Grandma Rae’s Tomato Gravy

You may call it sauce, but in my family, it’s gravy. Why? The best reason I can give you is this: it’s not a sauce. Sauces are watery and runny. Gravy has meaty things in it, is chunkier, and doesn’t run. It’s a viscosity issue: gravies are thicker than sauces. If you’ve only ever had canned or jarred tomato sauce, this will ruin you. It has no sugar, tastes like nothing else on the planet, and is super-easy to make. I make huge batches and freeze.

My grandmother made this recipe almost exactly like this. I still use her cast iron pot to make it, and it has never failed me.

Extra virgin olive oil
Onion (half small onion, chopped)
Garlic (crushed)
Red pepper flakes
Bay leaf
2 cans crushed tomatoes or whole peeled tomatoes cut up*
1 can tomato paste

Any pork or beef bones you have lying around (you DO keep a collection of these, right?)
If you have a cast iron pot with a lid, now is the time to use it. I don’t know why, but this tastes best when cooked in one of those.
Heat pot over medium-high heat
Add 2 Tbs olive oil (must be extra virgin, which comes from the first pressing of the olives- all else is from secondary pressings and can be bitter) to pot
Add crushed garlic (2 Tbs or to taste) and onion and ingredients #4-7 (a couple shakes of each dried but as much as you want fresh. Cook for two minutes, but don’t let the onion get soft yet, which shouldn’t be a problem if you really only cook it for two minutes before you…
Add one or two bay leaves
Saute these items for just a couple of minutes and then…
Add tomatoes and paste
Add bones if you have them (Confession: I almost never do- Grandma told me to put in a beef bone and a small pork bone, but, really, who has these around? When I do add them, it is a better gravy, so it may be worth a trip to the butcher)
Bring to a low boil; add meatballs now if you’re making them
Bring heat to low, cover, and let cook for a minimum of two hours. More won’t hurt it.
Remove bay leaves (or not, but don’t eat them- they’ don’t taste good)
Will freeze or can just fine.

*On fresh tomatoes: I’ve taken to using fresh tomatoes because there are so damn many of them here. If you want to, fine, but make it this way a few times first to get a sense of how many tomatoes will look right. Don’t take the skins off; just cut off the top stems and any bad parts. This gravy will look a little different and may be a but watery. You should still add a can of paste. You can remove the cover and bring the heat up to medium for the last half hour if you do this; it will let some of the water cook off (your kitchen will be steamy)

Published by


I write. I take pictures. I love my dog. I love Florida. My 2016 book, 'Backroads of Paradise' did really well for the publisher and now I feel a ridiculous amount of pressure to finish the second book.

Leave a Reply