Sunday Sauce is more than a meal in our house. It is a tradition that goes all the way back to my childhood and way, way back to my great-grandparents’ days as immigrants in New York. I’m sure every Italian American has their story of Sunday dinners, when dinner happens 3:00 in the afternoon. I’m also sure that every one of us has our own family recipe for making the Sunday sauce. This is why I won’t be sharing a recipe with you. Sunday sauce pretty much starts with the same base ingredients but everyone cultivates and develops their own. In addition, I can say with certainty that I’ve probably never made the same Sunday sauce twice.
Each time I make a Sunday Sauce I consider who will be eating it, how much cooking time I have, the time of year I’m making it, how much of it I want left over. There are tons of variables each time which change from meal to meal. There are a few constants…my quick tips, that for me are repeatable every time and are my keys to making a great Sunday Sauce.
- Start a day (or more!) before serving: Sunday Sauce takes a while to cook. The sauce itself has to cook for at least an hour (this is the absolute minimum). You also have to account for the time it takes to prep and cook the meat. Meatballs look small but there’s an awful lot of time that goes into making them. Throw a braciole in there and your time commitment goes up exponentially! No matter what kind of meat I’ll put in my sauce I start my cooking at least a day in advance. It’s the only way for me to manage cooking such an intensive meal and keeping up with all of my work, wife and mother responsibilities. Added bonus here…the longer the sauce cooks and the more time you have for the flavors to marry the better the sauce tastes!
- Don’t skip the fat: Whenever I buy meat I look for the leanest, highest-quality portion I can afford. With my Sunday Sauce, I don’t have to. The fat on the meat will help flavor the sauce. My one grandmother used to have so much fat in her sauce that she had to skim it off the top with a spoon. It was by far one of the best Sunday sauces I’ve ever eaten and one that I aspire to make! I’ve made my Sunday Sauce with a variety of ingredients but whenever I’m adding a pork chop or a pork loin I make sure to keep the fat on. Same with cuts of beef. While I love filet mignon, it doesn’t do much to amp up the flavor of the sauce. Try beef short ribs or a piece of ribeye steak instead. The one type of meat I always include regardless of whether I’m doing a beef or a pork based sauce is the Italian sausage. I do 4 to 6 links and make sure half of them are spicy and the other half are sweet. The sausage is easy to cook, relatively inexpensive and it’ll add an abundance of flavor and depth to your sauce.
- Use the best ingredients available: I source my ingredients from some combination of the supermarket and an Italian specialty store. If you don’t have access to an Italian market (Buon Italia in Chelsea Market is my fave!) the ingredients you buy in the supermarket will do your sauce just fine. It’s more about the ingredients you choose than it is about where you buy them. When buying tomatoes for my sauce, I always go with crushed San Marzano tomatoes. If they’re not available, any can of crushed tomatoes will work! When I’m hosting guests, I upgrade my pasta to a brand called Setaro. It’s quite expensive compared to larger brands like Barilla ($5/lb vs. $1.39/lb) but it’s worth it. If Setaro isn’t available or I don’t feel like making an extra trip to the store Barilla is my go to. Lasty, always go with fresh garlic as opposed to powdered and please, please go for a good brand of grated parmesan. The cheese you put on top can make or break your dish. When in doubt, buy a wedge of Pecorino Romano cheese and grate your own.
Here are some pictures of my Sunday Sauce and pasta in progress. This version includes spicy and sweet Italian sausage and pork loin.