Here's another stellar recipe (one of my all-time favorites, in fact) from my pal Michael G., he who provided me with the delicious Olive Oil Bundt recipe that I posted a while back. He related the recipe for his traditional Sunday gravy in anecdotal form, and it's so perfect as is that I'm just going to quote him wholesale.
"Here's how my family makes it (4 generations) every week: Saute two pounds Italian sausages (sweet or hot or both, whatever you like, still in their casings) in a good amount of olive oil (about 1/2 cup) until brown all over. Remove the sausages and set them aside.
Chop two large yellow onions and cloves from one whole head garlic and saute them, adding more oil if needed. Saute them slowly on medium-low heat for 30 minutes or so until they become "sweet", translucent. Do not let them brown. Salt them as you saute them. Add a dash of crushed red pepper flakes, dry oregano and a few basil leaves (never use dried basil!!!). Then stir in two small cans tomato paste and two cans crushed tomatoes. Then fill up the empty cans of tomatoes (both cans) with water and add the water to the pot. Then add the sausages and a dash of sugar. Simmer for about 4 hours, with the lid slightly ajar. Stir every few minutes, making sure the tomatoes do not stick to the bottom and burn. You can add meatballs in the last 30 minutes of cooking. It's important to keep the simmer very low, just a few slow bubbles, and also to stir the sauce every few minutes. When I was little, whenever my grandmother was busy doing something like gardening, she would yell at me to stir the sauce about 3 times an hour."
Very generous of Michael to share this, especially since you couldn't wrest family recipes away from most Italian nonnas with a crowbar.
My variation on Michael's Sunday Gravy (Slight sacrilege. I know.)
Makes enough to feed a small army.
*2 lbs hot Italian sausage
*1/3 cup EVOO
*2 (small) yellow onions. If you like onions, go H.A.M. and get bigg'uns. I have to keep other household half's onion hate in mind.
*1 head of garlic, cloves peeled and chopped finely
*1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
*1 teaspoon dried oregano
*3 large basil leaves
*A couple sprigs of thyme
*12 oz can of tomato paste
*2 28oz cans crushed tomatoes
*Pinch of sugar
*Homemade meatballs (optional, but highly recommended)
Follow anecdotal recipe above, with a few amendments: After the veg has sauteed for 30 minutes or so, add the tomato paste and fry for a few minutes on its own before adding in the crushed tomatoes (and the fresh herbs). Also, I usually just fill one 28 oz can with water and add that in. If you are making meatballs, pour off some of the grease but leave a bit in the pan, add a touch of tomato paste, fry for a couple minutes, deglaze with a small glug of beef stock and add to the sauce.
And once more, for good measure - do not simmer for less than 4 hours. 4 1/2-5 hours is what I shoot for, normally. It's a watery tomato sauce 2 hours in - after it crosses the 4 hour mark, it edges into the sublime.
Also, might be a good idea to put down paper towels around the pot because even partially covered and at a low heat setting, this sauce will spit and splat all around your counter and stovetop when it's a couple hours in. Fair warning.