Italian Sunday Gravy

Maybe your Nonna has been making Sunday Gravy as long as you can remember and it looks nothing like this. But that’s okay. There are as many ways to make Sunday Gravy as there are Italian families. Some use meatballs, some tuck in braciole, some feature beef short ribs… but the important thing is that it’s cooked low and slow until the meat is fall-apart tender and the flavor is unbeatable. (Which makes it the perfect project for a lazy Sunday.) Our version takes a tip from Anthony Bourdain and features oxtail, which gives the sauce a delicious velvety quality.

Our method goes from stovetop to oven and you can expect it to take about three hours. There’s no rushing it – you just won’t get the same flavor, but don’t worry, you don’t have to stand around stirring it all day.

We start by searing our meat, in this case, pork spareribs and oxtail. You want to work in batches and take care not to crowd the pot. A good browning goes a long way towards developing great flavor.

Once those are seared, you remove them from the pot and let the sausage have a turn. Sweet or hot, your choice.

From there, you soften a couple of onions and enough garlic to ward off the fiercest vampire before stirring in some tomato paste. You want to let the tomato paste cook for a good four minutes or so until it darkens considerably.

Only then do you start to add the liquids for the sauce – some red wine to deglaze the pan and a generous helping of crushed tomatoes. You return the oxtail and spareribs to the pot and transfer the whole thing to the oven where it cooks until the meat is nearly falling apart and the flavor is rich and deep and comforting. The sausages are added just for the last thirty minutes – enough time to cook through but not become mealy.

Call it Sunday Sugo, or Sauce, or Gravy, it’s hard to go wrong with something that’s cooked low and slow all day… it almost always turns out tasting incredible. Maybe you make yours with osso bucco, or ground beef or pork or veal, bacon, short ribs, or pork chops, but if you’ve had it even once, you know the most important ingredient is the love that goes into it.

Italian Sunday Gravy

30 minutes active, 3 hours inactive to prepare serves 6


  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 lbs oxtail, cut into pieces
  • 1 lb pork spareribs
  • 1 lb Italian sausage links
  • 2 white onions, peeled and finely chopped
  • 5 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/2 to 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 2 cups dry red wine
  • 3 (28 oz) cans crushed tomatoes
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 1 sprig fresh rosemary
  • 8 leaves fresh basil, torn into pieces
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • Parmesan cheese, for topping


  1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
  2. Heat olive oil in a large Dutch oven or stockpot over medium-high heat. Season oxtail and spareribs with salt and pepper.
  3. Once oil is hot, brown pork on all sides, then remove to a plate. Brown oxtail on all sides, then remove to a plate. Add sausage and brown completely, remove to a plate.
  4. Reduce heat to medium and add onions to pot. Season with a pinch of salt and cook until translucent. Add garlic and cook 1 minute more.
  5. Stir in tomato paste, oregano, and red pepper flakes. Cook until tomato paste darkens, about 4 minutes.
  6. Add wine and deglaze pan, scraping off any stuck bits on bottom of pan. Cook until wine reduces by half, about 10 minutes.
  7. Add 1 cup water, crushed tomatoes, bay leaves, thyme, and rosemary.
  8. Return spareribs and oxtail to pot, season with salt and pepper, and bring to a boil. Cover pot and cook in oven for 2 1/2 hours, until meat is nearly falling apart.
  9. Add sausages to pot and return to oven for 30 more minutes.
  10. Stir in torn basil and serve over pasta with grated Parmesan cheese. Enjoy!

Recipe adapted from Platings and Pairings.