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This Isn't Your Grandma's Sunday Sauce (and That's a Good Thing)

March 30, 2014

Rochelle Bilow, photo by Gentl & Hyers

A traditional Sunday sauce is a thing of beauty. Steeped in tradition and with plenty of family history, most sauces follow a basic recipe before being simmered for hours, tossed with pasta and mopped up with good, hearty bread. But the real art comes with experimentation and creativity: try adding and substituting other meats (think tender short ribs and pork chops, to start) while keeping the basic formula the same. The result? A rich, comforting sauce that’s well-worth the effort—and is all your own.

Ask anybody’s nonna: Making Sunday sauce is not an exact science. You can use other meats—like thick pork chops or short ribs—in place of or in addition to the ones listed here.

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  • 2 cups fresh breadcrumbs
  • ½ cup finely grated Pecorino
  • ⅓ cup finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 1½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • ¼ teaspoon hot smoked Spanish paprika
  • 7 cloves garlic finely chopped, divided
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 2 pounds beef top round, thinly sliced by a butcher for braciole
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 pounds hot or sweet Italian sausage, halved crosswise
  • 1 pound baby back pork ribs, cut into 3- to 4-rib pieces, or pork spare ribs, cut into individual ribs
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 2 anchovy fillets packed in oil, drained
  • ¼ cup tomato paste
  • 2 28-oz. cans crushed tomatoes
  • 2 28-oz. cans whole peeled tomatoes
  • 1½ pounds large tubular pasta (such as rigatoni or tortiglioni)


Spread out breadcrumbs on a baking sheet and let sit uncovered at room temperature until dried out, about 12 hours. Combine breadcrumbs, Pecorino, parsley, red pepper flakes, paprika, 1 chopped garlic clove, and 2 Tbsp. oil in a medium bowl.

Trim beef slices into 6x2” pieces; season with salt and pepper. Sprinkle each slice with about 2 Tbsp. breadcrumb mixture, roll up, and secure with a toothpick or twine; set braciole aside. Set remaining breadcrumb mixture aside.

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Heat remaining 2 Tbsp. oil in a large heavy pot over medium-high heat and cook sausage, turning occasionally, until browned on all sides, 5–8 minutes. Transfer to a large rimmed baking sheet.

Season ribs with salt and pepper; cook in same pot until browned on all sides, 8–10 minutes. Transfer to baking sheet with sausage. Cook reserved braciole in pot, turning occasionally, until browned, 5–8 minutes; transfer to same baking sheet.

Reduce heat to medium-low and cook onion, anchovy, and remaining garlic in pot, stirring occasionally, until onion is translucent, 8–10 minutes. Add tomato paste and cook, stirring often, until slightly darkened in color, 5–8 minutes.

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Add crushed and whole tomatoes, crushing whole tomatoes with your hands; season with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer, stirring occasionally, until sauce has thickened, 1–1½ hours.

Add sausage, ribs, braciole, and any accumulated juices on baking sheet to sauce. Cook, partially covered, stirring occasionally and skimming surface as needed, until meat is very tender (rib meat should be falling off the bone), 2½–3 hours. Season sauce with salt and pepper.

Just before serving, cook pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water, stirring occasionally, until al dente; drain.

Toss pasta in a large bowl with a little of the sauce and top with reserved breadcrumb mixture. Remove bones from ribs and remove toothpicks from braciole. Serve braciole, ribs, sausage, and remaining sauce with pasta alongside.

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