the sauce and stir to incorporate. When the pasta is al dente, use a spider strainer to remove from the water and add directly to the sauce.

5---Toss the pasta in the sauce using either tongs, a pasta fork, or a sauté flip. Either way, make sure the pasta moves and aerates within the sauce while it is heated. Toss the pasta in the sauce for about 2 minutes.

6---Serve the pasta on a warmed plate or a bowl, top with the diced meat, as much additional gravy as you might want, and finish with fresh grated parmigiano reggiano.


1---Remove the carrot from the sauce and discard, remove the meat, and place in an oven-safe, earthenware pot. Place into the still-warm oven to keep warm until ready to serve.

2---In a large pot, a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add a few ladles of sauce to a sauté pan, enough to coat the pasta, and heat over medium-low heat.

3---When the water begins to rapidly boil, add dried rigatoni. Cook until al dente, about 7-9 minutes.

4---Add about a tablespoon of butter to the sauce and stir to incorporate. When the pasta is done cooking, remove using a spider strainer, and add it directly to the sauce.

5---Toss the pasta in the sauce using either tongs, a pasta fork, or a sauté flip. Either way, make sure the pasta moves and aerates within the sauce while it is heated. Toss the pasta in the sauce for about 2 minutes.

6---Serve on a warm plate or a bowl, top with fresh grated pecorino romano cheese. Serve the meat by itself alongside, or after, the pasta.

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