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That Other Meat Sauce

We did a classic Italian bolognese sauce not too long ago, which reminded me that I’ve actually never posted a basic, Italian-American meat sauce. This sauce goes by many names, including Sunday sauce, since that’s the day it’s traditionally made, but for me growing up, this was just called “sauce.”


This is one of those primal recipes that always follows the same procedure, yet almost never contains exactly the same ingredients. I was raised on a blend of beef, pork, and chicken, but any and all leftover proteins can, and must, be added to the pot.

Meatballs are a great choice; as are things like pigs feet, neck bones, and other similar cuts. The tougher the meat, the better it’s going to be in this sauce. Besides playing meat roulette, I’ll also switch different herbs like basil in and out, as well as include the occasional season vegetable.

You can also vary your results here with different tomato products. I went old-school and hand-crushed whole plums, but you can also use crushed or pureed tomatoes as well. The finer and smoother the tomatoes are processed, the thicker your sauce will be, so keep that in mind. Speaking of tomatoes; yes, it is much better to caramelize the tomato paste with the onions before you add the San Marzanos, but I didn’t because Grandma didn’t, and also, I forgot. 


As long as you cook the meat long enough, and season thoughtfully, there’s really no way this sauce isn’t going to be great. So, while you may not have grown up in an Italian-American home, with this comforting sauce simmering on the stove every Sunday, your family still can. I hope you give this a try soon. Enjoy!


Ingredients for 6 portions:
2 tbsp olive oil, divided
1 beef shank
2 pounds pork ribs
2 bone-in chicken thighs
1 diced onion
6 cloves garlic
3 (28-oz) cans San Marzano plum tomatoes, crushed or blended smooth
(Note – any canned tomato product will work. Try with pureed or already crushed tomatoes and save a step)
1/4 cup tomato paste
2 cups water, more as needed
2 tsp salt, or to taste
1 tsp black pepper
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
2 tbsp chopped Italian parsley
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

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