Friday, February 25, 2011

Upstate NY Italian Sauce or Gravy? Debate


Traditional Sunday Sauce

 The question (and sometimes, the passionate debate) has been brought up to me many times.
Why some call whats on top of their macaroni, pasta "Sauce or Gravy" ?
 It goes without saying that they are both basic words in the American vocabulary, but accurately understanding what each word really means can be the very different sometimes. Depending on what region of Italy your relatives came from (most immigrants from the North never began using the word gravy in any sense once in America). Though the term is used in all major cities, the original practice of calling "sauce" gravy started in the Long Island, New York region "Port Washington." A section of Long Island mostly made up of Italian immigrants at the turn of the century. Though some Italians did not refer to it as "sauce", only gravy depending again where their relatives came from, it became a mix of both in many area's.  This term of gravy was then carried into New York City and the northern parts of New Jersey. From there, it migrated into cities such as Philadelphia, Baltimore, Boston And Chicago. Today many of the older Italians had stopped this usage opting to use the more common United States term as "sauce."

Here is somewhat an answer for fellow foodies, Italian-Americans and all Americans: I call  for one and our family call it sauce. I have gotten in several discussions with many reasons why every family may have a different version of whats right and wrong, but our family calls it sauce and in Upstate NY, (Utica/Rome area to be exact where I am from,)  they called any topping for macaroni, sauce period. As a matter of fact some were totally disgusted by the word gravy and would take offense by referring to it as gravy and argue about this for hours. They would get so passionate about it, many would argue they were more Italian than you are were. Gravy was something you would have on Thanksgiving with turkey but not on pasta, never, ever,  perhaps the following will provide a bit more information on why it was referred to as gravy to begin with by some, but never to others. There are actual reasonings behind why indeed it is okay to also call a tomato sauce, gravy it's  Whatever ...
Marinara Sauce

Tomato Sauce( wikipedia version) (a marinara sauce my recipe), is any quick sauce created with only tomatoes, olive oil, garlic and other spices and no meat. It can be used for topping macaroni or pasta, chicken, beef or veal. As it is a condiment for those meats (and not cooked using the meat itself inside the sauce), it is not considered a gravy in any social or food-related sense.
So here is some accuracy on what is correct here although I believe whatever your family calls it is ok with me!
The term “meat gravy,” is used to describe any sauce that is made from  any kind meat. Any sauce that had meat in it, in definition was considered a “meat gravy” is a long, slow cooking time with enhanced flavors extracted from the meat. The classic Italian-American recipes call for meatballs, sausage, pork ribs, braciole or beef, to be combined with the spices and  tomato making a thicker, richer sauce which was why some referred this to a gravy, it all came down to meat in the sauce.

Italian Meat Braciole

Traditional Meat Sauce the Next Generation


So in conclusion, what is the simple right answer, gravy or sauce? Well, there isn't any . Or, really, the answer is, it’s okay to use both phrases. Again, our family within two regions (Rome Italy and Bari) call our sauce, "Sauce".  If you are still not convinced and still want to call your tomato sauce, gravy, that’s perfectly fine with me, it's who you are right?  As long as your  preparing it with love and care just like your mama, grandmom, and great-grandmother, aunt whomever your backround originated did, you can’t go wrong. And whatever you call it, let's eat!!.... Mangia! Cheers!

35 comments:

la vita รจ bella (Alessandra) said...

I'm Italian & I call it sauce too lol. To me gravy sounds like gravy you would put on a turkey or mashed potatoes, not something you would add on pasta. I guess every Italian is different in terms of whether to call it sauce and/or gravy.

Su said...

It looks like a perfect sauce to me :)

Lizzy said...

Growing up in the midewest, it's always been sauce. What an educational post, Claudia...I'd never heard it called gravy till the Internet entered my life! Happy Friday, my friend~

Rosemary said...

My family always called it sauce. I love learning about how customs get started! I'm researching St. Joseph Day doughnuts. What do you know about them, Claudia? Are they part of your tradition?

Tony T said...

How confusing...I grew up (in Chicago) hearing both gravy and sauce. Both my mom's parents came from Sciliy and they called it gravy. Both my dad's parents came from Naples and they called it sauce. Being a student of Italian culture and cusine, I call it sauce. Let's confuse it more by just calling it Sugo :-)

Melynda said...

Fun information! What ever you call it, it looks delicious!

Patti said...

Well I'm glad that's settled Claudia. Either way, its all good!

Cajun Chef Ryan said...

Claudia, I guess it depends on where you are from, but I think many of the traditional home cooks would call it a gravy. I did just see one of Anthony Bourdain's "No Reservations" and he toured NYC, the local Italian deli places called it the tomato sauce on meatballs a "gravy". I always call my tomato based sauces a "sauce".

In the culinary training, I was always told that a "gravy" was made from the drippings and juices from roasted meats, and that a sauce was made from stocks and broths. Just my 2 cents!

Bon appetit!

Claudia said...

What fun! It's always been sauce in my home. And Grandma who indeed did come over from the "old country" said "suace." Gravy was for meat. I lived in Port Washington for awhile - had no idea there were early Italian settlers! But how I love that town.

Reeni said...

We call it sauce too! It sounds like sawce with our NY accents! My great grandpa was from Bari too!

Victoria said...

Claudia, this is a discussion I've had with my Italian friends in the past. Some of them call it gravy, while some say sauce. I'm glad to finally understand the difference (at least in theory) is the addition or absence of meat. Thanks for clearing this up!! I personally call it sauce, but I'm not Italian either, haha.

