Italian Red Gravy and Meatballs Recipe

Heirloom Eats

heir·loom (noun): a valuable object that has belonged to a family for several generations

From furniture and faith to collectibles and character traits, there are a lot of things that get passed down over the course of a family’s history, and recipes are no exception. But a recipe nurtured by generations of love and care is so much more than the food it creates. It’s also a reminder of the laughter and light that can happen when a family comes together. 

Photography by Rich Smith

Red Gravy

Madyson Foster with April McCracken | Chattanooga

 

Madyson Foster with April McCracken

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“Growing up, my family’s red gravy was more than just a pasta sauce; it meant that we were having dinner as a family. Our dinners were and are currently loud and full of laughs and Italian arm gestures, because how else would we get our point across? We honor our previous generations and the old world by having lasagna, rigatoni, meatballs, and Italian sausage for our Christmas meal. Now, this red gravy has become famous among my Chattanooga friends to the point where people will bring me big Mason jars when they hear I have the red gravy in the pot simmering. I’m happy to share this recipe with my community, but the Mason jar invitation still stands!” – Madyson Foster

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Ingredients

For the Red Gravy:
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 1 medium bulb of garlic, peeled and chopped
  • ½ onion, finely chopped
  • 2 (28 oz.) cans San Marzano crushed tomatoes
  • 1 (28 oz.) can Italian tomato sauce
  • 1 (12 oz.) can tomato paste
  • 24 oz. water
  • 1 Tbsp. salt or to taste
  • ½ heaping Tbsp. dried oregano
  • ½ heaping Tbsp. dried basil or 5 large fresh basil leaves, torn into pieces
  • 1 Tbsp. dried Italian parsley or ¼ cup fresh Italian parsley, chopped
  • 1 cup red wine
  • ¼ cup Romano or Parmigiano-Reggiano, grated 
  • 1 tsp. black pepper
  • 2 pinches crushed red chili
  • 1 Tbsp. sugar 

For the meatballs:

  • 1 lb. lean ground beef
  • 1 lb. ground Italian sausage or ground pork
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • ½-¾ cup Italian breadcrumbs
  • ¼-½ cup Parmesan cheese, grated
  • ½ onion, finely diced
  • ¼ cup fresh parsley, chopped or 1 Tbsp. dried parsley
  • 2 tsp. garlic salt
  • ½ cup olive oil

 

Directions

For the Red Gravy:

In a large pot, heat olive oil until it crackles when a drop of water is added. Reduce heat to medium. Add garlic and brown lightly before adding finely chopped onion. Sauté onion until soft. Add all tomato products and water. Mix well and add salt to taste. Add any dried herbs and wine, making sure to reserve pepper, red chili, and any fresh herbs for later in the process. Add in grated cheese. Simmer the gravy for 8-plus hours or until thick. If you feel your sauce is too thick, add ¼ cup water. Make sure to stir often to ensure the gravy does not burn. When the sauce has simmered for most of the day, add in the pepper, red chili, sugar, and any fresh herbs and cook for another 2 hours. 

Note: Cook low and slow. Start the recipe one day for a few hours and finish it the next or start early in the morning and simmer it until the evening. For a more flavorful sauce, simmer with cooked meatballs or Italian sausage. You can also cook meatballs in the pot prior to starting the gravy recipe in order to get more meat flavor/juices. Serve with meatballs and pasta, or use in your favorite Italian dish. 

For the meatballs:

Add beef, sausage/pork, eggs, breadcrumbs, cheese, onion, parsley, and garlic salt in a large bowl. Mix gently with your hands until combined, being careful to not overwork the meat. Heat oil in a heavy-bottomed pan over medium to medium-high heat and preheat oven to 400°.

Form 2-4 Tbsp.-sized meatballs by rolling in your hands and add to the hot oil. Working in batches, continue to add meatballs about 1 inch apart so not to overcrowd the pan. Cook until browned on one side and then flip meatballs over. Larger meatballs might need to be browned on more than one side. Place browned meatballs on a greased baking sheet and cook in the oven for 5-10 minutes.

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Red Gravy pasta sauce with penne and meatballs

Red Gravy and Meatballs

Madyson Foster
Course Sauce
Cuisine Italian
Servings 12 servings

Ingredients
  

Red Gravy

  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 1 medium bulb of garlic, peeled and chopped
  • ½ onion, finely chopped
  • 2 (28oz.) cans San Marzano crushed tomatoes
  • 1 (28 oz.) can Italian tomato sauce
  • 1 (12 oz.) can tomato paste
  • 24 oz. water
  • 1 Tbsp. salt (or to taste)
  • ½ heaping Tbsp. dried oregano
  • ½ heaping Tbsp. dried basil (or 5 large fresh basil leaves, torn into pieces)
  • 1 Tbsp. dried Italian parsley (or ¼ cup fresh Italian parsley, chopped)
  • 1 cup red wine
  • ¼ cup Romano or Parigiano-Reggiano, grated
  • 1 tsp. black pepper
  • 2 pinches crushed red chili
  • 1 Tbsp. sugar

Meatballs

  • 1 lb. lean ground beef
  • 1 lb. ground Italian sausage (or ground pork)
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • ½-¾ cup Italian breadcrumbs
  • ¼-½ cup Parmesan cheese, grated
  • ½ onion, finely diced
  • ¼ cup fresh parsley, chopped (or1 Tbsp. dried parsley)
  • 2 tsp. garlic salt
  • ½ cup olive oil

Instructions
 

Red Gravy

  • In a large pot, heat olive oil until it crackles when a drop of water is added. Reduce heat to medium.
  • Add garlic and brown lightly before adding finely chopped onion. Sauté onion until soft.
  • Add all tomato products and water. Mix well and add salt to taste.
  • Add any dried herbs and wine, making sure to reserve pepper, red chili, and any fresh herbs for later in the process. Add in grated cheese.
  • Simmer the gravy for 8-plus hours or until thick. If you feel your sauce is too thick, add ¼ cup water. Make sure to stir often to ensure the gravy does not burn.
  • When the sauce has simmered for most of the day, add in the pepper, red chili, sugar, and any fresh herbs and cook for another 2 hours. 

Meatballs

  • Add beef, sausage/pork, eggs, breadcrumbs, cheese, onion, parsley, and garlic salt in a large bowl. Mix gently with your hands until combined, being careful to not overwork the meat.
  • Heat oil in a heavy-bottomed pan over medium to medium-high heat and preheat oven to 400°.
  • Form 2-4 Tbsp.-sized meatballs by rolling in your hands and add to the hot oil.
  • Working in batches, continue to add meatballs about 1 inch apart so not to overcrowd the pan.
  • Cook until browned on one side and then flip meatballs over. Larger meatballs might need to be browned on more than one side.
  • Place browned meatballs on a greased baking sheet and cook in the oven for 5-10 minutes.

Notes

For the Red Gravy: Cook low and slow. Start the recipe one day for a few hours and finish it the next or start early in the morning and simmer it until the evening. For a more flavorful sauce, simmer with cooked meatballs or Italian sausage. You can also cook meatballs in the pot prior to starting the gravy recipe in order to get more meat flavor/juices. Serve with meatballs and pasta, or use in your favorite Italian dish. 
Keyword marinara sauce, meatballs, pasta sauce, red gravy, red sauce, tomoato sauce
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