This simple Sunday sauce recipe is a meaty pasta dish simmered for several hours to form a rich sauce from beef short ribs. An Italian tradition that will feed a crowd on any day of the week.
I’m not Italian despite my love of Italy, my mom is German and both of my parents are from California. What this means is that I had never even heard of the term Sunday Sauce or Sunday Gravy until I started hanging out with my Italian friends.
Just to be clear, I’m NOT a red sauce fan, I put light sauce on pizza and avoid dishes made with red sauce at restaurants. All I can think of is Chef Boyardee in a can. However, once I tried really good sauce, I realized what I’ld been missing and wanted to try to re-create Sunday Sauce.
Everyone I know seems to have a favorite recipe passed down from their grandma but most have meatballs. I wanted something a little heartier and started with a recipe I found in Food and Wine that used just short ribs. Most Sunday gravy recipes have pork in them but short ribs have so much flavor, I love them braised or in chili so I felt that short ribs alone would make a flavorful sauce.
Is it Sunday sauce or gravy?
The terms are interchangeable, they both describe a tomato sauce with meat cooked slowly for several hours. The deep flavors of the meat with the bones form a sauce that can’t be reproduced without a slow simmer.
The terms came from the Italian tradition of families getting together for a meal on Sunday. With big crowds, you needed a dish that could feed a lot. This rich tomato pasta sauce is so good, I only use a pound of pasta but you can see from the photos, that if you had more people to feed that you could easily increase the pasta and no one would be the wiser.
There are only a couple of ingredients and while it cooks for 4 hours, you just have to stir it occasionally once you’ve done the initial prep. This is a perfect meal to try when you’re going to be around the house all day. Perfect for a snow day, just have some ribs in the freezer and stock your pantry and you’ll be ready! The house will smell fabulous.
What You’ll need
- Beef short ribs – English cut with bones – these are the most common cut you will see in the grocery.
- San Marzano whole peeled canned tomatoes – this brand is my favorite brand. (affiliate)
- Carrot – a whole one that you can easily remove at the end. It adds some sweetness.
- Pasta – bucatini noodles are great for absorbing the sauce, but any spaghetti type pasta will work.
- Pantry staples – onion, garlic, tomato paste and dried oregano.
How to make Sunday Sauce
You’re not going to believe how easy this is, the prep time is about 30 minutes but most of that is letting the sauce come to a boil. Then you just let it cook for 4 hours. I find this works best in a Dutch oven, this is the one I use and while a little pricey, I’ve had it for over 10 years so it’s a great investment. (affiliate) Here’s all you have to do:
Step 1: Brown the beef ribs on all sides and remove to a plate.
Step 2: In the same pan, cook the onions then add the garlic and oregano and tomato paste. Last crush the whole tomatoes with your hands and add all the juice and tomatoes to the pot along with the carrot. Bring it to a boil and then add the browned short ribs and let it simmer for four hours.
Step 3: When the meat is falling off the bone, take them out of the pot, remove the ribs and shred the beef. Return it to the sauce.
Step 4: Cook the pasta reserving some of the water. Add the pasta to the sauce along with a little of the pasta water and serve.
The meat will fall off the bone at the end and when added back to the sauce you get a rich complex sauce. Make sure you add the pasta to the sauce before serving so that the pasta can absorb all of the amazing flavors. I used a pound of pasta but if you are serving a crowd, you could add more pasta.
All I can say is that this was so good, Mike said it was perfect. I’ve made this over and over again and it’s always a hit and makes great left overs.
Coming from a red sauce hater, trust me when I tell you that this is Molto Bene and you don’t have to be in the kitchen all day.
Pro Tip: When it’s time to clean your Dutch oven, learn some cool tips for cleaning it without scrubbing.
FAQ’s and Tips
The most common type of short rib is the English cut which is what you will use for Sunday gravy. An English cut, cuts between the ribs, leaving about 2 inches of meat with each rib. The other cut is a flanken cut which is a thinner slice with pieces of bone in each slice. This cut is used for Korean barbecue.
Bucatini is a larger spaghetti like pasta with a hollow tube down the center. This slightly larger noodle has more surface to absorb the sauce. Otherwise, Sunday sauce is served over any linguine shaped pasta.
There’s no difference between the two, they both describe a slow cooking tomato meat sauce that’s served over pasta.
When the pasta cooks, it releases starch into the water. When this starchy water is added to the sauce it helps he sauce stick to the pasta.
This freezes well and makes the best left overs. You can either freeze it before you add the sauce for quick and easy weeknight dinners, or freeze the left overs with the pasta added and just warm up in the microwave.
More Italian inspired recipes you’ll love
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- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 3 lbs bone in beef short ribs
- 2 medium onions chopped
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 3 cloves garlic minced
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 2 28 ounce cans whole peeled Italian tomatoes crushed by hand
- 1 medium carrot
- 1 lbs bucatini
- In a large Dutch oven, heat the olive oil until shimmering. Season short ribs with salt and pepper and add them to the dutch oven in a single layer. Cook over moderately high heat, turning occasionally, until browned, 10 minutes. Transfer to a plate.
- Pour off all but 1 tablespoon of oil from the pan. Add the onions and a generous pinch of salt. Cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until browned, 12-15 minutes. Add garlic and cook for an additional minute. Add tomato paste, and oregano and cook, stirring until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add the crushed tomatoes with their juices and the carrot and bring to a boil.
- Return the short ribs and their juices to the casserole, cover partially and simmer over low heat, turning the short ribs occasionally, until the meat is very tender and the sauce is thick, about 4 hours.
- Transfer the short ribs to a plate, discard the carrot. Discard the bones and shred the meat into 11/2 inch chunks. Return the meat to the sauce and season with salt and pepper. Keep warm over low heat.
- In a large saucepan of salted boiling water, cook the spaghetti until al dente. Drain the pasta, reserving ½ cup of the cooking water. Transfer the spaghetti to the pot with the sauce, toss well and cook for 1-2 minutes. Add a splash of the reserved pasta water if the sauce is too thick. Serve the pasta immediately.
Barbara’s Tips + Notes
- You can add more pasta if you want, it has enough flavor to coat at least another ½ lb of pasta.
- You can freeze the sauce and add it to pasta later.
- You can use any type of spaghetti type pasta but bucatini’s shape is great for absorbing the sauce.