You can be sure that every Italian-American family has a recipe for Sunday sauce (or gravy as many call it), and the recipes are as unique as each family.
In my family, Sunday pasta, or Rigatoni and sauce is the preferred meal. Pepperoni is the secret ingredient in most of our sauce recipes, but you can usually find Italian sausage and meatballs in the sauce, too. For special occasions, we may also add a pork chop or two, a few chicken wings, and braciole (thin slices of beef that are rolled and stuffed with herbs). We always serve our Sunday sauce with Rigatoni.
Sunday Pasta, or Rigatoni and Sauce Recipe
For the sauce
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 12 ounces or more pepperoni cut into 1-inch pieces
- 5 Italian sausage links each link cut into three pieces
- 3 cloves of garlic minced
- ¼ cup finely chopped onion
- 2 35- ounce cans whole Italian plum tomatoes
- 1 6- ounce can tomato paste
- 1 to 1½ cups water
- 2 bay leaves
- 8 basil leaves
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon pepper
For the meatballs
- 1 pound ground chuck
- ½ pound ground pork
- ¼ cup finely chopped onion
- 2 cloves garlic finely minced
- 3 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
- 2 eggs
- ¼ cup grated Pecorino Romano
- 2 thick slices of bread
- 1 cup milk
- ½ teaspoon salt
- dash of pepper
For the pasta
- 1 pound Rigatoni
- 5 quarts water
- 1 tablespoon salt
- Grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or Pecorino Romano cheese
To make the sauce, heat oil in a large stockpot over medium heat. Add pepperoni and sausage; cook until lightly brown. Move meat to one side of the pot. Add onion and garlic in the cleared area, and sauté until tender. Add tomato paste and water. Stir well. Hold a food mill over the pot and puree the whole tomatoes, or put your hand in each can and squeeze until tomatoes are in small pieces. Add bay leaves, basil, salt, and pepper. Bring sauce to a boil; Cover, and reduce heat. Cook on medium-low heat for about 2 hours. Stir occasionally. Adjust salt as needed.
To make the meatballs, cover two slices of thick bread (including the crust) with milk. Let rest until bread is completely tender, about 4-5 minutes. Squeeze bread until moist but not dripping wet. Tear or chop bread into small pieces. In a medium size bowl, add bread pieces and remaining ingredients. Use your hands to mix the ingredients. If mixture seems a little dry, add a couple of tablespoons of milk. Shape meatballs into 2-inch balls.
To cook the meatballs, increase heat to medium-high. When the sauce begins to boil, drop in the meatballs one at a time. Do not stir until all meatballs are in the sauce. Reduce heat to low. Simmer for about 45 minutes, stirring occasionally.
To cook the rigatoni, bring 5 quarts of water to a boil. Add salt and Rigatoni. Stir, and reduce heat to medium-high. Cook Rigatoni al dente (about 12-14 minutes). Drain well.
To serve, remove the meats from the sauce and place on a serving dish. In a large pasta bowl, mix three or four ladles of sauce with the Rigatoni. Serve extra sauce in a small bowl. Sprinkle pasta with Parmigiano-Reggiano or Pecorino Romano cheese.