Stepping Up My Sunday Gravy Game with Pork Neck Bones

One of the reasons I went with a cheesesteak instead of pasta Saturday at Johnny Paisano’s was my plan to spend Sunday making red gravy with sausage. I tend to make fairly large batches of Sunday Gravy and eat it over pasta on a nearly nightly basis until it’s gone. And I was extra psyched for this batch because it would include an ingredient I’ve never used, but which is supposed to give the gravy an additional jolt of flavor.

I read a while back that one of the Italian grandma secrets for making great Sunday Gravy is to use pork neck bones to kick up the flavor a notch. After going from butcher to butcher in an unsuccessful hunt for them last year, I was pleasantly surprised that they suddenly appeared recently in the meat department of the supermarket where my wife and I do our weekly shopping. Actually, they now stock both raw and smoked pork neck bones. I needed the raw ones for my purposes.

I was very excited to finally have the neck bones and laid them and the rest of my ingredients out to begin a therapeutic day of watching the final round of the PGA Championship while keeping a periodic eye on my simmering gravy.

You’ll notice that, as always, I’m using imported genuine San Marzano tomatoes. I also picked up a pound each of hot and sweet Italian sausage. The green stuff is Italian parsley.

The pork neck bones are in the bag next to the onion.

Pork neck bones don’t have a lot of meat on them, but the bones themselves are great flavor enhancers. I began the gravy-making process by browning several of them in a little extra virgin olive oil and adding a chopped sweet onion and a few cloves of minced garlic to the pan while the browning was taking place.

Pork neck bones browning with chopped onion.

When the browning process was finished and the onions were nice and soft, I added a mini bottle of red wine for both flavor and to deglaze the pan. The wine reduced a bit as it boiled. While that was happening, I scraped flavor-enhancing bits of pork bone residue off the bottom of the pot. 

Deglazing the pot with red wine to maximize flavor.

After I finished deglazing the pan, I added one large and one small can of whole San Marzano tomatoes and an herb pouch filled with parsley, a couple bay leaves, and the rind of a chunk of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. The rind is extremely potent and great for adding flavor. Normally I grate cheese into the sauce, but since I had the rind on hand, I decided to go that route instead.

Herb pouch with parsley, cheese rind and bay leaves

I also decided to add a little butter to the gravy; just a couple tablespoons. Marcella Hazan’s legendary tomato sauce recipe, which I’ve made a couple times, contains a whole stick of butter. I didn’t want to go that far, but I thought throwing a little in with the gravy couldn’t hurt and may add a bit of richness.

Throwing a little butter into the gravy for richness.

Now that I had the gravy started and simmering, it was time to pan-fry the sausage. The goal is to brown the outsides; not cook them all the way through. The sausage adds a lot of flavor to the gravy, but if they aren’t browned, they’ll also make it extremely greasy. 

Hot and sweet Italian sausage

I added each sausage link to the gravy when I felt they were sufficiently browned. 

Ready to simmer 4-6 hours

And that was essentially the end of the hard part. Everything was in the cooking pot. I just needed to let the gravy simmer away for 4-6 hours, stirring about once every half-hour.

At the end of the simmering process, I removed the herb pouch and pork neck bones, stripping off what little meat was on them and throwing it back into the gravy.

The finished product. I left a crack for steam to escape during the simmering process, so the gravy reduced, hopefully intensifying the flavor.
Ready to go into the fridge overnight to pick up even more flavor.

As I sometimes do when making Sunday Gravy, I decided not to eat any of it until the following day. Letting it sit overnight in the refrigerator will kick up the flavor profile even more. 

I’m writing this Monday and just tried out the gravy with one of the sausage links over some perfectly al dente pasta.

Yeah, baby! I’ve got a very tasty week ahead of me.

I only used about half of the pork neck bones I purchased. The rest are in the freezer and will go into my next gravy. And hopefully my local supermarket will continue to stock them. I get a real kick out of making Sunday Gravy like an Italian grandmother.

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Sunday Gravy with Pork Neck Bones and Italian Sausage

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 pound raw pork neck bones

1 medium sweet onion

4 cloves minced garlic

3/4 cup red wine

2 cans whole San Marzano tomatoes (I used one 28-ounce can and one 14-ounce, but two 28-ounce cans would be fine as well.)

One herb pouch filled with a handful of Italian parsley, 2 bay leaves and the rind of a chunk of Parmigiano Reggiano cheese (if you don’t have an available rind, you may grate cheese into the sauce instead.)

1 tablespoon sugar

Salt and pepper to taste

2 pounds Italian sausage (hot, sweet or a mix of both)

  1. Heat the olive oil in your cooking pot and add the pork neck bones, browning on each side. Add your chopped onion to the pot while the neck bones are browning and sautee them. Throw in the garlic after the onions start to soften. You don’t want the garlic to burn.
  2. After the pork bones have finished browning and the onion is soft, add the wine. Let it boil down for a few minutes and scrape off any pork bone bits from the bottom of the pot.
  3. Add the canned tomatoes, herb pouch, sugar, salt and pepper to the pot and stir well.
  4. Brown the sausage links on all sides in a frying pan and add them to the gravy pot when finished browning.
  5. Allow the gravy to simmer 4-6 hours, stirring about every half-hour.
  6. When finished simmering, remove the herb pouch and pork neck bones from the gravy. Strip off any meat on the neck bones and throw it back into the gravy.
  7. Serve over pasta or enjoy a nice sausage sandwich on a good Italian roll.

Published by BZ Maestro

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