This Old School Italian Gravy is made with simple flavors and simmered all day on the stovetop for the best Sunday gravy you have ever tasted. Your house will be filled with the unforgettable aroma of this sauce as it cooks down to create the best Italian gravy recipe for pasta, pizza, or any Italian dish.
**This post was originally published in August 2017, re-published in August 2020 and updated in January 2021
Italian Gravy from Scratch
When I originally started this blog back in 2017, this Old School Italian Gravy was my first post. I chose this recipe because I wanted something authentic, that really represented both myself and the purpose of this blog. Most of my recipes, like this Italian gravy, are influenced by my love for Italian cuisine. At the heart of Italian cooking is a combination of simple flavors, time tested techniques, and most importantly heart and soul. This recipe is just that; simple and hand crafted with love.
How to Build a Flavorful Sauce
When originally doing research for this post, I remembered something one of my instructors said during culinary school. "A well-built sauce is essential to any dish. It can make or break the experience". If a sauce is too salty or the flavors are off, it can ruin a dish. On the flip side, a perfectly crafted sauce can be the key to a truly memorable meal. There are a couple of essential components to building a good sauce. First, you must build the flavors from the very beginning. Building the flavors, ingredient by ingredient will help to develop an amazing end result and of course a tasty dish. Secondly, you must use solid ingredients to build your sauce. This does not mean they need to be the most expensive, but selecting the right type of ingredients is key. If you use quality ingredients, it aids you in developing those flavors.
Italian Gravy Ingredients
There are few key ingredients that I recommend when making this Italian homestyle gravy. Here is some more information regarding them as well as recommendations for adjustments, if needed.
San Marzano Tomatoes
I recommend using San Marzano tomatoes when you make this Old School Italian Gravy. San Marzano Tomatoes are a variety of tomatoes that are both lower in acidity and sweeter in flavor. Both of these characteristics help to build the flavor in this sauce. Most local grocery stores carry a brand that has San Marzano certified tomatoes. You can also find them online, like these Cento San Marzano Certified Tomatoes, it's my go-to brand when making this sauce.
I love using beef bones when building the flavor in this sauce. It adds an extra depth of flavor that goes perfectly with the San Marzano tomatoes. You can usually find beef bones at your local grocery store. Our store usually keeps some at the meat counter, but you can also ask your butcher directly if they do not have them on display. If you need to omit the beef bones for dietary purposes or because you cannot find them, that is fine.
I really like adding a good red wine to my Italian gravy. Just like the beef bones, it adds another wonderful component to the flavor of this sauce. You don't need to use an expensive wine for this, but don't use the cheapest one either. You always want to use a wine that you would drink and something dry as opposed to sweet is best. I like to use cabernet or red zinfandel in my sauce. If you want to omit the wine due to personal preference or because you don't have any, just replace with extra beef broth.
The Best Italian Gravy Recipe
I love making this sauce first thing in the morning and letting it simmer all day to really intensify the flavor and make the best Italian Gravy. I try to let my sauce simmer anywhere from 4-6 hours if I can, but a minimum of 1 hour would also do the trick. If you are in a time crunch, you can reduce the broth by half to make for a thicker sauce. Trust me though, if you can let it simmer for the entire day, you won't regret it!
Making this in a large quantity as reflected in the recipe makes for easy use later for a weeknight meal or Sunday dinners. Do yourself a favor and get a large stock pot like this 12-quart one to use for this recipe. After letting the sauce cool completely, store it in smaller quantities in the freezer in ziptop bags or airtight containers. When you need it for a meal, just pull it out that morning to let it defrost for dinner that night. I haven't ever tried canning this recipe, but I'm sure it would be great! This recipe can be sized down as well if you don't have a ton of freezer space or if you are just wanting to make a smaller batch. I have cut the quantities in half or even fourths to make a smaller batch and it turns out just as delicious.
If you ever don't recognize a tool or skill that I mention, be sure to look it up in the Glossary of Cooking Terms and Definitions for more information.
For a quick overview on this delicious sauce, check out my web story for my Italian Gravy Recipe!
Italian Gravy for Pasta
When you think of homemade Italian gravy, you probably think pasta, however, there are lots of other uses for this delicious sauce. Here are some recipes that you can use with my Old School Italian Gravy:
- Cast Iron Pan Pizza
- Oven Baked Italian Meatballs
- Roasted Eggplant & Spinach Penne
- Italian Style Meatloaf with Marinara
- The Perfect Classic Italian Lasagna
- No Fry Eggplant Parmesan
- Braciole with Marinara
Old School Italian Gravy
- 2 Tablespoons olive oil
- 1 medium beef marrow bone neck, knuckle or ribs bones
- ½ large yellow onion chopped
- 1 Tablespoon minced garlic
- 2 Tablespoons dried basil
- 2 Tablespoons dried parsley
- 2 Tablespoons dried oregano
- 6 ounces tomato paste
- 1 ½ cups dry red wine approximately ½ of a bottle
- 2 quarts beef broth
- 2 28 ounce cans San Marzano whole peeled tomatoes
- 2 28 ounce cans crushed tomatoes
- 2 28 ounce cans tomato puree
- salt and pepper to taste
- Heat a large stock pot over medium high heat and add in the olive oil. Once the the olive oil begins to shimmer, add in the beef bone and cook till browned on all sides, about 5 minutes.
