The hearty, homey pleasures of Sunday Sauce

For many Italian-American families, Sunday Sauce, also known as Sunday Gravy, is not only a meal, it’s a way of life — a ritual of food and love that grandmothers and mothers make happen, usually as an after church meal.

In their “Kitchen Companion & Cooking Manuel,” Frank Falcinelli and Frank Castronovo, the Italian-American chef partners of Frankies Spuntino in Brooklyn, write that Sunday Sauce “is the source and summation’’ of their hip but traditional restaurant concept.

“The Sunday Sauce, for the uninitiated, is a huge pot of tomato sauce that’s been used to turn tough, cheap meat into a tender delicious dinner, and that has, in exchange, been made richer and deeper by all the commingled simmering.”

In Atlanta, Cibo e Beve chef/partner Linda Harrell offers a big bowl of Sunday Gravy, once a week — on Sundays, of course. It’s a hearty stew of braised beef, pork and sweet sausage, with onions, carrots, celery, garlic and San Marzano tomatoes. Served over rigatoni, it’s a perfect dish for a cold winter evening.

“It cooks for a really long time,” Harrell says. “That’s what makes it like a gravy. It’s not just a heavy tomato sauce. It’s more about the meat. You have a really intense meat flavor. Originally, people would use leftovers from the week, so it could be anything. I’ve eaten it when there were rib bones in the sauce.”

Her Irish mother came from Belfast, but growing up in Baltimore, Harrell took her first job, at the age of 13, at an Italian restaurant in the city’s Little Italy.

“There were something like 20 restaurants there, and I worked in a whole of those places as a teenager,” Harrell says. “Because I was so young, the women were like moms to me. I would go to their family’s houses on Sundays, and somebody’s grandmother would be making Sunday Gravy. I just really fell in love with it.”

But the Sunday Gravy experience isn’t just about the sauce. It’s also about what goes with the meat and sauce — salad, antipasti, pasta and dessert.

In addition to her take on Sunday Gravy, Harrell shares recipes for Cibo e Beve’s meatballs, a simple caprese salad, and a super rich tiramisu.


These recipes from Cibo e Beve chef/partner Linda Harrell feature dishes from the restaurant’s menu, including Harrell’s take on the hearty Italian-American family favorite, Sunday Gravy, which she serves on Sunday evenings.

Cibo e Beve’s Meatballs

Hands on Time: 30 minutes. Total Time: 50 minutes. Makes: 12 meatballs

Anyone can roll a meatball, but it’s what you put inside that makes an average meatball into a great one, Harrell says. A favorite at Cibo E Beve, Harrell serves the meaty orbs with a bright marinara sauce.

1 pound ground beef

1/2 pound ground pork

1/2 pound ground veal

1 small yellow onion, finely chopped

4 garlic cloves, minced

2 tablespoon Italian parsley

1 tablespoon dried oregano

1/2 cup milk

3 eggs

2 cups breadcrumbs

1/2 cup Parmigiano Reggiano, grated

2 cups breadcrumbs

salt and pepper, to taste

To prepare the meatballs:

In a large bowl, combine the ground beef, pork and veal. Add onion, garlic, parsley, oregano, milk and eggs and mix thoroughly. Add the grated cheese and mix. Slowly add the breadcrumbs mixing until there’s enough to bind the meat into a ball shape. You may not need all the breadcrumbs. Season with salt and pepper.

To bake the meatballs:

Preheat oven to 350

Break meat into 12 parts and roll into balls.

Place balls on a sheet pan. Pour just enough water to cover the bottom of the pan. This will keep your meatballs from getting too crunchy and drying out.

Bake for 15-20 minutes.

Per meatball: 293 calories (percent of calories from fat, 52), 19 grams protein, 15 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram fiber, 17 grams fat (7 grams saturated), 114 milligrams cholesterol, 293 milligrams sodium.

Adapted from a recipe by chef Linda Harrell.

Sunday Gravy

Hands on Time: 30 minutes. Total time: At least 4 and 1/2 hours, but simmer as long as you can. Makes: 8-10 cups of sauce or more with leftovers.

Sunday gravy is a Sunday dinner classic in Italian-American households. Originally an inexpensive way to feed a large family, it’s become a beloved meal for gatherings of friends and family. The rich “gravy” comes from slowly braising a variety of meats, in this case brisket, pork butt and Italian sausage. Many recipes add the likes of braciola, meatballs, and even ribs.

