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Settle an argument - is it gravy or sauce?.

This is ongoing among my friends and in my family growing up my grandmother from Italy called it gravy.Could both be correct?

asked by Jeannette Tyas about 3 years ago
15 answers 9183 views
23b88974 7a89 4ef5 a567 d442bb75da04  avatar
added about 3 years ago

I believe both are correct, but if you are a true Italian you will call it gravy.

401c5804 f611 451f a157 c693981d8eef  mad cow deux
pierino

pierino is a trusted source on General Cooking and Tough Love.

added about 3 years ago

I completely agree with kircon's answer. This is a case of Old World meets the New World. And unless you live in New Jersey or Queens it's not "gravy". The generic term in Italian would be sugo or salsa. How "gravy" entered into it, I don't know. But it is an interesting piece of food history.

84baef1b 1614 4c3d a895 e859c9d40bd1  chris in oslo
Greenstuff

Chris is a trusted source on General Cooking

added about 3 years ago

There's a wonderful cookbook by Nancy Verde Barr called We Called it Macaroni: An American Heritage of Southern Italian Cooking. She grew up in Providence, Rhode Island, where many Italian-Americans called south Italian ragu "gravy" and all their pasta "macaroni." I think ragu is sugo with meat, is that right pierino?

401c5804 f611 451f a157 c693981d8eef  mad cow deux
pierino

pierino is a trusted source on General Cooking and Tough Love.

added about 3 years ago

Chris, Italian-American is almost "suis generis", that being it's own thing different from the exact regional cuisines of Italy. The great wave of Italian immigration to the US began before the first World War so there is more than 100 years of history behind us. Northern v Southern as a distinction is almost meaningless, at least in this context. Ragu (or is it the French ragout?). Yes, ragu does imply meat. How "gravy" got into it I don't know. It's an American thing. That's what happens when people dare to cross borders and bring their ideas with them.

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added about 3 years ago

Gravy probably happened when they wanted to sound more American. My generation of Italian Americans were never taught to speak Italian, even though their grandparents spoke no English. They were fiercely proud of being American. (at least in Marin County in the 50's).

401c5804 f611 451f a157 c693981d8eef  mad cow deux
pierino

pierino is a trusted source on General Cooking and Tough Love.

added about 3 years ago

And don't forget the Japanese, Mexicans, Koreans and so many others who think of themselves as proud Americans. I salute you my brothers and sisters!

1d0d675a 5598 44a5 865e 32730d2a1273  186003 1004761561 1198459 n
added about 3 years ago

I didn't mean to exclude any other nationality...it's just that the area where I grew up was Italian and were proud to be American. If anyone asked about their ancestry it was Swiss Italian...not just Italian, but Swiss Italian!

516f887e 3787 460a bf21 d20ef4195109  bigpan
added about 3 years ago

If either the sauce, or the gravy, is very good and tasty - then I call it a "beverage" !

23b88974 7a89 4ef5 a567 d442bb75da04  avatar
added about 3 years ago

In Italian, it is called 'ragu' or 'sugo' ('o rau' in Neapolitan dialect). Sugo came from the word 'succo', which means juice, implying the sauce is flavored with the juices (drippings) of meat (the base of any ragu, sugo, sauce, gravy, etc.) This holds true with any ragu from any region of Italy. My guess is that 'gravy' came into play because it is the closest English word with the same meaning (as it is known in America; i.e. 'biscuits and gravy' - where the gravy is made from the pork drippings). Keep in mind, many of the immigrants were from Southern regions of Italy (Calabria, Sicilia, Naples, etc.) where they speak a very different dialect from proper Italian (spoken mostly in the North). That's the main reason for all these Italian-American terms (gravy, gabagool, fazool, etc.); they're mostly just mispronunciations of how they heard it from their grandparents because, as mentioned, most of them were not taught Italian as kids (they just heard it spoken among the adults). So, it's pretty much "slang" that comes from "slang" (it's all screwed up. lol.).
And 'salsa' is a word used in Italian that can refer to (literally) ANY sauce, tomato-based or not. It's a very generic term.
So to answer your question, there's no 'right' or 'wrong' answer. But that doesn't mean you can't tell all your friends you asked a bunch of people over the internet and they ALL agreed with YOU...white lies right?

23b88974 7a89 4ef5 a567 d442bb75da04  avatar
added about 3 years ago

...Frig that was long and kind of jumbled..sorry folks.

84baef1b 1614 4c3d a895 e859c9d40bd1  chris in oslo
Greenstuff

Chris is a trusted source on General Cooking

added about 3 years ago

Not to worry, some of us love this kind of discussion. Language, culture, immigration, food. Of course it's long and delightfully jumbled.

401c5804 f611 451f a157 c693981d8eef  mad cow deux
pierino

pierino is a trusted source on General Cooking and Tough Love.

added about 3 years ago

No it wasn't. My friend Nico il Matto makes some really good points here. The "dialetto" being one of them. Another late an lamented friend, the actor Vincent Schiavelli wrote a wonderful book "Bruculinu,America" which is about growing up Sicilian in Brooklyn. I hope it is still in print. A kind and generous man, now interred in Sicilia.
Recently I interviewed Gustavo Arellano the author of the column "Ask a Mexican!" and in discussing food I would use the word "real" as opposed to "authentic". Immigrants to our country bring along with them ideas about food and not "recipes". It becomes an adaptation to what you find here. Think of the tomato as traveling from America to Spain and onto Italy and then coming back again with some new insights along the way.

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Pegeen

Pegeen is a trusted home cook.

added about 3 years ago

PazzoNico, not to worry. (And who knows where that phrase came from!) These threads are always great, reading everyone's responses. How we learn.

ALL of my Italian friends call it gravy and now that I have to think about it, they're all from southern Italy or Sicily. And they all know that calling tomato sauce "gravy" makes me crazy, because in my background and family, gravy means a lot of work based on beef, pork or lamb drippings, onions, a roux, etc. quite a bit of tending.

It makes a lot of sense that it was an Americanization by Italian immigrants to call sauce "gravy" ... maybe it started when Italian immigrants began to open restaurants and wanted to make menus familiar to other groups.

23b88974 7a89 4ef5 a567 d442bb75da04  avatar
added about 3 years ago

I always think of gravy as something started with a roux. A sauce, to me, is thickened by reduction. Well...that's the way I think of it!