Grandma Verga’s Meatballs and Sunday Gravy

I really don’t want  to get into the tomato sauce/gravy thing. But I guess I have to. Here is my definition. Any other day of the week it’s tomato sauce. When you make it on Sunday, with all the beef, pork and sausages in it, it becomes Sunday Gravy. It’s thicker, darker, hence the term gravy. And that’s that. Now we can move on. ( Just for the record, no one in my family EVER called it gravy)

While we are on the subject, I have to say, my grandmother never heard of Balsamic vinegar. We just had wine vinegar. Don’t get me wrong, I like balsamic vinegar, this is one of my favorites, Fini Modena Balsamic Vinegar of Modena ( Aceto Balsamico de Modena),  but it’s a recent addition to the Italian menu. Someone pulled it out of the region of Modena and Reggio Emilia Italy and now it’s famous. It only took 964 years to hit the big time because balsamic vinegar has been around since the middle ages. What’s old is new again.

Same thing with buffalo mozzarella. Here is some of the best Mozzarella Di Bufala D.O.C. – 6.6 lb . No…buffalo mozzarella is not made in Buffalo New York. Chicken wings are their culinary claim to fame.  Authentic buffalo mozzarella is made from the milk of a domestic water buffalo. We never had water buffalo in Brooklyn. Water buffalo were domesticated in Italy around the year 1000. If you can milk it, you can make cheese.

I’d like to bring back Limburger cheese.  You don’t hear much about it any more. Now here is a cheese that can help you make a mark on the world. This  cheese produces its notorious smell because the bacterium used to ferment Limburger  cheese is Brevibacterium linens, the same one found on human skin that is partially responsible for body odor. I’d like to know what the guy was thinking that formulated this cheese. It was first produced in Germany in 1867. And was very popular then. At least up until 1960. If you can’t tell the difference between your own body odor and the cheese you’re eating I guess it’s OK. But later generations that practiced better hygiene found the cheese repulsive. Hence, you don’t hear much about it any more. I guess it’s an acquired taste. Maybe there should be a Government caution on the package of the cheese that reads, “Caution, do not wash for at least a week before opening this package of cheese, other wise you will be repulsed”.

But I’m digressing. Grandma Verga’s meatballs and Sunday gravy has an aroma I can live with. When you walked into grandma’s kitchen when she was making it you would want to stick you head into the pot and inhale that terrific smell….and break off a piece of fresh Italian bread to dip in it.

Sunday gravy was only made on Sunday because you needed the time. You can’t rush this sauce.  And when you went over to the pot and stirred it with her wooden spoon you would find all sorts of hidden treasures within the gravy. Bracciole, sausages, meatballs, hunks of beef and pork, ribs, pig skin, pigs knuckles. All of which would be consumed as its own course at the Sunday dinner table, usually after you consume the plate of pasta or ravioli that was smothered in that crimson sauce. Finish the meal with a large salad , yes at the end of the meal, and you would be yearning for a cup of espresso coffee and anisette. It doesn’t get any better!  Oh, well, maybe it does. During the summer we would have “iced coffee”.  It’s not what you are thinking. Iced coffee, Italian style, is made with sweetened Italian espresso, chilled, poured over a scoop of vanilla ice cream in a glass.  My eyes are rolling in back of my head just thinking about it. Give it a try. You will never think of iced coffee the same way again.

I was lucky enough to never have to work on a Sunday. I hope I never have to, because this is what Sundays should be saved for.

Grandma Verga’s Meatballs

2 pounds ground chuck, 80% 20%.

3 oz dried plain bread crumbs

2 large eggs

3 1/2 oz whole milk

4 oz grated Romano cheese

1 medium onion, grated

3 cloves garlic, minced

1/4 cup finely chopped fresh Italian parsley

1/4 cup fresh basil finely chopped

1/2 teaspoon salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Spray baking sheet with olive oil cooking spray.

Gently mix all ingredients well together in large bowl. You don’t want to overwork the mixture.

Roll meatballs loosely about the size of a golf ball and place on baking sheet. I use a #20 ice cream scoop to measure the meatballs so they are all the same size.

Place in oven for about 35 to 40 minutes or until browned. The meatballs do not need to cook through, they will finish cooking in the gravy. If you want to stick to the old fashioned way, fry them up in a cast iron pan till golden brown all around.


