Mary Ann's Blog

The Smell of Sunday Dinner, Italian Style

Some things are sacred. Like the smell of Sunday dinner taking shape even before you have had your second cup of morning coffee. That’s the way it used to be in a lot of Italian homes. I remember the smell of onions hitting the pan as I woke up, my mother and grandmother already at the stove getting that “Sunday sauce” ready to cook just before going to church. That sauce was made more than rich and succulent with the addition of pork sausage, spareribs, meatballs and braciole. All that meat simmered together for a long time in the “passata” (tomato puree) that was put up the summer before with Dad’s homegrown plum tomatoes.  Sometimes red wine was added and even a pinch of sugar to bring out the sweetness of the tomatoes.

For Italians, making Sunday sauce is still standard practice but the younger generations are more inclined to use ready made tomato sauce, minus the meat as attitudes about food mores change. I would venture to say that the whole idea of a family sitting down to weekly Sunday dinner is now just a nostalgic pipe dream. We are much too busy these days with sports, social media and work to squeeze in any time for a sit down and conversation. And that is a pity because we are just cheating ourselves out of those sacred memories that connect us all to the past. 

Sunday Sauce

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 onions minced
¼ cup tomato paste
3 to 4 cloves garlic chopped
6 boneless spareribs (or 4 bone in pork chops)
2 pound chuck roast (in one piece)
Four 28 ounce cans crushed plum tomatoes
1 cup red wine
Salt and pepper
Small bunch parsley and basil tied with string
Meatballs already formed but not baked

In a large sauce pot, heat the olive oil; add the onions and wilt them down; then stir in the tomato paste and coat the onions well and continue cooking until they are almost a deep brown color. Stir in the garlic and cook until it softens. Transfer the mixture to a bowl.  Add additional oil if the saucepan seems dry. Add the spareribs or pork chops and brown them; transfer the pork chops to a dish. Add the chuck roast and brown well. 

Return the spareribs or pork chops to the pan along with the onion mixture. Stir in the tomatoes, wine salt, pepper and sugar. Mix well; cover and cook over simmering flame for 30 minutes. Add the herbs. Continue cooking over low heat for 2 to 3 hours. 

Meanwhile bake or fry the meatballs. Add them to the sauce during the last 30 minutes of cooking. 

Serve the meats cut into pieces as a second course and serve the sauce over cooked pasta, either spaghetti, rigatoni or ziti. 

Note: this can also be made in a slow cooker.


  1. Susan Muise's avatar

    Susan Muise

    Oh my goodness ... I can smell it. All of our neighbours were Italian and I WANTED TO BE. their homes into which we were always welcomed smelled so wonderful. Out came the bread, the cheese, the cake, meat....Oh my. My favourite thing in the world zuppa englaise. Oh, and your recipe for eggplant parmesan, thinly sliced, coated in egg and flour, fried to golden......
  2. Carolyn's avatar


    This is how I grew up too. And until a few years ago, we kept this tradition. Unfortunately Maryann, you are right, children involved in Scouts, hunting, out with friends, technology, etc. are eroding Sunday dinnertime. Every now and then I resurrect it. I just hope they do too when they have families of their own. You inspire me to get at it again.
  3. Don Sassi's avatar

    Don Sassi

    My wife makes it almost the same as you. The only thing different is that she adds loose sweet sausage in lieu of the chuck roast. Everything else the same and it is to die for.
  4. Susan Uhl's avatar

    Susan Uhl

    I grew up in a virtually Italian and scillian neighborhood and have many fond memories of my friends mom's and grandma's cooking Sunday dinner, I was always welcome and to this day 60 years later I make the same sauce (gravy) I learned to make all those years ago.
  5. Betty Bordelon's avatar

    Betty Bordelon

    Sunday dinner at my Sicilian American mother in law's...first course, spaghetti and meatballs, pork, etc. second course, pork roast or roasted chicken. Also salad, vegggies, etc. Whew!
  6. Francine Padula's avatar

    Francine Padula

    This Sunday ritual must continue as best as families see fit. My children are grown and married, but when I arrange a Sunday dinner, this is what they still want. They walk into the house and say, "it smells good in here".
  7. Kathie's avatar


    Sauce was yummy! Served with cheese raviolis!! TY
  8. Carol Fitzgerald's avatar

    Carol Fitzgerald

    I am the first generation born here, so have one foot in each culture. Imagine growing up with people delighting in the wonderful meats and greens of America and using them in their wonderful recipes from Italy (the Molise). Seventy-nine years later, I can say that America would be a real paradise if FAMILYLIFE were restored and people relearned cooking, eating, and loving each other.
  9. Marie Gomez's avatar

    Marie Gomez

    Wow ..i am going to make this for my husband and children for Valentine's day sounds delicious ty for amazing recipe.
  10. Brian's avatar


    Where's the oregano?

Leave a Comment

Looking for even more photos and recipes?
Order my latest book.

Ciao Italia: My Lifelong Food Adventures in Italy

Mary Ann's newest book contains over 150 recipes, 60 gorgeous food photos, and many scenic pictures of Italy taken by Mary Ann on her travels through the years.

Order using this link and receive a signed book plate.

Available now!