- Add in the chopped onion and saute for 3-5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onions become translucent and start to brown.
- Next, add in the garlic, herbs and tomato paste and cook for an additional 1-2 minutes while stirring.
- Deglaze the pot by pouring in the red wine and scraping the bottom of the pot to remove any bits stuck to it.
- Add in the beef broth as well as all of the tomatoes (whole, crushed and puree) and stir to thoroughly combine. Reduce heat to medium low.
- Continue to simmer the sauce for a minimum of 1 hour, but 4-6 hours is preferred. Make sure to stir the sauce every 30 minutes or so to make sure everything is combined and nothing burns.
- Once the sauce has been cooked down, remove the beef bone and season with salt and pepper, if needed. The sauce can then be used immediately or cooled completely to be frozen or canned. For a smoother texture, use an immersion blender to blend to the desired consistency.
- Beef Bones - Omit if you are vegetarian/vegan or if you cannot find them.
- Beef Broth - Use vegetable broth to make this recipe vegetarian/vegan.
- San Marzano Tomatoes - If you can’t locate these, regular canned tomatoes can be used.
- Wine - You can substitute this with extra broth if you don’t like to cook with wine or don’t have any on hand.
Sandra Leauber Todd
Just made this today. My older kids loved it and said it was the best gravy I ever made. Followed the recipe to the T, used a beef knuckle. I did emulsify, they don’t like the tomato chunks. It was different for me. Very good! My only concern was I thought it was just a bit thin. The kids didn’t say it was, but I felt it was. Is it because it was just a very different recipe for me?? ty ~S
Hey sandra, I'm glad you enjoyed it! This sauce can definitely be customized to your liking. You can either let it simmer to evaporate some of the liquid more or you can cut down the broth to make a thicker sauce. Enjoy!
Absolutely the best recipe for gravy! I used this with your classic lasagna recipe. Everyone said it was the best lasagna they had ever eaten. Thank you for sharing!
Thank you so much Susan! I'm glad you love it as much as we do 🙂
This recipe was amazing! I used beef short rib, instead of the bone. However the sauce was at first bitter and I’m wondering why. I added a little sugar to sweeten it a bit. Am I supposed to add all the herbs near the beginning or does that contribute to bitterness. I used all San Mazano whole tomatoes and deseeded them. I would appreciate any suggestions so I do not have to add sugar.
Short ribs would be so good! Bitterness can be caused sometimes by cooking garlic and herbs too long. It's best to just cook them for a minute or two so they don't burn and then add the red wine and broth. Make sure you are using a decent wine too, that will help. The longer the sauce cooks, the sweeter it gets as well. Hope that helps!
This sauce is good however it’s not gravy. The difference between sauce and gravy is, gravy has quite a lot of meat sauce has none.
Ah yes...the life long battle over sauce vs. gravy. Everyone has their own definition of what it is. This is just how we make it and what we call it. I have added more meat to it at times, depending on what I'm using it for.
This is exactly my grandmas recipe! Only thing I changed cause we ate it that night was I added spicy sausage and beef short ribs with the bone instead of just beef bones. Truly a classic!
Oh, spicy sausage...delicious! I love it! Glad you enjoyed it as much as we do!
This is a wonderful recipe great for all your pasta and will be fantastic with meatballs.
Definitely! Thank you!
I love that this is called a gravy. The flavors from the beef bones mixed with all the tomatoes and the long stewing time makes the most incredible sauce (gravy). Definitely need to plan ahead for these, but the outcome is worth the time.
Thank you Jere!
Great deep rich flavor. 32 servings would be way too much, no storage space, so I used the slider to cut the recipe in half. No shortage on flavor, that's for sure. I did not have beef bones, so I used a short chunk of the St.Louis trimmings from my weekend's spare ribs, trimmed all of the heavy fat off and most of the meat. Omitted the olive oil, as I knew the pork rib and points were going to be plenty fatty, cooked the onion and garlic in the pork fat that rendered. Substituted fresh herbs (Oregano, Flat Leaf Parsley, and Basil) at triple the rate, and used Cento tubed tomato paste.
Used the rest of the ingredients as stated, except I added about a teaspoon full of crushed red pepper.Next batch will ramp that up to two teaspoons, for a bit more of the heat bite. Ran it on low simmer for about 6 hours, covered initially and then uncovered the last three hours to fully thicken and reduce.
This is a great sauce, I keep sampling and it's three hours before dinner. ( I keep dipping bread into it, I'm sure my nutritionist says " Thank you! ")
Thank you so much! I'm so happy to hear that 🙂 Thank you for trying the recipe!