Teri said...

My family was from the Boston Italian areas. To me it's a sauce. BTW, a gravy is defined as being made from meat drippings. I'm thinking that's not the same thing as making a sauce that has meat in it.

Marina said...

I call it sauce usually :) But, here in Croatia people also have different words for same thing :) Sometimes even five or six words..

Gabriella said...

My family has always called it sauce, I always get a little bit annoyed when I hear people call it gravy, lol, even though it's not a big deal. :)

Principessa Gabriella

Ann said...

My family, being of Italian decent, has always called it sauce. I think it's called gravy when it's made from the meat drippings.

Cheryl and Adam said...

Agreeing with Cajun Chef Ryan we have always known gravies as made from pan drippings of meats and sauces from broths, vegetables etc. In any event, if the dish is Italian, we are firmly in the sauce camp.

Magic of Spice said...

Very interesting read...hope you have a great weekend :)

VE said...

I'm originally from Long Island - most of my family was from brooklyn and/or queens- and (as an adult) I actually lived in Port Washington for a few years. My family is from Sicily on my mother's side, Naples on my father's side- my mom's side of the family did just about all of the cooking. To my mom, and my maternal grandmother, it was always gravy - for my entire childhood I ONLY knew it as gravy. To my mo's side of the family, all pasta was macaroni. Mom's "gravy" always had meatballs, sausage, and sometimes a good bracciole or even rolled pork skins.

As I moved into adulthood, and really began cooking on my own, I somehow started calling it tomato sauce - even when I used meat. I don't really know why. I use the term pasta in general, and usually say spaghetti, linguini, rotini, cavatelli, etc.. when talking about a specific shape of pasta. Again, I'm not really sure why. All the old school first generation Italians in my family (all southern Italy which is probably the common thread) were the same way. My generation seemed to have started to diverge from that tradition, even when I make basically the same "gravy" - maybe it was to avoid confusion in a wider more connected world, I can't really put a finger on it, but that's my story.

roz said...

Claudia, I loved reading about the continual debate regarding the terms 'sauce' versus 'gravy' among Italians and Italian-Americans. Having grown up in the Midwest (Iowa), we always called it 'sauce', even if meat (Bolognese Sauce) was included. I've never heard of a "Bolognese Gravy". So as you said, no matter what you care to call it, if made with love, it's ALL GOOD! Thanks for posting this on Fresh Clean and Pure Friday. . . .it certainly is a recipe that is PURELY ITALIAN! Amore amica, Roz

Sunshine said...

who cares what's it called... i don't .. really .. it taste good and that's all i need !
www.kankanasaxena.net

ARLENE said...

Growing up I ate macaroni with gravy. As an adult, it became pasta with sauce. Seriously, it had more to do with whether I was talking food with family and Italian-American friends or people not in either of those groups. It does make more sense that "Sunday gravy" is gravy because of the meat, but in my family we never differentiated.

redkathy said...

What a great discussion Claudia. My family is from Northern Italy and use the term sauce. I notice many who use the term gravy claim Sicilian ties. I had a boss, Tony, whose mom was from Sicily. She spoke no English so I don't really know what she called it but I do remember Tony calling it sauce.

Great post and recipe! Oh and what about Reeni's comment, "sawce". What a riot but so true especially after migrating to Florida.

Have a great weekend friend.

Peggy said...

I've actually never heard a tomato sauce called "gravy" before, so I'm definitely on the "sauce" side of this debate! =)

Angie's Recipes said...

I would take that as a perfect pasta sauce!

Erin @ EKat's Kitchen said...

mmmm. I love pasta sauces. Yes, I'm in the sauce camp too... gravy, to me, is meat-based. brown, and what you put on turkey. :)

Thanks for linking up with Friday Potluck again this week. You're always so supportive of me! :)

alison said...

sauce!:)

FOODESSA said...

I always associated gravy as a brownish sauce for meat based dishes.
Our Italian sauce is always referred to as 'La Salsa' ;o)

Have a great weekened,
Claudia

Angela said...

You can call it whatever you want as long as I can have some. It looks fantastic.

Elisabeth said...

I grew up in Cleveland, and we always called in sauce. Some of our parents' friends from New Jersey and Brooklyn called it gravy. For the life of me, the "gravy" sound always reminded me of the "brown" gravy we used to top meats...go figure, at either rate, can't live without a good sauce!
Love your braciole, as well!

The Lucky Wife said...

We love Italian food! Look forward to seeing what kinds of recipes you've got. Found you at eKat's Friday Potluck... I'd like to invite you to come link up your most popular recipe so far at Make a Food-"e"-Friend Monday #2: Most Popular Recipes from the Food Blogosphere
. Look forward to finding out what that is!

The Food Hunter said...

Grew up in Philadelphia; family from Sicily. We always called it gravy. I don't think one word is more right....whatever you want to call it is fine with me...it's all good.

Anonymous said...

My parent came over in the 60's from the old country! I was born in Queens, NY and moved out to the Island as a child! They always called it SAUCE!

Unknown said...

This is absolutely silly. Real simple, Sunday Gravy was reserved mostly for NYers (NY City & Burroughs), Sunday Sugo and Sunday Sauce for Western NY (Buffalo & Surrounding area). My family was All Sicilian and most all neighbors were either Sicilian or Calabrese. Every last family said Sunday Sugo when describing Sunday Meat Sauce...........

Hibiscus House said...

We call it sauce!

Jersey Girl Cooks said...

Gravy or sauce...I like it anyway you call it!