The Sunday Sauce

Several years ago I had the pleasure of living in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn. One of the neighbourhood locals was Frankies Spuntino (yes, plural, not possessive). The place was a rose-tinted glasses celebration of the Italian-American experience and a fantastic place to eat a hearty meal.

When they release a cookbook, I quickly bought it. However, between traveling, launching a startup and starting a family, the cookbook has languished. So today, I cracked it open, determined to cook a Sunday Sauce.

For those who don’t know, the Sunday Sauce (or Sunday Gravy according to Tony Danza) is basically a slow-cooked tomato sauce that becomes a vehicle for over-indulging in meat (and reminds every Italian American of Sunday at their grandma’s).

Heat a cup of olive oil on medium-low and brown 13 or so cloves of garlic for 10 minutes; your house will smell great. Toss in some red pepper flakes at the end and then four cans (96 oz) of San Marzano tomatoes (gotta be San Marzano or else you’re bastardizing the experience; hand-crush them before adding them).

Salt & pepper to taste, then start to wait. It’s going to take at least four hours to cook.

You should have something that looks like this:

Sauce Cooking

How do you improve on this sauce?


We heated the oven to 350 and browned some ribs for 30 minutes. After that, we tossed ’em in the sauce and let them simmer for 3+ hours (needless to say, all the meat falls off the bone).

But you’ll need more than ribs.

You also want meatballs.

Here’s what you’ll need for the meatballs:

  • 2 lbs lean ground beef
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped Italian parsley
  • 1/4 cup pecorino romano
  • 1/4 cup raisins or cranberries
  • 1/4 cup toasted & chopped pine nuts (I always toast them just before chopping)
  • Salt & pepper
  • 4 eggs
  • Bread crumbs

Throw everything except the breadcrumbs into a bowl:

Meatball Ingredients

Hand mix everything and add some breadcrumbs to thicken the mixture as necessary. Anything north of runny is good.

Then, roll the meatballs into 1.5-2 inch spheres:

Meatballs Before

Then brown them for 30 minutes at 350; consider turning them once so that both sides cook well:

Meatballs After

You should now be salivating – but set the meatballs aside for the moment.

You want to wait until the sauce is good and ready (about 4.5 – 5 hours of cooking) and add the meatballs to the sauce 30 minutes before it’s ready. You can get extra fancy by removing the meatballs from the main sauce and – while keeping them still covered in some sauce – browning them for another 10 minutes or so at 350 just before serving the meal.

When everything’s ready, ladle heaps of the rib-heavy sauce onto some pasta, top with meatballs and add some fresh cheese. It should look something like this:

Spaghetti & Meatballs

Spaghetti & Meatballs

Savour the flavour and get ready to eat leftovers for a few days.