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Spaghetti with Sunday Gravy | Slowly simmered Sunday gravy made the Italian way!

Classic Italian Meat Sauce

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This Classic Italian Meat Sauce simmers all afternoon, fills your house with a marvelous aroma and will elicit groans of pleasure from all who indulge. Definitely worth the wait!

Classic Italian Meat Sauce - Slowly simmered tomato and meat sauce made the Italian way!

Out of the Ordinary Classic Italian Meat Sauce

My typical spaghetti sauce recipe requires no recipe. It’s tasty, and on occasion even memorable. But I toss in cans of tomatoes, tomato paste and sauce. Sprinkle in some Italian herbs and a few glugs of red wine if there’s an open bottle.

Usually, I add Italian sausage and sometimes meatballs. It’s never the same twice in a row. Then there are easy recipes like this Italian Chicken Bake, for another quick an easy alternative with the same fabulous flavor profile.

But on a chilly Sunday when I’m home for the afternoon, I pull out all the stops. That’s when I make a classic Italian meat sauce and simmer a pot of gravy like a real Italian mama. Starting with country ribs and sausage, there are layers upon layers of flavor which only intensify as the pot slowly cooks for hours. Those Italians knew what they were doing—this is a winner!

Classic Italian Meat Sauce

Gravy or Sauce?

I grew up in Iowa, daughter of a German father and Irish mother.  It was “sauce” that topped our spaghetti, not gravy. It wasn’t till I met foodies from across the US via the Internet that I heard that there was a sauce vs. gravy debate. It seemed to me that those of Italian heritage called this tomato based sauce a gravy. Whatever your preference, I know you’ll love this dish. It’s the perfect way to warm up on a chilly night.

Classic Italian Meat Sauce

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Spaghetti with Sunday Gravy | Slowly simmered Sunday gravy made the Italian way!

Classic Italian Meat Sauce

This classic slow cooked Italian Meat Sauce is adapted from Vita Greco

  • Author: Liz Berg
  • Prep Time: 20 minutes
  • Cook Time: 3 hours
  • Total Time: 3 hours 20 minutes
  • Yield: 8 servings


  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 country style pork ribs
  • 1 pound Italian sausage links, may slice or keep whole

For meatballs:

  • 1 pound meatball mix (equal parts ground beef, ground pork, and ground veal) or all ground beef
  • 2 eggs, slightly beaten
  • 2 tablespoons fresh Italian parsley, chopped
  • 1/4 cup grated Romano cheese (or Parmesan)
  • 1/2 cup bread crumbs
  • 4 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper

For meat sauce:

  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 small can tomato paste
  • 2 large cans crushed tomatoes
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Salt to taste
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • A few pinches of Romano or Parmesan
  • 1/4 cup fresh Italian parsley, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon dried basil
  • 1 small can tomato sauce
  • 1/2 cup dry red wine
  • 1 small can water


  1. In a Dutch oven, brown Italian sausage and pork ribs in a bit of olive oil. Pierce the sausage casings while the first side is browning. Remove and set aside.
  2. Make meatballs by mixing all ingredients. Scoop out tablespoons of mixture and form into balls. Brown in oil left in the Dutch oven, adding more if needed. Remove when browned but not cooked through.
  3. Add garlic to Dutch oven and sauté till fragrant; do not brown. Add tomato paste and cook for a few minutes. Add the rest of the sauce ingredients and bring to a simmer. Add meats. Simmer for about 3 hours with the lid partially covering the pan. Stir every half hour or so to prevent the bottom from burning.
  4. Serve over spaghetti.

