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Dad’s Sunday Sauce Recipe

Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 2 hours
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Dad’s Sunday Sauce Recipe

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Today, I’m bringing you a recipe that holds a special place in my heart and kitchen: my Dad’s Sunday sauce recipe. This is a recipe that never fails to make me feel closer to my Dad when I make it. It was a staple in our household for Sunday dinners.

It’s a rich Italian-style red sauce loaded with tender meatballs, zesty Italian sausage, and spicy pepperoni that simmers low and slow in the oven. It’s comfort food of the absolute highest quality and perfect for a family dinner or gathering.

Dad’s Sunday Sauce Recipe

Cooking with my Dad was one of the highlight of my childhood. My earliest memory of cooking with him was sitting on the counter and dropping pasta into the boiling water for Dad’s Sunday sauce recipe. It was my favorite recipe growing up and I’m so excited to be finally sharing it.

There’s just something magical about simmering a rich, robust sauce for hours. The aroma fills the house and makes it so hard to wait for dinner time to roll around!

Now, my dad’s Sunday sauce recipe is a thing of beauty, filled with rich flavors and a depth that only comes from years of perfecting. It’s a labor of love that yields a reward so worth the wait. While it’s a bit of work up front, the oven takes care of the rest. It’s the perfect recipe to prep in advance because it gets better the longer it sits.

Once the sauce is ready, all you have to do is pile it high over your favorite pasta with some garlic bread on the side for dipping. Serve with a big leafy caesar salad or chopped salad and dinner is served!

Sunday Sauce Recipe

Important note: There is an important cultural and familial significance with a traditional Sunday sauce. I do not claim for this recipe to be authentic, only a representation of the recipe I grew up with. Different families will always have different ways of making similar recipes.

What is Sunday Sauce?

Sunday sauce, also known as “gravy” in some Italian-American households, is a rich and hearty tomato-based sauce that is traditionally prepared on Sundays. It is a beloved staple in Italian cuisine, particularly in Southern Italy and among Italian-American communities.

Sunday sauce is typically simmered for hours, allowing the flavors to meld and intensify, resulting in a deeply flavorful and aromatic sauce.

A Sunday sauce recipe starts with onions, garlic, and tomatoes. Additional ingredients may include meat such as Italian sausage, meatballs, or even braised meats like beef or pork ribs, which infuse the sauce with their savory flavor. The sauce is slow-cooked on the stovetop or in the oven until all the flavors meld.

Sunday Sauce Recipe

How to Make Dad’s Sunday Sauce Recipe

While Dad’s Sunday sauce recipe takes a bit of work upfront, most of the cooking time is inactive while the oven does all the work.

Tools Needed

Ingredients and Substitutions

  • Pancetta. Pancetta starts off the base of the sauce and adds lots of flavor. For a smokier flavor, you could use diced bacon.
  • Pepperoni. Opt for whole pepperoni and not pepperoni that’s already been sliced.
  • Veggies. Yellow onion, green bell pepper, mushrooms, and garlic add flavor and texture to the sauce.
  • Spices. Classic combination of dried oregano and basil. You could swap in Italian seasoning if that’s what you have on hand.
  • Tomato products. To make this sauce extra rich the recipe calls for tomato paste, crushed tomatoes, and tomato puree.
  • Italian sausages. Pick your favorites here, just make sure to use uncooked Italian sausages.
  • Meatballs. My Dad’s meatball recipe is simple and classic with just ground beef, bread crumbs, an egg, parmesan, garlic, some dried spices, and fresh basil.

