Giuseppina’s Red Gravy

When the cold weather starts to come in Sydney-land I get homesick for my Mum’s cooking! Giuseppina Maria Carmela Pisapia, or Josephine as she was known, was the most amazing Italian cook, who embraced food as I do. I am sure I absorbed this passion from her. My Mum’s “red gravy” is one of my favourite food memories. This dish brings me to her table on a cold autumn day to submerge my taste buds in the rich robust flavours of southern Italy.

“Tomato sauce”, to use another name, is the Mother sauce of Italy. This recipe is as I recall as done by my Mother, who gave me the desire to be a chef, to make people happy and let food do the talking for you. Some of my siblings disagree about the details of the recipe, but Giuseppina was not one who actually worked from set recipes – never wrote them down, and undoubtedly changed them from time to time to suit her. But to appease the family, let’s say this recipe is “inspired by” my Mother, and get on to the more serious business of cooking! I teach this in my Italian cooking class, which people love. It’s always a winner!

What great recipes from your Mum make you want to go home?

Giuseppina’s Red Gravy with Italian Meats


4 x 800 gm tin plum tomatoes
1 tsp baking soda
3 tbsp tomato paste
8 garlic cloves, chopped
4 Italian sausages
2-3 beef or pork ribs
300 gm pork mince
300 gm beef mince
300 gm veal mince
100 gm Parmesan, grated
8 tbsp olive oil
1 bunch curly parsley, chopped
salt and pepper to taste


1.      Preheat oven to 200 C. Place ribs in the oven to brown for about 15 minutes.

2.      Crush the tomatoes and place them in a large pot over medium heat. If tomatoes have skin on them, you might want to put them through a mouli. Bring to a boil. While the sauce is coming to temperature, add the meats as they are ready.

3.      As soon as the sauce has come to a boil, turn the heat down to a low boil. Add the baking soda and let cook for 1-1½ hours.

Heat should be quite low, but check periodically to make sure the sauce is reducing.

Stir sauce every once in a while to avoid sticking.

4.      Place veal, beef and pork mince in a bowl and season with 4 cloves of chopped garlic and about 4-5 tbsp chopped parsley. Mix and season with salt and pepper and grated Parmesan.

5.      Roll meat mixture into medium-sized balls and set aside. Should makes about 8-10 meatballs.

6.      In a large sauté pan add about 4 tbsp olive oil over medium heat till hot, add sausage and brown on all sides, about 3-4 minutes. Add to sauce.

7.      In the same sauté pan, over medium heat, add the rest of the olive oil till hot and then add the meatballs and brown all over, about 3-4 minutes. Add to sauce.

Cook meatballs and sausage in sauce for 45 minutes – 1 hour and then remove. (Leave ribs in the sauce to slow cook.)

8.      In the same sauté pan, over medium heat, add the remaining garlic, sauté till golden. Add the tomato paste and fry gently till paste turns dark in colour. Add to sauce.

9.      After the initial cooking period, continue to cook sauce for about 2-3 hours at very low heat so it reduces and slowly cooks becoming more flavourful. If sauce becomes too thick you can always add a bit of water to thin.

10.  About 20 minutes before serving, remove rib bones (meat should have all fallen off by now), and add meatballs and sausage back into sauce to heat through.

11.  Serve sauce tossed over any rustic type pasta like penne, rigatoni, bucatini or fusilli, or over polenta.

12.  Serve meatballs and sausage on the side.

Note: Sauce, meatballs and sausage all can be frozen if necessary. Sauce will last up to one week in the fridge. Remember, the longer it cooks the better it gets, and the next day is even better.

Serves 8-10

  • will.noble
    Posted at 01:28h, 23 May Reply

    Thank you for sharing this Victor – I have already added the ingredients to the perpetual list on the fridge and hope to cook this next weekend. You've also prompted me to write to my mum asking her for a couple of recipes for dishes I miss so much because they're only ever served at her table.

  • Victor Pisapia
    Posted at 02:41h, 23 May Reply

    That's great to hear, Will. What are those recipes you're writing to your mum for? Any chance Yorkshire Puddings are on the list?

  • Anonymous
    Posted at 01:31h, 24 May Reply

    Victor, the Dover Public Library is asking for family favorite recipes to include in a fund raising cookbook to be available next Christmas. Dover is trying to build a new library. With your permission I'd love to send them this recipe, or if you would like to do the address is: [email protected]. Since your family was a part of the Dover community for so long I think it would be so nice to have your family recipe included in that collection. I've somehow lost your email address, those senior moments are catching up with me.

  • Victor Pisapia
    Posted at 01:36h, 24 May Reply

    Hi Anonymous! What a lovely thought. I'd be very happy to have this included in the cookbook. I'll send them a copy! (and would love to know who you are…)

  • Jeanne Celiberti
    Posted at 13:29h, 24 May Reply

    It's me, Jeannie, I don't know why it came up Anonymous. The deadline for recipes is June 1st. I'm sure they would love any other recipes you'd submit, I don't know what kind of response they are having, but we really need a new library.

  • Victor Pisapia
    Posted at 03:57h, 05 June Reply

    Well isn't memory a funny thing. As well as I can recall, this was my mum's recipe, with some (I think) minor tweeks. Still, I think I honour her by attribution. But some of my siblings insist otherwise and have gotten a bit vocal about it all, so I've made some changes in the above and in the (new) Hollywood tradition, I am calling it 'inspire by'…

  • Woodlands of Milton
    Posted at 12:23h, 24 June Reply

    SOunds like a great dish to add to the winter farm cooking. Thanks for sharing, Victor.

  • Victor Pisapia
    Posted at 23:35h, 27 June Reply

    I'm so glad everyone enjoyed this recipe so much. I think mum would be happy too – she loved for people to eat well! 🙂

  • Will Noble
    Posted at 17:25h, 16 October Reply

    Hey Victor – it’s been a while but I am finally cooking the sauce today. Our best friends in the world Nick and Bruno are spending the day and evening with us (the same Nick and Bruno who are joining us for your Singapore Chilli Crab event in December). I made a Thai inspired light chilli-lime shredded chicken salad for lunch (taking an idea from a crab salad dish we have enjoyed many times at Jimmy Liks in Potts Point together) which was a great success. Before we started the salad however I started the red sauce with italian meats. I have made a couple of adjustments including the addition of a bottle of hearty red wine and we are calling the sauce (which is still cooking and smells AMAZING) “Bruno’s Woggy Sauce” in homage to his Italian heritage… we’ll let you know how it turns out!!

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