Italian Gravy (Spaghetti Sauce)

by Anne Papina on September 14, 2013

Italian Gravy | Webicurean

Growing up, the making of the “gravy” was a big production. Actually, it still is, but once your kitchen fills with the heady aroma of fresh herbs and garlic, you realize it’s worth all the effort. A simmering pot of meaty-tomatoey-herby deliciousness promises of good things to come. My mom would start her day early, and we would eagerly await a grand supper. Would it be ravioli? Spaghetti dotted with meatballs? Stuff-A-Roni? The possibilities were endless.

Apparently, there is some debate as to whether this is sauce or gravy. Technically, it is sauce, but many Italian-Americans know it as gravy. Funny enough, the East Coast lays claim to the term “gravy.” But here on the Left Coast, those of us descending from folks who arrived from the lapping shores of the Mediterranean Sea know it as gravy too. At least in our family.

Some of the confusion may lie in the translation from the Italian word “sugo” which is used to describe a meat sauce, but the literal translation in English is “gravy.”  My copy of La Cuciniera Genovese (1863) has a recipe for “sugo di carne a stufato” — a sauce made of meat, garlic, rosemary, white wine, and of course tomatoes, cooked in a long simmer, which is basically what we’re doing here today.

Whether you call it sauce or gravy makes no difference, really. What’s important is that you enjoy the ritual of preparing it and share the results with family and friends. This recipe makes a big pot of sauce(!), and it freezes well. So enjoy some the day of, then save the rest for later use. It only gets better with age. Oh, and don’t forget to check back on Sunday for some Stuff-A-Roni to go with it.

Italian Gravy | Webicurean

Before I start the cooking, I like to get all of the chopping, slicing and dicing out of the way. For the herbs and garlic, my trusty chopping bowl and mezzaluna are the tools of choice. You can also give this a quick pulse in a food processor if that’s what you prefer.

Italian Gravy | Webicurean

First, brown the onions in the olive oil over medium heat. Then the herb and garlic mixture goes in for a quick stir.

Italian Gravy | Webicurean

Then add the meat and sausage, breaking it up as it cooks. Once it starts to brown, add the carrot and mushrooms, cooking until the mushrooms soften.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

Italian Gravy | Webicurean

Italian cooking is a messy deal. Crush the tomatoes with your hands, and add them to the pot, juice and all. Add all the other tomatoey stuff along with the white wine, and stir until the tomato paste is fully dissolved. Bring this to a boil, then simmer covered for about an hour.  After the first hour, taste to see whether it needs any salt. Also, if it’s too acidic, stir in a little sugar (the carrot should add enough sweetness, but you never know with canned tomatoes).  Cover and continue to simmer for another hour.

Italian Gravy | Webicurean

Use this to top your favorite pasta. Make it the base for a yummy lasagna. Heck, just grab some french bread and dig right in!

Here’s the printable version:

5.0 from 1 reviews
Italian Gravy (Spaghetti Sauce)
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
This traditional Italian gravy loaded with fresh herbs, garlic, meats and tomatoes is the perfect topping to any pasta dish.
Recipe type: Sauce
Cuisine: Italian
  • 2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 4 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 2 tbsp chopped fresh marjoram
  • 2 tbsp chopped fresh oregano
  • 1 tbsp fresh chopped thyme leaves
  • ⅛ cup fresh chopped parsley
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 lb ground beef
  • 1 lb Italian sausage
  • 1 carrot, shredded
  • 1 lb mushrooms, sliced
  • 2 (28 oz) cans whole peeled plum tomatoes
  • 1 (14 oz) can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 (6 oz) can tomato paste
  • 1 cup white wine (I use Chablis)
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  1. Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium heat, and add the onion, sauteing until it starts to brown. Stir in the garlic and herbs, cooking for just a few minutes.
  2. Next add the ground beef and sausage, breaking it up good as it cooks. Once it starts to brown, add the carrot and mushrooms. Continue cooking until the mushrooms are tender. Salt and pepper the mixture.
  3. Crush the tomatoes with your hands, and add to the meat mixture, juice and all. Stir in the additional can of crushed tomatoes, along with the tomato paste and white wine, stirring well to incorporate the tomato paste.
  4. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer covered for about an hour. At this point, taste the gravy to see whether it needs any additional salt. Also, while the carrot is intended to replace sugar, if the gravy is still too acidic, try adding a little sugar (a teaspoon at a time) until the flavors are balanced. Cover and simmer for an additional hour.
  5. Serve with your favorite pasta.


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{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Galina V September 15, 2013 at 2:09 am

I can smell it from here, a lovely dish! I think I would call it sauce, as the gravy in my mind is something smooth and very runny. 🙂


Anne Papina September 15, 2013 at 7:37 am

Thanks! I do usually end up calling it sauce (except around my family) so as not to cause confusion! 😉


Liz September 17, 2013 at 9:18 am

What a classic, delicious pasta sauce. There’s enough chill in the air today that we can start having favorite comfort foods like this for dinner again 🙂


Anne Papina September 17, 2013 at 3:29 pm

What is it about blustery days that makes stuff like this extra good?!


Sherry October 15, 2013 at 11:59 am

I tried this recipe and my husband loved it! He doesn’t even like Spaghetti or Lasagna usually! I loved it to and am going to make a double batch today to share with a friend. Thanks for the recipe!


Anne Papina October 15, 2013 at 12:24 pm

So glad you enjoyed it–thanks for letting me know! I especially love to make lasagna with it!


Liz September 7, 2017 at 12:10 pm

Out ofcuriousity can you leave the wine out?


Anne Papina September 7, 2017 at 1:02 pm

Hi Liz–yes! You can substitute some broth or even water just so that it doesn’t get too thick. Enjoy!


Dottie December 15, 2019 at 7:40 pm

Can you use dried herbs instead of fresh?


Anne Papina December 16, 2019 at 10:17 am

Yes! You probably should cut the amount in half since the dried herbs will be stronger


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