The Process

  1. Mix the meatballs. In a mixing bowl, combine the meatballs ingredients and gently mix by hand, taking care not to overmix. Use a 1/4 cup scoop to portion the meatballs. Use wet hands to gentle roll into balls and transfer to a parchment lined baking sheet. Refrigerate until ready to use.
  2. Brown the pancetta and pepperoni. Heat the oil in a large 6 qt dutch oven over medium low heat. Add the diced pepperoni and pancetta and cook, stirring occasionally, until browned and crispy. Use a slotted spoon to remove from the pot and transfer to a small bowl.
  3. Saute the veggies. Increase the heat to medium high and add the diced onion, mushrooms, and green bell pepper. Cook for 3-4 minutes, until the veggies are starting to soften, then add the garlic. Cook an additional 2-3 minutes, until most of the water has cooked out of the veggies.
  4. Build the sauce. Add the dried spices and then add the tomato paste and stir well to combine. Cook 3-4 minutes until the tomato paste darkens in color. Reduce the heat to medium and add the crushed tomato and tomato puree and stir well. Bring to a simmer and add sugar and season with salt and pepper.
  5. Add the meats. In a separate skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat. Add the Italian sausages and brown the outside, it’s okay if they aren’t cooked all the way through. Transfer the sausages to the pot with the sauce and then gently arrange the meatballs in the pot. Stir gently to cover with sauce. Cover and transfer to the oven for 90 minutes.
  6. Finish. Remove the pot from the oven and taste the sauce for seasoning. Serve over your favorite pasta with freshly grated parmesan and torn fresh basil.

How to Make Perfect Meatballs

This is a fairly basic meatball recipe! I don’t like to cram too many ingredients in so that the flavors can really shine. I always start with fresh breadcrumbs because they’re so absorbent. Make sure to use quality ground beef!

Opt for meats that have a bit of fat so that they don’t dry out.

After you’ve gotten all the ingredients together, give everything a good mix. Now’s the time to get your hands dirty! I always mix meatballs by hand so that I don’t accidentally over-mix them.

I use a large (1/4 cup) cookie scoop to portion the meatballs so they all cook evenly. Then, you just drop them into the sauce so they slowly cook and stay tender.

How to Make Fresh Breadcrumbs

Fresh breadcrumbs are essential for the meatballs in Dad’s Sunday sauce recipe and they couldn’t be easier to make. Whenever I have bread that’s getting ready to go stale or that’s been hanging around for a bit, I make a batch of breadcrumbs to keep in the freezer.

Tear some pieces of bread into chunks and throw them into a food processor and run it until you have small crumbs. It’s THAT easy. Store in a freezer-safe ziplock bag in the freezer for 3-4 months.

What to Serve with Dad’s Sunday Sauce Recipe

If you’re throwing a dinner party or just want a nice dinner to enjoy, here are some of my favorite dishes to serve with Dad’s Sunday sauce recipe:

Leafy salad – I love starting a meal with a big leafy salad! My recipe for KALE CAESAR SALAD is one of my favorite salads ever and pairs so well with Bolognese. You’re going to love the homemade caesar dressing! This ITALIAN CHOPPED SALAD is also a great option.

Warm Bread – I don’t know about you, but I’m a sucker for warm bread with dinner! I love sopping up any extra juices with a slice. Try my foolproof No Knead Focaccia!

Dessert – A special dinner requires a special dessert! Some of my favorites are my Nutella Lava CakesCoffee Panna Cotta, or individual Cherry Clafoutis!

Sunday Sauce Recipe

Storage & Reheating Instructions

Dad’s Sunday sauce recipe actually gets better with time! I like to make it a day in advance and serve it the next day. It also freezes beautifully!

  1. Storage: Once the sauce has cooled down, transfer it to an airtight container. Glass or food-grade plastic containers work well for storing the sauce. Refrigerate the sauce promptly to keep it fresh. The sauce will last in the fridge for 5-7 days.
  2. Freezing: If you have a large batch or want to save some sauce for later use, freezing is a great option. Ensure the sauce is completely cooled before transferring it to freezer-safe containers or resealable freezer bags. Label the containers with the date and freeze for up to 3 months.
  3. Thawing: To thaw frozen sauce, transfer it from the freezer to the refrigerator. Slow thawing in the fridge helps maintain the sauce’s texture and flavors. Allow sufficient time for thawing, as it may take several hours or overnight, depending on the portion size.
  4. Reheating on stovetop: For optimal results, gently reheat the sauce on the stovetop over low to medium-low heat. Stir occasionally to prevent scorching or sticking. If the sauce appears too thick, add a little water or broth to adjust the consistency. Once heated through, it’s ready to be served.

Dad’s Sunday Sauce Recipe FAQs

What’s the difference between Sunday sauce and marinara?

Sunday sauce, also known as ragù, is a slow-cooked tomato sauce that often includes meat, such as sausage or meatballs. It simmers for hours to develop deep flavors. On the other hand, marinara sauce is a quicker tomato sauce typically made without meat and cooked for a shorter time. While both are delicious, Sunday sauce has a heartier and richer profile.