  • 2 slices of top sirloin, each slice should be 4″ wide by 7″ long
  • 1/2 cup prepared breadcrumbs*
  • 1/2 beaten egg (beat the whole egg and only use half)
  • 2 tablespoons shortening

*Basic Bread Crumbs: To 1/2 cup of plain bread crumbs mix 3 tablespoons grated pecorino Romano cheese, 1 clove of minced garlic, 1/4 teaspoon salt, black pepper, 1 tablespoon fresh chopped parsley, 1 teaspoon fresh chopped basil. Mix well.

Pound the beef flat between two pieces of plastic wrap. Flatten the meat so that it’s about 1/8 of an inch thick and can be rolled easily. Spread a thin layer of shortening over the meat.

Mix the egg and breadcrumbs together and then place a layer of the mixture on 1/2 of the meat, start at 1/4 of the way down the meat slice along the long end of the beef.

Roll the meat turning the sides in, so the breadcrumb mixture doesn’t fall out in the cooking.

Continue rolling so it looks like an egg roll. Secure the end with toothpicks or tie it with butcher string.


  • 3 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2  cans San Marzano Whole Peeled Tomatoes, 28 oz, pureed in a blender
  • 1 can Redpack Crushed In Thick Puree Tomatoes, 28 Ounce 
  • 1/4 cup of water for each can of tomatoes to rinse out can.
  • 1  1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 5-6 fresh basil leaves
  • salt to taste, add salt once gravy is cooked down 1 hour.
  • meatballs
  • bracciole
  • 3 Italian Sweet or hot Sausage
  • 2 fresh ham hocks

Heat olive oil in a large dutch oven, such as Le Creuset Signature Enameled Cast-Iron 5-1/2-Quart Round French Oven. Brown on medium high flame bracciole, sausage and ham hocks on all sides. Remove from pot and saute onions in same pot till translucent, about 5 minutes over medium flame. Add garlic and cook for 1 minute. Pour in cans of tomatoes, rinsing each can with 1/4 cup of water and placing in the pot.

Add sugar, black pepper, basil and stir. When sauce comes to a simmer add bracciole, sausage, ham hocks and meatballs. Stir gently and partially cover pot and simmer on lowest possible flame for at least 1  1/2 hours. Stir occasionally to prevent the sauce from burning and sticking to the bottom of the pot.

Add salt to taste after 1 hour of cooking time. Don’t bother tasting before that.

When gravy is done remove meat and place in a bowl and keep warm. Cook your favorite pasta, with this gravy I recommend, cavatelli, ravioli, spaghetti or ziti.

Serve with plenty of the gravy on top and grated Parmesan or pecorino Romano cheese. Once in a while I even put  a couple of dollops of ricotta cheese on top of the pasta.

Serve the meat as another course with a large salad and bread. Or as most Americans do, you can have your meatballs with your spaghetti.


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About Peter Bocchieri

Peter was born and raised in Brooklyn, NY and is a second generation Italian-American. He has a degree in Journalism from Long Island University and is an avid photographer, gardener and pet owner. Now that Peter is retired, he is relaxing at his home in North East Pennsylvania and cooking for his sons, Michael and Joseph, family and friends. Peter's passion for food was inspired by his Mother's and Grandmother's cooking, but at the age of 10 Peter felt he could do it better himself, so he did.
This entry was posted in Beef, Pasta, Pork and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Grandma Verga’s Meatballs and Sunday Gravy

  1. frankie says:

    I love it gravy always sunday you wanna cry and laugh go to you tube and listen to mike savage when pasta was spaghetti it hits home groing up in a city

    • Peter Bocchieri says:

      You hit a nerve with me. I listened to Mike Savage’s poem on “When did Spaghetti become Pasta?” I touched on that exact subject on two of my previous blogs, April 24 “Pasta Aglio E Olio” and July 13 “Pasta Fagoli”. I think it is worth revisiting. Thanks for writing!

  2. Cindy says:

    Has anyone tried this recipe? You’ve made it simple by providing the pictures. I’m thinking about making this for my fiance. How does it taste? Cindy

  3. Peter Bocchieri says:


    Trust me, even if you just use the meatballs and sausage, this is a wonderful sauce. If you can get San Marzano peeled tomatoes, even better. Make sure the sauce cooks down for at least an hour and a half. It’s very flavorful. Let me know how you make out.


  4. S'connie says:

    Thanks for the gravy/sauce debate info. Pics look so yummy!
    Now, to help you out with the Limburger – Monroe, Wisconsin is the capital of Limburger cheese. Check out Baumgartner’s Cheese Store and Tavern.

  5. schllac says:

    Its Sauce, when you put meat in it becomes Gravy….

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