Nonno Panecaldo’s “Sunday Sauce”… Pasta with Meatballs


Even though the first official day of winter has yet to arrive the temperatures here in the San Francisco Bay Area these past few days are keen reminders that Old Man Winter is blowing frigid Arctic air down along the length of the Pacific coast, suggesting that we all stay indoors huddled around a warm crackling fire… or snuggled up as close as possible  to a warm kitchen stove, its flames dancing merrily under a kettle filled with the promise of an evening’s meal of comfort food to warm both the body and the soul.

It’s a day for story telling as well.  As I was standing at the kitchen island opening colorful jars of home-canned tomatoes and Dayton at the butcher block chopping onions and mincing fragrant herbs I asked him why the dish we were about to prepare was called Sunday Sauce.  As we worked, this is the story he told…

My Aunt Dorothy’s stepfather, Nonno Panecaldo, had originally come from Cocullo, a village in the Abruzzo region in the south of Italy.  He had been a baker in the Italian army and, in the latter part of the 19th century, immigrated with two or three of his brothers to the United States and made his home in Gridley, California, where he opened his business as a baker.  Aunt Dorothy’s mother needed work and was hired to be the clerk at Nonno’s bakery.  The working relationship soon bloomed into love and they were married.

The couple lived in a huge Victorian house that had been built by Leland Stanford.  The house had two dining rooms that were separated by sliding doors, doors that were opened to accommodate an immense dining table that was extended with a multitude of leaves whenever a houseful of guests was invited to join them for a meal.  The house also had a large butler’s pantry adjoining the kitchen that Nonno used to make his pastas, breads and ravioli.  This pantry was his domain and no one, not even Aunt Dorothy’s mother, was allowed in.  Every Sunday was “pasta Sunday” and there was always an open family invitation to come for the day and enjoy a wonderful meal together around the table.

As a youngster I remember being impressed by the size of the immense white pasta bowl as it came from the kitchen, filled to the brim with pasta and slowly simmered sauce, emitting clouds of fragrant steam as it was brought to the table. We filled our plates with heaping servings of pasta and the thick rich sauce, accompanied by large pungent slices of garlic bread and crisp garden salad.  Nonno Panecaldo’s sauce became known as “Sunday Sauce”, and it remains that to this day.

Nonno Panecaldo’s Sunday Sauce

For the meatballs, in a large bowl combine:

  • 1/2 lb lean ground beef
  • 1/2 lb ground veal
  • 1 C panko crumbs
  • 1/2 medium white onion, coarsely chopped
  • 1 T balsamic vinegar
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper

Mix well to incorporate.  Form the mixture into 1-inch diameter meatballs.  This will yield approximately 4 dozen:

In a heavy 12-inch skillet, over moderate heat, add:

  • 2 T extra virgin olive oil

When the oil is shimmering add the meatballs and brown slowly in batches, turning as necessary.  Do not overcrowd as overcrowding will hinder the browning process:

Transfer the browned meatballs to a plate on the side and reserve. 

For the sauce, to a medium rondo over moderate heat add:

  • 2 T extra virgin olive oil

When the oil is shimmering add:

  • 1 lb mild Italian sausage

Break the sausage apart with a slotted spoon or potato masher as it browns:

Continue browning until all of the excess water has evaporated and only the fat remains in the bottom of the pan.  With a slotted spoon transfer the well-browned sausage to a plate or bowl on the side:

To the skillet add:

  • 1 C white onion, coarsely chopped
  • 6 whole peeled garlic cloves, minced

Saute until the onion is translucent, approximately 2 – 3 minutes.  Add:

  • 8 C (2 quarts) whole tomatoes, juices included
  • 1 6-0z can tomato paste
  • 5 fresh bay leaves
  • 1/2 tsp ground allspice
  • 2 tsp dried oregano, crushed between the palms of your hands to release the fragrance
  • 1 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1 tsp minced rosemary

Break up the tomatoes with a slotted spoon or potato masher if the pieces are too large.  Stir well to combine.  Add:

  • the reserved browned Italian sausage
  • 1/4 tsp sugar
  • 1 C chicken stock (preferably low sodium)

Mix well.  Add:

  • the browned meatballs

Stir and simmer for 30 minutes, adjusting heat as necessary:


  • 1/2 C fresh basil, chopped

Mix well to incorporate and continue simmering for an additional 30 minutes longer.  Serve over pasta in a heated bowl, garnished with freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano.  I’m certain that Nonno Panecaldo would be pleased and proud of the fact that, over one hundred years later, he and his special Sunday Sauce are remembered still… Bon Appetit!


Copyright 2009 Via Aurea Designs, Inc., All Rights Reserved



Categories: Pasta, Sauces

Author:Steve Meyer & Dayton Azevedo

Food and fine cooking have been our passion for many years, fueled by the year-around abundance of fresh fruits, vegetables, poultry and meats, as well as aromatic spices and herbs readily available to us here in the San Francisco Bay Area, making adventuresome, creative and delicious 5-star cooking a reality in our kitchen. Our aim is to make it yours as well by utilizing our step by step instructions and serial photographs. Bon Appetit from our kitchen to yours...!


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