Pete Clemenza Sicilian Sunday Sauce


Pete Clemenza shows Michael Corleone
Of all the fine traditions of the Italian-American enclave in the United State, the Sunday afternoon ritual of making and eating a Sunday Sauce, a.k.a. “Gravy” is Italian-America’s most Time-Honored of all. Mamma, Grandma (Nonna) will make her celebrated “Sunday Sauce” and all is glorious. Sunday Sauce? What is it? Well, first off, Sunday Sauce, or as some call it, Gravy or simply “Sauce,” is without question thee number-1 undisputed “Supreme Dish” of our great Italian-American Cuisine and the Italian-American enclave as a whole. “It doesn’t get any better than a Sunday Sauce.” Ok, now, to be more specific for those who may not know about Sunday Sauce Gravy, there are a number of variations on the theme. Most Sunday Sauces are made with Italian Sausages, Braciole, and Meatballs. Some people make their versions with; Beef or Pork Neck, while others make their Gravy (Sunday Sauce) with just Sausage and Meatballs, like Pete Clemenza in The Godfather. The most popular version is with Sausages, Meatballs, and Braciole. Some may throw in Chicken Thighs or a Veal Shank into this mix. A Sunday Sauces can be made with any combination of these aforementioned meats. The meats are slowly simmered for several hours in a Sauce made with tomatoes, minced onions, and garlic. I generally like to make my Sunday Sauce Gravy with; Sausages, Meatballs, and Pork Ribs. Other times I’ll make it with Sausage, Meatballs, and Braciole.
An old tradition in some families is that mother or Grandma would start the Sauce early on a Sunday morning, get all the ingredients in the pot and start the Gravy simmering away for an hour or so on top of the stove. She’ll then let it slowly simmer for a couple hours while everyone goes to Church. When you get back home, the Sauce will be ready. “Ready to be devoured that is!”
Our family would usually start our Sunday meal with the most traditional Italian-American-Antipasto of roast peppers, Salami, Olives, Celery, and Provolone. After that, it’s on to the Main Event of Maccheroni and Sunday Sauce, a dish which is something so Blissfully and Pleasurably Sublime, that it is almost “Sinful.” Oh, yes it is.
When a meal centered around a Sunday Sauce is announced, one can have visions of Blissful Ecstasy at thoughts of eating Pasta laden with Italian Sausages, Savory Meatballs, Beef Braciola, and succulent Pork Ribs. All this has been slowly simmered to culinary perfection. Yes just the thoughts can enrapture one into a delightful frenzy of the “Most Blissful Feelings” of smelling, seeing, and consuming all the ingredients; the Sausages, Meatballs, Braciola, and the Gravy itself. This is the true meaning of Bliss. Yes a Sunday Sauce can and does have such effects on one’s mind, body, and soul. And, I do not want to sound prejudice, but this is pure fact, it is the Male of the Italian-American species who Love The Sunday Sauce in all its form, far more than the female sex. True! Meatballs too! And Italian-American men and boys Love and hold oh-so-dear, their Meatballs, Sunday Sauce, Sausage & Peppers, and Meatball Parm Sandwiches as well.
The Sunday Sauce that my mother made, it was with; Meatballs and Beef Braciole. My memories are vivid watching my mother stuffing the Braciole with garlic, parsley, Pecorino Romano, and Pignoli Nuts, then tying the bundles with butchers cord to hold the Braciole together as they slowly simmered in the Gravy. Another fond memory was helping my mother roll and shape the Meatballs.
As for me, my Sunday Sauce can vary depending on my mood. One thing I Love to do when making my sauce is to add Pork Spareribs to the Gravy. “Gravy” by the way is what many people in the New York, New Jersey ( Soprano Territory  ) area call Sunday Sauce, particularly in Brooklyn . Not many people make their Sunday Sauce with the Pork Ribs, but to me they are phenomenal, and anyone who tries them, they are immediately hooked. As I think back, none of the ladies in our family put Pork Spare Ribs into their Gravy. I guess I read or heard about some people doing it, and I believe it was about 14 years ago or so. That’s when I started adding the Ribs into my Sauce. I haven’t looked back ever since. I Love them, as does everyone whom I serve them to, and when I make my Sunday Gravy, these babies go fast.
Whenever I make my sauce with Pork Ribs, my friends go nuts for them, and most are surprised, as they might never have had Ribs in a Sunday Sauce before. They didn’t know that you could use Pork Spareribs.
The ribs are traditional with some but not all. It is quite a shame for those who don’t add the ribs as they give the sauce a quite wonderful flavor, and the Ribs themselves, “Yumm.” The Ribs that simmer long and slow become quite tender, and they literally “Melt-in-Your-Mouth.”
Whenever I make the Sauce, and I’m dishing it out to friends and family, I always make sure that I have my fare share of the Ribs. Pork Ribs cooked in this manner, simmering in the sauce are oh so succulent and tasty that they are without question Beyond-Belief-Tasty. These Sunday Sauce Ribs are, “Out-of-this-World.” Basta!
And what to serve with the Sunday Sauce you ask? Any short Maccheroni such as Rigatoni, Ziti, Cavatelli, or Gnocchi are best.
The rituals of cooking, serving, and eating Sunday Sauce is a time honored one. It is a quite a beautiful thing, same as making a Mole in Mexico, or Cassoulet in France. They are all wonderful things of beauty and taste that delight mans every sensory perception of; sight, smell, taste, and feel. First, you probably smell the “Sauce’s” heady aroma wafting through the air. The smell is so intoxicating, it gets your juices flowing immediately. Once you smell it, you want it, and can’t wait to sink you teeth into it. Second you will see it in all its gloriousness. You will then eat it, whereupon you taste and feel and experience one of Italian-America’s greatest pleasures, the Sunday Sauce, Italian Meat Gravy. A  Sunday Sauce (Gravy) takes time and effort to make. It is made and served with Love. All these great dishes bring together friends and family, and for Italian-Americans, Sunday Sauce Gravy is the King of all dishes.
If you utter the term Sunday Sauce to any number of millions of Italian-Americans, they will immediately start salivating at the simple mention of its name. The wheels start turning in their heads, with thoughts of how tasty it is, with its various components; the Meatballs, Sausages, Braciole, maybe Ribs, Beef or Pork Neck, or Pig Skin Braciole, as well as the Pasta, and the tomato Gravy itself. They think about sitting at the table with friends, family, and people they love. They’ll ponder the Antipasti, wondering what it might be; mixed Salumi, Baked Clams, Grilled Octopus, or Calamari? And with the meal, there will surely be wine, Italian Wine , which might be a good Chianti , or perhaps Montepulciano d’Abruzzo. With Uncle Frank and Uncle Tony, the wine was usually Carlo Rossi Paisano or Gallo Hearty Burgundy, two solid Italian-American Winemakers.
When thinking of a Sunday Sauce, you’ll think about the warmth in the air, of loved ones, of Sinatra, Dino, and the star of the show, the Sunday Sauce itself. “It’s a beautiful thing!” If you’ve never done it, “Try it!” If you haven’t cooked one for some time, plan a get-together with friends and family, soon, there’s nothing better one can possibly do. Sunday Sauce, it brings people together, in a most delightful way. And as the Big Boys would say, It’s a Beautiful Thing.
by Daniel Bellino Zwicke