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How To Make Real Italian Gravy

Updated on June 13, 2009

Italian Gravy--The North Jersey Way

Americans of Italian descent that live in the north east refer to tomato sauce cooked slowly with various meats and spices as gravy--and I'm here to tell you there is nothing better than Italian gravy when it is prepared correctly. I married a woman of Italian descent who grew up in Newark's Little Italy so I cobbled this together from watching her, her mother and her grandmother cook. I did a little research of my own and came up with this recipe. You will need the following:

2 one lb cans of crushed tomato-- get good quality tomato. I use Tuttorossa. My wife likes San Marzano

1 can tomato paste--I have not noticed a difference in brands, but Redpack seems fine.

1 can Del Monte tomato sauce--this is optional, but can be used to make the sauce go further

6-8 cloves of garlic

1 sweet onion chopped fine

1 bunch FRESH Italian parsley (flat leaf parsely) chopped fine. This is not the stuff that they put all over plates in the 70's. This is similar to Chevril

1 bunch FRESH Basil chopped fine

2-3 tablespoons of olive oil

1 teaspoon of dried oregano

1 teaspoon of dried marjoram

1 teaspoon of crushed red pepper (If you like it a little spicy)

1 package of Italian sausage. I use a mix of Premio Sweet and Hot. If they don't sell it pre packed where you live ask your butcher.

A couple of pork spare ribs

A couple of neck bones

1 lamb shank or chop. The shank has more flavor than a chop.

Meatballs-- Click to get the recipe

Salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste. Please don't forget this. The difference between good food and okay food is in the seasoning. Bobby Flay never forgot to season the food.

I use a large Le Creuset pot to cook this in. They are expensive, but it's the best pot I've ever owned. It's made of cast iron lined with enamel. Any cast iron dutch oven set up would work fine. Be careful with pots with thinner bottoms--it's easy to burn tomato sauce and a mess to get off the bottom of the pot. You will also need a skillet to brown the meat in. I use a big cast iron Lodge skillet that cost less than $30.

Olive oil goes in the pot. Add the onion and cook until translucent. Add the garlic and cook gently. Don't burn the garlic. Add the crushed tomato and all the herbs and spices.

Meanwhile on another burner...

Brown the meat. Season it with salt and pepper, add some oil to the pan and through in the meat. Let it brown well--we want some good caramelization on the meat here. As it finishes browning toss it into the pot with the tomato. When you are done browning the meat throw a couple of tablespoons of water into the hot skillet to deglaze and scrap the yummy brown bits off with a spatula. Drain this meaty goodness into the tomato pot. Cover the tomato pot and cook until the meat is falling off the bones. I mean really disintegrating--we need the connective tissue to break down. Stir it often--don't let it burn to the bottom of the pot. This will probably take between 2 and 3 hours. If the gravy gets too thick add the Del Monte tomato sauce or add some water to thin it slightly. My wife's mother always said "You gotta slow cook it" When the gravy is almost done boil some water for your pasta. I like spaghetti, my wife prefers penne. Whatever you chose it should be hearty--this is not the sauce for angel hair.

Pull the meat out with a slotted spoon and serve in a separate dish. Serve the gravy on the the pasta with fresh grated parmesan and sprinkle a little of the fresh Italian parsley on top. Get a nice bottle of Chiante and make a decent salad and you will have an official Italian American Sunday Dinner. Serve crusty bread and olive oil to dip it in along side.


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      Giovanni 4 years ago

      ..and how many meatballs?

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      Giovanni 4 years ago

      Just curious, how many sausages, and how many people can this recipe serve?

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      timo 5 years ago


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      Kim 6 years ago

      I'm 3rd generation Italian family from the Bronx, this recipe sounds delicious, but here's our: you can use 2 cans of Tomato puree in place of the crushed tomatoes and omit the marjoram, the lamb shank and the neck bones and it will come out just as delicious, I promise! We don't like our gravy to be chunky, so that's why we use the puree.

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      Bobby 6 years ago

      This is a great recipe, it has been the base of my gravy since i started experimenting with italian cooking last year. Thanks for sharing!

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      Mrs Mazz 6 years ago

      OMG Thank you for the recipe for the BEST SAUCE EVER! My husband just LOVES this sauce! It is the very best ever -- it tastes like my Aunt Sol's sauce from the 60's.

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      Authentic Italian Sauce 7 years ago

      I really enjoy finding authentic Italian sauces and this one I will definitely try out this weekend on my next pasta dish. Thanks for sharing!

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      Jack1000 7 years ago

      Sure--you can add a bay leaf or 2.

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      steve 7 years ago

      bay leaves?

    • Jack1000 profile image

      Jack1000 8 years ago

      Hey-- my first comment and I was still fixing the typos. Growng your own basil is the way to go--When I buy it at the super market whatever I don't use ends up turning black in the fridge. I will try to post up a recipe for the meatballs tonight or tomorrow.

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      chicamom85 8 years ago

      I am going to make this, it sounds awesome. I just grew some fresh basil on my window garden. Thanks