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Pasta Gravy? Pasta Sauce? the Best Italian Gravy From My Italian Grandma!

Updated on July 19, 2021

Gravy or Sauce? Depends On Which Coast You Live!

The perfect topping for pasta: My Italian grandmother always called it pasta gravy, but transplants to the West Coast call it pasta sauce. Whatever it is called, it is the sweetest, most wonderful thing there is! Because this recipe is from my grandmother, I will use the words 'pasta gravy' in her honor. This is the gravy that you will see me making on any Sunday throughout the year. Sometimes, I dress it up with meatballs, but most of the time, not. The recipe makes enough for two meals, so I always freeze the leftover gravy for another meal. What a convenience!

When my great grandma and great grandpa came here from Calabria, they already had several children. My grandmother was born a few years later, in 1908, in New York. She was given an Italian name, just like all of the other children. Much like the fight about 'gravy' or 'sauce', so was the fight about her name. My Aunt Jean, her sister, wanted her brothers and sisters to have American names, so she decided to change the names of her siblings. My grandma, Filomena, became Florence or Flo. But I will always remember her given name.

The Best Pasta Gravy Recipe Ever!

You will need an 8 quart stockpot for the pasta gravy.

Filomena's Best Pasta Gravy:

  • 4 large cans (12 ounce) of Hunt's tomato paste, Hunt's is required, no Contadina or Progresso or San Marzano- they are too acidic. Hunt's is the one my grandma always used and I have tried different brands here and there along the way, but the Hunt's tomato paste has the best final result.
  • 5 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 nice-sized brown or yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 3-4 Tablespoons of olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon of red pepper flakes
  • 1 pound of ground sirloin (or ground beef, but go with a leaner ground beef)
  • 1 pound of pork neck bones, or
  • 1 pound spare ribs, or pork pieces
  • 1 pound of sweet Italian pork sausage
  • start with 3 cups of water for each can of tomato paste, check consistency (you may need more water) because the gravy cannot be really thick- it will thicken as it simmers and if it is too thick to start with, it will burn.
  • 1 Tablespoon of salt or more to taste

Heat the olive oil in the bottom of the stockpot. Add the pork neck bones or ribs. Brown the pork on both sides. Remove and set aside. Drop the ground beef and brown it thoroughly, adding the red pepper flakes halfway through. When the meat is browned, add the onion and garlic. Sauté until the onions and the garlic are tender. Add some of the water and then begin adding the tomato paste. I usually fill each can about 1/4 full of hot water to get all the paste out (that is in addition to the 3 cups of water for each can of paste). Then add the remaining water and stir to blend, making sure that the paste and water are thoroughly mixed. Bring to a boil. Add the salt. Reduce to a simmer and return the pork to the pot. Place a lid (tilted) on the pot. As soon as you put the lid on, the temperature will increase quickly. Monitor the pot because you want this to simmer, not cook at a full boil. Remove the lid every once in a while to check, stirring each time.

In a separate pan with just a touch of olive oil, brown the sausage on all sides. When it is all browned, add the sausage to the stockpot.

Your gravy should simmer (I look for bubbling in the middle of the pot) for at least 2 hours. It is ready to serve at the 2 hour mark, but I usually let it go for three or four. Check the gravy at least every 30 minutes and stir it. At this point, check the salt level. You may need additional salt.

When the gravy is finished, I split it up into 2 containers. Serve the first container with a pound of your favorite pasta. Allow the second to cool before placing it into the freezer.

If you want to, you may use this sauce for pizza also. You will need about a cup and a half for a nice sized 9 X 13 inch thick crusted pizza. Just prior to heating the sauce for use on the pizza, I suggest adding about 1 teaspoon of dried oregano flakes. If you are a basil lover, add some torn basil leaves to the warmed pizza sauce.

The Traditional Sunday Meal For Italian Families!

Sunday dinner, in almost every Italian family I know, consists of wine, spaghetti, meatballs, an antipasto salad, fresh crusty Italian bread, butter and a rum-filled dessert. It is the meal I remember as a child, and I think it will be the meal remembered by my children. The tradition is the important thing and something that should be preserved, treasured and passed on.

This is the same sauce I featured in my Christmas recipes article minus the meatballs and braciole, but if you were not interested in becoming an Italian for Christmas dinner, you most likely have not seen it. Just like my little 4 foot 8 inch Italian grandma deserves recognition for this 'gravy', the gravy alone deserves recognition!

Gravy or sauce, Italian or not, enjoy this sweet, aromatic pasta topping!


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