1 tablespoon olive oil

4 cups finely diced yellow onions

2 cups finely diced carrots

2 cups finely diced celery

6 tablespoons chopped garlic

1 pound beef brisket, cubed

1 pound pork butt or shoulder, cubed

1 pound sweet Italian rope sausage, parboiled and sliced

2 cups dry red wine

1 tablespoon crushed red pepper

2 tablespoons dry leaf oregano

1/4 cup chopped fresh basil

8 cups pureed San Marzano tomatoes

salt and pepper to taste

In a large saucepot over medium heat, add olive oil, onions, carrots, celery, and garlic and sweat until onions are soft and translucent, about 10-15 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a large frying pan over medium-high heat, sear brisket, pork and sausage until thoroughly browned on all sides. Remove brisket, pork and sausage from pan and set aside.

Deglaze the frying pan with red wine and reduce, about 10-15 minutes.

Add reduced red wine, brisket, pork, sausage, red pepper, oregano and basil to saucepot. Cover with water and simmer slowly until liquid has reduced by half and meat is fork tender, 2 hours or more.

Add pureed tomatoes and simmer, 2 hours or more. Skim fat from top of sauce and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Serve gravy over rigatoni or other pasta.

Per 1/2-cup sauce: 283 calories (percent of calories from fat, 53), 17 grams protein, 16 grams carbohydrates, 4 grams fiber, 16 grams fat (6 grams saturated), 56 milligrams cholesterol, 427 milligrams sodium.

Adapted from a recipe by chef Linda Harrell.

Caprese Salad

Hands on time: 30 minutes. Total time: 30 minutes. Serves: 4

2 large heirloom tomatoes, sliced unto ½ inch slices

2 balls of burrata or fresh mozzarella cheese

balsamic vinegar

basil oil infusion (recipe below)

salt and pepper, to taste

Season tomatoes with salt and pepper.

Divide tomato slices between four plates and stack them.

Carefully cut each ball of cheese in half and place a half on top of each tomato stack.

Drizzle with basil oil and balsamic vinegar to taste and serve.

Basil Oil Infusion

Hands on time: 10 minutes. Total Time: 10 minutes. Makes: 1 cup

¼ cup fresh basil (leaves only)

¼ cup fresh baby spinach (leaves only)

1/8 cup Italian parsley (leaves only)

1 cup extra virgin olive oil

salt and pepper, to taste

To make the infusion:

Bring a small pot of water to boil

Add basil, spinach and parsley, heat 10 seconds and place immediately in a bath of ice and cold water

Drain water, and place ingredients into a blender set at medium speed and begin blending slowly, adding olive oil until the mixture is completely blended.

Strain through a sieve. Discard the herbs and season the oil with salt and pepper.

Salad per serving: 163 calories (percent of calories from fat, 75), 7 grams protein, 4 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram fiber, 14 grams fat (5 grams saturated), 25 milligrams cholesterol, 123 milligrams sodium.

Basil Oil per 1-tablespoon serving: 126 calories (percent of calories from fat, 100), trace protein, trace carbohydrates, no fiber, 14 grams fat (2 grams saturated), no cholesterol, 1 milligram sodium.

Adapted from a recipe by chef Linda Harrell.

Cibo e Beve’s Tiramisu

Hands on time: 40 minutes plus 4 hours for setting. Serves: 8

Sweet, creamy, fluffy and cold, Tiramisu is a magic combo of taste and texture. Harrell’s recipe, which she says was influenced by working with Tuscan chefs, doesn’t use liquor.

6 eggs, separated

2 cups granulated sugar

2 pounds mascarpone cheese, preferably Galbani

½ cup espresso

1 10-ounce package Savoiardi biscuits (ladyfingers)

4 ounces shaved Belgian dark chocolate

In a large mixing bowl, blend egg yolks with 1 cup of the sugar until a pale yellow color and sugar has been incorporated. Add mascarpone and blend until stiff but creamy. In the bowl of an electric mixer, whip egg whites on high speed. When eggs begin to look “frothy” slowly add remaining cup of sugar. Whip to soft peaks. Fold egg white mixture into egg yolk mixture until completely blended and reserve mixture.

Build the tiramisu by dipping biscuits in espresso for 3 or 4 seconds and arrange them in a single layer in a 2 ½ quart glass bowl. With a spatula, gently spread an even layer of mascarpone mixture over biscuits and top with some of the shaved Belgian chocolate. Repeat process with even layers of biscuits, mascarpone and finish with chocolate. Refrigerate and chill for at least 4 hours. Serve cold.

Per serving: 933 calories (percent of calories from fat, 60), 14 grams protein, 81 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram fiber, 63 grams fat (2 grams saturated), 419 milligrams cholesterol, 164 milligrams sodium.

Adapted from a recipe by chef Linda Harrell.