Sunday Gravy or “The Red Lead”


Original Mother’s Secret Recipe Disclosed.
It may seem vague, but its all basic and its hard to get this wrong.

Sunday Gravy, whether you call it gravy, or some argue its “sauce” is really just silly like which came first, the chicken or the egg.  Its both, its a gravy, its sauce, Italians who did not speak English migrated to places like the USA and Australia and didn’t have a word for it, so some call it gravy, others sauce.  Fact is, gravy comes from meat drippings, so yes, you can have brown gravy for your turkey or meatloaf or chicken, or, red gravy for your macaroni as well.  The term “Red Lead” is what I heard from an episode from The Sopranos.  I never heard the term before, but it was appropriate, I think it was in the first season, and what Tony Soprano is talking about is thick, wholesome food that is filling.  Its not bad food, in fact its probably the best food for your body you can find, as long as you don’t eat it every day, but ONLY on Sunday, as it was meant to be.  No matter what the term, it was the common scene at any Italian household on a Sunday, so no matter what you call it, its fine.  So let’s move on to the “meat” of the matter.

This recipe really cannot get much simpler.  It may take some time, but its not rocket science.  And while I would love to know everyone’s personal family recipes, here is one that is not only mine, but the most basic and simple that you cannot go wrong with. The only time you run into trouble is when someone says “add chicken” or “add lobster” or even short ribs – keep it simple, and there is no problem.  The only other problem you can encounter is if you use too much breadcrumbs and mix the meat too much, which will make it tough and the dust-like breadcrumbs will make meatballs like rubber.  Use fresh breadcrumbs and never more than 20-25% of the total contents of the mixture.


  • 1-1.5lbs of chopped meat, 1/3 beef; 1/3 pork; 1/3 veal
  • 1/4 cup of fresh chopped parsley
  • 1/2 cup of fresh chopped onion
  • 1/3 cup of bread crumbs
  • 1/4 grated cheese1 large egg, beaten, to act as a binder
  • Salt & Pepper

Combine all ingredients in a bowl, mix well with hands, but don’t reduce the meat to much, handle it gently, mixing well.  Roll into balls, 1.5 lbs should easily make 15 meatballs.  Don’t make them to big, or too small, I think the perfect size should be about the size of a golf ball, a little larger or smaller is fine.  2 Meatballs per serving with pasta should be fine.

Fry meatballs on all sides in olive oil and garlic until fully browned.  Set on a plate of paper towels to drain excess oil.  Set aside.

OPTIONAL:  fry your sausage, browning on all sides, add in after the meatballs.


  • 1 can of crushed tomatoes
  • 1 can of plum tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 can of tomato paste
  • 1 can of cold water
  • Salt, Pepper, Basil (oregano is optional, but not necessary)

Simply add all ingredients into a heavy pot, stir while bringing to a boil, continue to stir, add meatballs and/or sausage, once boiling, reduce to a low simmer (usually the lowest setting on the stove), walk away for 1.5 to 2.5 hours, and once you see it thicken to your desired consistency, you have the most perfect meal you will ever create for yourself and/or your family.  Leftovers freeze and reheat easily.  Just remember to freeze them in “portions”.  For example, if you are one person, 2 meatballs and enough sauce per package; if you are 2 people, 4 meatballs and enough sauce, etc… don’t be afraid to label how many meatballs are there and when it was made.  Either way, I tend to make a big pot of this and even if I eat it twice a week, I have enough for a month or more.

So, that is your basic recipe, which is adapted from my mother’s recipe, but I know people who add in braciole, short ribs, some add sugar to take away from the acidity of the tomatoes (although today’s canned tomatoes are fine, that has improved since the previous century) but some will fry onions with the tomato paste then deglaze with a glass of red wine.  Many will argue not to add water, and even talk about the brand of tomatoes that are best.  Some will say add day old bread soaked in milk instead of breadcrumbs.  They are all valid arguments, variations, but if this recipe is new to you, just go with what is above, and make your variations as you go along to make it your very own traditional family recipe.

Photos will follow, I can’t believe I’ve never taken any, and there will be variations which include braciole, but this is the basic stuff.  Its done cooking when you can coat the back of a spoon.  If it sticks and its thick, its done, if it runs off and drips, you have about another hour to go.


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