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Classic Italian Meat Sauce

Classic Italian Meat Sauce - Slowly simmered tomato and meat sauce made the Italian way! #meatsauce #Italian #spaghetti #sauce
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52 comments on “Classic Italian Meat Sauce”

  1. I love long cooking meals that make the house smell great! As you say, perfect for colder weather:@)

  2. This recipe makes me nostalgic. Years ago I had a boyfriend that was obsessed with Sopranos, so much so he invested in the cookbook and prepared me every single one of the dishes. My absolute fave was the spaghetti & meatballs. Such a classic, but he really nailed it. 🙂

  3. IT was always sauce in my house too – gravy is more of flour based sauce – not tomato based! This recipe sounds like something my boyfriend would love!!

  4. Your meatballs are perfection!! I love that they are not wimpy little things, three is a perfect count for a delicious meal!

  5. I think I would feel so Italian after this dish, I’d be singing opera! Liz, this is a lovely hearty dish, perfect to chase away the Autumn chill in the air.

  6. I love a slow cooked tomato sauce with complex flavours as your beautiful recipe. The meatballs look delicious too. Gorgeous pictures.

  7. Spaghetti and meat sauce is a family favourite, and it looks like you’ve got an amazing recipe. Now I’m wishing I had the ingredients on hand so I could make it for dinner!

  8. I love a good meat sauce and can’t wait to try this one!

  9. Meh depends what region the Italians are in–Michael and I are both Italian and it’s always sauce. I never heard it referred to as gravy until I went to NY.

    I digress. This sauce looks phenomenal, so hearty and meaty and I can practically smell how amazing it is!

  10. Yum, love meat sauce made the slow way 🙂

  11. This sauce is clearly worth the extra effort!

  12. This looks incredible! Meatballs are such a perfect dinner.

  13. We decided on Spaghetti for dinner after seeing yours! I’ll have to try your meatballs soon! The kids always love meatballs and there’s no better excuse then a new recipe!

  14. I’m with you, my typically spaghetti sauce is a thrown together affair that is never the same twice. But this sounds like a recipe worth taking the time for and repeating over and over!

  15. When I open a can of my marinara and add meat or veggies too it or just toss it with pasta I call it sauce. When I use an all day simmer with several different meats, I call it gravy. When I look at yours and read the recipe, I call it delicioius

  16. I love the depth and richness of this recipe. Too often I throw in a bit of this and that along with a ‘glug of wine’ when make sauce — can’t wait to put on sweats one Sunday afternoon and let this simmer all afternoon — and yes, the sweats are so I have plenty of room to enjoy!

  17. Your typical sauce sounds just like mine! This looks delicious. I absolutely love your photos.

  18. Wonderful, delicious recipe dear Liz! Actually (you probably know this), native Italians don’t have a meatballs pasta dish in their classic cuisine. This is something Italian-Americans cooked. Of course it’s a delicious dish and KUDOS to whoever discovered it:)
    We often make Bolognese style sauce ourselves and it’s been quite sometime since we a had a meatball sauce. So, your recipe is next in line to be used (probably on Sunday).
    Thank you for the delicious dish Liz!
    Lots of hugs!

  19. Not sure if it’s the same over there, but the meatballs at Ikea in S’pore is very popular too 😀

  20. This is a great way to greet the cooler fall weather! I’d love have the aroma of good sauce filling the house for hours.

  21. Is this one similar to the Sunday Gravy (?) recipe? Boy that was good and I make it at least once during the holiday season.

    • YES, you’re exactly right! It’s my Sunday gravy just tweaked a bit! I think you and I were the only ones who saw that old post! Thanks for being such a loyal and long time foodie friend 🙂

  22. Great looking pasta recipe!

  23. A classic indeed – long slow cooking always great to bring out the flavors.

  24. I can see why they aren’t any ordinary meat balls. Home cooking is best, Liz! xoxo

  25. Lizzy,
    Gravy, Gravy, Gravy!!! My hubby would love your meatballs – he loves the three types of chopped meat in the meatballs. My meat gravy doesn’t really have a recipe either but I need to get the ingredients written down, so I post my version.

  26. Oh Liz, this looks so delicious. I want a big plate of this right now!!

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