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Last Updated on February 16, 2024 by Kiersten James

Make this Sunday an Italian one with an easy, authentic tomato gravy. Keep this pantry staple on hand at all times for your cozy winter gatherings.

Slow cooked authentic Italian red sauce on a spoon.


Tri-State New York is the epicenter for delicious, authentic Italian food. Growing up, most of our friends and family were Italian. My mother-in-law grew up on Arthur Ave in the Bronx. That’s basically as Italian as it gets unless you go to the mother country.

Where we live, you’re not considered a “good cook” unless you’ve mastered Italian cuisine. Italian food was also where I started and learned my way around a kitchen.

Tomato Sauce Or Tomato Gravy?

Tomato sauce is the blanket name for anything red that goes onto any type of pasta, pizza, or meat but there’s actually a difference.

Tomato sauce is a very quick and light sauce usually prepared in a skillet in less than an hour to cover pasta. Marinara sauce would be an example of a tomato sauce.

Tomato gravy, on the other hand, is slow cooked and simmered on the stove all day.

It is much deeper in color, a thicker consistency, and usually is made with a variety of meats and vegetables.

Tomato gravy is what New Yorkers call “Sunday Sauce” or “Sunday Gravy

Sunday Gravy is not only made on Sundays. It’s made any time something big or small happens and/or the weather is cold.

Snow storm? Throw on a pot of gravy.

Unexpected guests for dinner? Throw on a pot of gravy.

Christmas Eve or a birthday dinner? Throw on a pot of gravy.

Need to bring food for a funeral? Throw on a pot of gravy.

Basically if there’s any type of occasion whatsoever good or bad, we throw on a pot of gravy.

Things you may need

  • Large stock pot
  • Can opener
  • Medium sized bowl
  • Cutting board
  • Knife for chopping
  • Long handled spoon
  • Measuring spoons

Ingredients

  • 4 28oz cans San Marzano whole peeled tomatoes
  • 2 lbs sweet Italian sausage
  • 3 lbs ground beef or meatballs
  • 1 large sweet onion diced
  • 4 tbsp minced garlic (or 10-15 fresh cloves pressed)
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 dried bay leaves
  • 1 tbsp white sugar
  • 1.5 tbsp salt
  • 2 tsp dried Italian herb seasoning
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste (optional)
  • 1 tsp crushed red pepper (optional)

How to Make New York Italian Spaghetti Sauce (Gravy)

  1. Brown sweet Italian sausage and ground beef in a very large pot. Drain the grease and put the meat in a separate bowl.
  2. Sauté onion in olive oil over low heat until aromatic and softened. Add garlic and cook with the onion until fragrant.
  3. Add San Marzano tomatoes and crush by hand in the pot.
  4. Add bay leaves, sugar, salt, Italian seasoning, and crushed red pepper.
  5. Add the sausage and beef back to the pot.
  6. Bring the tomato gravy to a low boil.
  7. Turn the heat down to low and simmer for 5-6 hours.
  8. Add tomato paste during last hour if needed to thicken, and adjust salt to personal taste.

Storing and Freezing Spaghetti Sauce

Fresh meat and sauce can be kept in the refrigerator for up to a week as is. Anything longer than a week, it’s best to put it in the freezer.

Gravy that doesn’t contain meat will last longer without spoiling than one that does which is why I store them separately.

Remove the meat from the gravy and store it in a separate air tight container. Meat can be used throughout the week for many different takes on classic Italian dishes.

Store the rest of the gravy in the freezer to be used for anything you would normally use a tomato-based sauce for.

I ordered a 50 pack of quart sized plastic food containers from Amazon that I use for freezing soups and sauces. Leave an inch or two of head space at the top of each container to avoid breakage from expansion.

What to Make With Italian Tomato Gravy

There are so many possibilities! Some of our favorites are:

Absolutely Best Ever Lasagna

Chicken parmesan

New York style Italian bread

Cast iron sourdough skillet pizza

Stuffed bell peppers

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