“Sunday Gravy”


A bowl of Sunday Gravy
A bowl of Sunday Gravy

Occasionally in life you meet someone who truly changes your life. This happened to me in 1998 when I decided the time was right to buy a house. On the advice of a friend, I met with a realtor, Phyllis Harb, who took me on as a client. Two and a half dizzying weeks later I found myself in escrow on a beat up but amazing old fixer-upper that is probably the house in which I will die.

Finding the house and fixing it up is a story for another day.  And if that were my only interaction with Phyllis, I would be blessed because not only has the house changed my life, she is an amazing person who guides you through a very stressful time.  Thankfully that was not my only interaction with her.  Over the years she has become a dear and trusted friend.  Phyllis is one of the more thoughtful and generous persons I’ve ever met.

Phyllis herself has a wonderful home and once a year or so she will have a few ‘former clients’ over for cocktails and dinner.  Last year about ten of us showed up for her version of what East Coast Italians call ‘Sunday Gravy’, a meat laden tomato sauce Esquire described as “A sacred meal for a sacred day born in the kitchen of an Italian-American family.”

Phyllis's kitchen during the process
Phyllis’ kitchen during the process

As any follower of this blog knows, I love tomatoes and love me a great tomato sauce. I’ve already done posts on tomato sauce here and here and here. When Phyllis served us this deep rich sauce over pasta, however,  I knew I was going to do another post because when I took my first bite, I thought I was going to die. It was so @#%#$ good!! Once again, Phyllis changed my life. I told her that night she had to teach me how to make it and she readily agreed.

Just a few of the ingredients
Just a few of the ingredients
Two pots toward the end of the process.

This is an amazing sauce. It’s incredibly thick, marvelously so. Packed with meat, it has a rich, divine flavor. I served a batch on Oscar night and everyone at my house declared it the best red sauce they had ever eaten. It truly is that good.

For more great pictures and the incredible recipe, click here:

Pork Roast for the sauce
Pork Roast for the sauce
Some of the meat from the sauce, and blueberry cobblers ready for the oven.
Some of the pork from the near finished sauce, and blueberry cobblers ready for the oven.

As for learning how to make it, Phyllis and I both stay pretty busy so it took a while but a few Sundays ago I showed up at her house at 8:30 AM for a day long lesson on “Sunday Gravy.” Phyllis learned this from her grandmother, who in turn learned it from her husband’s family in Palermo, Italy. This gravy has credentials, people!

It is not hard to make, but it is time consuming: we started at 8:30 AM and the sauce was ready around 6 PM. Trust me, it’s worth the effort. Make it alone on a day you can be in the kitchen most of the time. Or have some friends over and get them to join in the fun. I love scheduling a day where I am in the kitchen all day, cooking a variety of things, usually doubling recipes to have food to freeze (this ‘gravy’ freezes beautifully), listening to music, working on the computer as food simmers and, of course, drinking wine. It’s 5 o’clock somewhere. You will have a wonderful day and the payoff will be incredible. 

A bowl of Sunday Gravy
A bowl of Sunday Gravy

Note: for those who need very specific recipes in order to cook, this will be a little scary! But don’t let the unspecificity deter you. Follow the general guidelines of the recipe, throwing things in the pot at the specific times and you will end up with a dream sauce that will please anyone to whom you serve it. There’s a reason this “gravy” is made on Sunday. It’s heavenly.

Click here for the recipe and many more photos: Phyllis Harb’s Sunday Gravy.

One final important note! Phyllis’ daughter, Krissy, who helped us with the sauce and made the day even that much more enjoyable, works for an amazing Olive Oil company, Kiler Ridge. We used this olive oil with the sauce and it made it even that much better. Link below:




6 thoughts on ““Sunday Gravy”

  1. This is a true Sicilian meat sauce. Rich and flavorful. While I am more of a Bolognese lover, nothing compares with a traditional ragu. A family friend put briciole made with flank steak and hard boiled egg in hers, and I still regret never going to her house and discovering how she made it SO well! I learned the tomato paste method you use from my mother-in-law, who still manages to sneak some pork into her sauce when nobody is watching.

    Thanks for making me crave sauce, Tom. If I didn’t know better, I’d think you lived in the Northeast and needed some stick-to-your-ribs food to ease the cold and snow we are experiencing here.

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