It’s a sacred thing. Be careful when tinkering with any Italian family’s recipe for Sunday gravy, that meat-stocked tomato sauce that gets simmered and reduced into a savory explosion of nostalgic happiness.
“If you tweak and twist my family’s recipe, you might be subject to harm,” says Frank Pellegrino Jr., known best as Frankie, co-owner of the original Rao’s in Harlem and the Rao’s restaurants in Las Vegas and Hollywood. At his Caesars Palace spot on April 26—as part of Vegas Uncork’d—Pellegrino will demonstrate how Rao’s does Sunday gravy during a special brunch event.
He invited the Weekly into his (incredibly delicious smelling) Caesars kitchen for a preview, cooking up a batch of family-feeding love stacked with sweet and hot pork sausages, pork butt, veal and braccioli—flank steak wrapped around basil and Parmegiano Reggiano.
The first step is browning all the meaty goodness in garlic-laden olive oil. “It’s kind of like playing with blocks,” Pellegrino says as he arranges each piece of meat to fit and sizzle in a huge stockpot. “When my grandmother would make it, she’d start at 10 in the morning and when she’d fry the meatballs, she’d have to hide them before the sauce was ready. Everyone would be coming in with bread to dip in the sauce.”
When all those fatty flavors have rendered in the pot, the meat moves out and the tomatoes come in. After a liberal seasoning and a rise in heat, Pellegrino adds the meats, and the fried meatballs, back to the sauce and simmers everything for at least two and a half hours, until the meats are fork-tender. Pellegrino recommends serving it with a sturdy pasta shape like rigatoni.
Sunday gravy has been around for centuries, he says, built around the idea of making something delicious for a big group with whatever ingredients were available. “Cooking this dish in this kitchen, creating these aromas and feelings, it makes this place feel like home,” he says. “This is a dish that can get you through the rest of your week.” He’s right, and he’s not just talking about leftovers.
A secret tip for those who don’t make Uncork’d brunch: Sunday gravy will be a special at Rao’s on Mother’s Day.
Rao's Caesars Palace, 702-731-7267. Daily, 5-10:30 p.m.