Can I make Sunday sauce in a slow cooker?

Yes, you can adapt the recipe for Sunday sauce to be made in a slow cooker or Instant Pot. Brown the meat and sauté the aromatics before transferring everything to the slow cooker. Cook on low for 6 hours.

Can I freeze Sunday sauce for later use?

Absolutely! Sunday sauce freezes well, allowing you to enjoy it at a later time. Ensure the sauce is completely cooled before transferring it to freezer-safe containers or resealable freezer bags.

Sunday sauce recipe


My Dad’s Sunday sauce recipe is near and dear to my heart and is so nostalgic. It’s the perfect comforting recipe to tackle on a Sunday. If you do give it a try, be sure to let me know! Leave a comment with a star rating below. Be sure to subscribe to my weekly newsletter and never miss a new recipe! You can also snap a photo & tag @JENNYGOYCOCHEA on Instagram. I LOVE hearing about & seeing your SMF creations!

More Italian-Inspired Recipes

White Bolognese Rigatoni
Cacio e Pepe for Two
Roast Chicken Piccata
Tomato Risotto

This post may contain affiliate links from which I receive a small commission at no additional cost to you. Affiliate links allow me to keep providing great recipes for free and I never recommend products that I don’t love and personally own.

Dad's Sunday Sauce Recipe
Main Dishes, pasta

Dad’s Sunday Sauce Recipe

Today, I'm bringing you a recipe that holds a special place in my heart and kitchen: my Dad's Sunday sauce recipe. It's a rich Italian-style red sauce loaded with tender meatballs, zesty Italian sausage, and spicy pepperoni that simmers low and slow in the oven. It's comfort food of the absolute highest quality and perfect for a family dinner or gathering.
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 2 hours
Total Time: 2 hours 30 minutes
Makes: 6 – 8 servings

Ingredients

Sauce

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 4 oz diced pancetta
  • 8 oz whole pepperoni, diced
  • 1 yellow onion, diced
  • 1 green bell pepper, diced
  • 8 oz cremini (or baby bella) mushrooms, sliced
  • 6 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 teaspoons dried oregano
  • 2 teaspoons dried basil
  • 4 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 – 28 oz can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 – 16 oz can tomato puree
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1 lb uncooked Italian sausages

Meatballs

  • 2 lbs quality ground beef (80/20)
  • 1/3 cup fresh bread crumbs
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup grated parmesan
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 teaspoons minced dehydrated onion
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground pepper
  • 1/4 cup minced fresh basil

Instructions

  • Mix the meatballs. In a mixing bowl, combine the meatballs ingredients and gently mix by hand, taking care not to overmix. Use a 1/4 cup scoop to portion the meatballs. Use wet hands to gentle roll into balls and transfer to a parchment lined baking sheet. Refrigerate until ready to use.
  • Preheat an oven to 325 F.
  • Brown the pancetta and pepperoni. Heat the oil in a large 6 qt dutch oven over medium low heat. Add the diced pepperoni and pancetta and cook, stirring occasionally, until browned and crispy. Use a slotted spoon to remove from the pot and transfer to a small bowl.
  • Saute the veggies. Increase the heat to medium high and add the diced onion, mushrooms, and green bell pepper. Cook for 3-4 minutes, until the veggies are starting to soften, then add the garlic. Cook an additional 2-3 minutes, until most of the water has cooked out of the veggies.
  • Build the sauce. Add the dried spices and then add the tomato paste and stir well to combine. Cook 3-4 minutes until the tomato paste darkens in color. Reduce the heat to medium and add the crushed tomato, tomato puree, and water and stir well. Bring to a simmer and add sugar and season with salt and pepper.
  • Add the meats. In a separate skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat. Add the Italian sausages and brown the outside, it's okay if they aren't cooked all the way through. Transfer the sausages to the pot with the sauce and then gently arrange the meatballs in the pot. Stir gently to cover with sauce. Cover and transfer to the oven for 2 hours.
  • Finish. Remove the pot from the oven and taste the sauce for seasoning and season with salt and pepper as necessary. Serve over your favorite pasta with freshly grated parmesan and torn fresh basil.

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