Sunday Supper: It All Starts With the Sauce...

It all starts with the sauce.  If you are Italian American, you know exactly what I mean.  Every Italian household has their signature sauce.  Whatever your family calls it - il sugo, the gravy, or marinara - it’s the red tomato sauce that compliments or begins many of the dishes we eat. 

Every Italian Nonna makes her own sauce.  That sauce is then taught to her daughters and she in turn, passes it on to her daughters.  Reason being, you cannot create a proper Sunday supper without the sauce.  This beloved condiment is the base for a number of dishes served at your large, family get-togethers.  Sunday supper is a tradition I maintain in my home because it reminds me of my childhood.  The long table, knobs of crusty bread, jugs of red wine and lots of loud, boisterous conversation.  Family piling in, dishes passed up and down the line of familiar faces - making sure everyone had seconds (or thirds!)

In a time when we are all texting, tweeting, posting and liking it's nice to take Sunday off.  To just pretend - for a little while - that life is still as simple as it was when we were kids.  And, once you know a few basics, you can make a red sauce that Nonna will be proud of and, more importantly, begin to create some Italian American classics we all have grown to love.

My mother’s sauce is the best.  Now, I am, of course, not an unbiased taster - but never mind that.  Once you try this sauce, I’m certain you will agree.  Her sauce is simple to make, yet complex in taste.  In addition, it is also a critical ingredient for her amazing meatballs.  So, once you know how to make the sauce, you can make the meatballs that cook in the sauce.  Kind of like a chicken before the egg situation.

Italian tomato sauce is a labor of love.  It’s also the cooking liquid for various meats that are served alongside a huge platter of pasta.  A Nonna would begin making her sauce early on Sunday morning, while the rest of us were still deep in our REM sleep cycle.  They did this because once the sauce had reached bubbly perfection; they could begin creating all the other delicious dishes that would cover the Sunday dinner table.  So, it's not that the sauce takes all day to make, it's just that the sauce is the most important part of the meal.  Delicious meats simmer and cook to tender perfection and then tops your favorite pasta with obscene amounts of Parmigiano or Pecorino cheese.

Whenever I make this sauce, I tend to double the recipe and freeze the extra.  Once you master the sauce, it will become the topping or base for many Italian American dishes. 

Sunday Sauce with Meatballs and Pork


Prep time:         Total time: 

Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Bunch of Fresh Basil
1 Garlic Bulb
1 lb pasta of choice (we like linguine fini)
7 cups crushed tomato sauce
2 to 3 Italian sausage links (mild or hot)
3 to 4 pork ribs, separated
5 to 6 meatballs (recipe below)
2 cups Pecorino Romano, grated

The sauce for this dish provides a lovely topping to pasta and the ‘bath’ for the meatballs, sausage and pork ribs to cook in.

Once the meats are removed, the sauce carries the aroma of the meat and tastes wonderful on pasta. 


½ cup Italian Extra Virgin olive oil
4 to five fresh basil leaves
2 garlic cloves, lightly smashed
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper (optional)
7 cups crushed canned tomatoes
Chopped basil, about 1 tablespoon
Salt and Pepper to taste

  1. In a small pan, combine olive oil, basil and garlic, (crushed red pepper, optional for a
  2. a spicer sauce). On low very heat, allow the basil and garlic to “steep” into the olive oil.  The aromatics will allow the olive oil to become fragrant and rich with flavor.
  3. After 10 to 15 minutes, remove the basil and garlic and discard.  Garlic should be a toasty brown color, not black.
  4. Heat large sauce pan and pour in crushed tomato.  Season with salt and pepper. 
  5. Pour infused olive oil into the pan and mix.  Allow mixture to come to a boil and then
  6. reduce to a simmer.
  7. At this point, all the meats can be added.  Simmer for 3 hours
  8. Remove all meats and transfer to a serving plate.  Add chopped basil to sauce and mix until incorporated. 


1/2 lb ground pork
1/2 lb ground veal
1/2 lb ground beef
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon black pepper
2 eggs
1 cup grated pecorino romano
1 cup bread crumbs
1/2 cup milk
½ cup tomato sauce

  1. In a large bowl, hand mix all the ingredients. The hand mixing helps prevent
  2. Overmixing.  Once all ingredients are combined, wet your hands, pinch a handful of
  3. meat and roll into balls.  Carefully drop them into simmering sauce.  Allow to
  4. simmer in the sauce for at least 40 minutes or up to two hours. 
  5. Remove from sauce and serve.