Ultimate Spaghetti and Meatbrawls with Serious Sunday Gravy

Ted Allen


There is almost nothing I would rather cook than this. But what kind of adventure or discovery could possibly lurk in an über-traditional spaghetti and meatballs? Plenty, unless your Nonna has already taught you the secrets of slow-cooked Sunday Gravy. This is an authentic sugo (Italian for sauce), really not a tomato sauce at all, but something far more special. In fact, a single can of tomatoes is at most a supporting actor. Instead, this sugo is all about the soffritto—that is, gently sautéed aromatic vegetables—and an enormous amount of stock (which, if you think about it, is also largely about soffritto) made intensely flavorful by simmering until it’s reduced fully by half. The sauce comes out not red, but a vivid orange with an olive-oily sheen. It is a thing of depth and beauty. Yes, it takes some time and labor to make, as do these soft, spicy meatbrawls (I just like calling them that), with their traditional combination of beef and pork. But they’re both so delicious, now and then you just have to devote the time.


  • Meatballs:

  • 1 pound ground beef
  • ½ pound ground pork
  • ½ medium yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • ¼ cup flat-leaf parsley leaves, chopped
  • ½ cup freshly grated
  • Parmesan cheese
  • 1/3 cup fresh bread crumbs(made from stale bread)
  • 1/3 cup chicken stock, preferably homemade (page 173), or low-sodium store-bought
  • 2 large eggs
  • ½ teaspoon cayenne
  • 1½ teaspoons kosher salt
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for forming meatballs
  • Gravy:

  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 medium yellow onions, chopped
  • 2 celery ribs, chopped
  • 1 large carrot, chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1 (28-ounce) can chopped San Marzano tomatoes
  • 3 quarts chicken stock, preferably homemade(page 173), or low-sodium
  • store-bought
  • 2 or 3 sprigs of fresh thyme, tied together with cotton string
  • ½ cup basil leaves, chopped


Make the meatballs: In a large bowl, using your hands, mix together the beef, pork, onion, garlic, parsley, Parmesan, bread crumbs, stock, eggs, cayenne, and salt until evenly combined. Be careful not to overwork the mixture; you don’t want to compact the meat too much or the meatballs will be tough. Put a little oil on your hands and form loosely into golf-ball-size meatballs. You should have about 25.

Heat the olive oil in a large Dutch oven over medium heat. Gently add the meatballs and brown thoroughly on all sides; this will take about 15 minutes. Transfer the meatballs to a plate, and refrigerate until you’re ready to cook them in the sugo.

Make the gravy: In the same pan you used to cook the meatballs, heat the olive oil over medium heat and add the onions, celery, and carrot. Cook, stirring occasionally, until soft, about 8 minutes. Add the garlic and bay leaves and cook until fragrant, 1 minute. Push the veggies to one side and add the tomato paste, toasting it on the bottom of the pan for 1 minute. Stir into the vegetables.

Add the tomatoes, chicken stock, and thyme, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer very gently, partially covered, until thick and significantly reduced, about an hour.

Carefully add the meatballs, a few at a time, and simmer, stirring very gently now and then—don’t break-a ya bawls!—until cooked through, 40 minutes. Discard the bay leaves and thyme sprigs. Add most of the basil and stir, reserving a little to sprinkle over the top for serving.


6 to 8 servings