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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 almost 4 years ago

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32 answers 13492 views
23b88974 7a89 4ef5 a567 d442bb75da04  avatar
added almost 4 years ago

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

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4a1a14e0 4430 4c1b 94a5 ef52a15dcc1f  fb avatar
added about 2 months ago

Wrong! Sugo is gravy, spaghetti sauce is spaghetti sauce or marinara. Calling a sauce gravy is just an immigrant english misnomer.

23b88974 7a89 4ef5 a567 d442bb75da04  avatar
added 12 days ago

WRONG! I was born in Italy, in Italy we call it SAUCE. There is no such word as "gravy" in the Italian language.

79ca7fa3 11e3 4829 beae d200649eab49  walken the walk
pierino

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

added almost 4 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.

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84baef1b 1614 4c3d a895 e859c9d40bd1  chris in oslo
Greenstuff

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added almost 4 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?

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79ca7fa3 11e3 4829 beae d200649eab49  walken the walk
pierino

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

added almost 4 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 almost 4 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).

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79ca7fa3 11e3 4829 beae d200649eab49  walken the walk
pierino

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added almost 4 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 almost 4 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 almost 4 years ago

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

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23b88974 7a89 4ef5 a567 d442bb75da04  avatar
added almost 4 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?

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

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

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84baef1b 1614 4c3d a895 e859c9d40bd1  chris in oslo
Greenstuff

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added almost 4 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.

79ca7fa3 11e3 4829 beae d200649eab49  walken the walk
pierino

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

added almost 4 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.

23b88974 7a89 4ef5 a567 d442bb75da04  avatar
Pegeen

Pegeen is a trusted home cook.

added almost 4 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.

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BerryBaby

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added 6 months ago

I'm Sicilian and we always called it sauce. Never heard it called gravy until moving out west from the midwest.

23b88974 7a89 4ef5 a567 d442bb75da04  avatar
added almost 4 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!

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23b88974 7a89 4ef5 a567 d442bb75da04  avatar
added 6 months ago

In all the years I have spent in Italy, I have never heard "ragu" or tomato sauce referred to as gravy. In addition, my grandmother, born and raised in Italy never called any kind of sauce that went with pasta gravy.

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23b88974 7a89 4ef5 a567 d442bb75da04  avatar
added 12 days ago

Thank you!

4a1a14e0 4430 4c1b 94a5 ef52a15dcc1f  fb avatar
added about 2 months ago

Sugo is gravy, spaghetti sauce is spaghetti sauce or marinara. Calling a sauce gravy is just an immigrant english misnomer.

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23b88974 7a89 4ef5 a567 d442bb75da04  avatar
added 23 days ago

I heave lived in Italy half my life... as a true Italian, no none there refers to it as gravy... the Italian American's are the only ones..

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23b88974 7a89 4ef5 a567 d442bb75da04  avatar
added 23 days ago

*have

23b88974 7a89 4ef5 a567 d442bb75da04  avatar
added 12 days ago

You are absolutely right! Not southern Italy, not northern Italy, NOT SICILY!

2487144e c60d 4bdc b4cc 4af767a9ad96  img 6405
BerryBaby

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added 23 days ago

Never heard it called gravy always sauce...first heard it called gravy at an Italian restaurant on the west coast owned by soneone from the east coast who insisted east coasters call it gravy. Really?

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23b88974 7a89 4ef5 a567 d442bb75da04  avatar
PHIL

PHIL is a trusted home cook.

added 23 days ago

I think it is a Neapolitan thing especially in NY- NJ area. We call it gravy too although the term seems to be fading out. Also it usually specifically refers to the Sunday "gravy" which is with various meats and cooks all day.

81ec1bfc a53e 4144 a2b9 e405dc41fe01  download

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23b88974 7a89 4ef5 a567 d442bb75da04  avatar
added 12 days ago

"Cooks all day" is another sticking point for me! Unless you're making 50 gallons of SAUCE, cooking it all day will give you MUD! A good Italian tomato SAUCE, for home consumption, shouldn't have to cook more than 2-3 hours. Anything longer, will give you bitter, tomato mud!

23b88974 7a89 4ef5 a567 d442bb75da04  avatar
added 14 days ago

My husband's family is 1/2 Italian 1/2 Irish , ( his mother was full Italian)
They all call it gravy and after 30 years of marriage , I also call it gravy too ! ( I'm Irish, lol)
Being in an Italian family, it's definitely gravy! Haha!!
I love it though and my mother in law made some of the best gravy I've ever put in my mouth! Her ravioli was quite awesome too!! Everything, including the pasta was from scratch !



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23b88974 7a89 4ef5 a567 d442bb75da04  avatar
added 14 days ago

Great answer !!

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23b88974 7a89 4ef5 a567 d442bb75da04  avatar
added 14 days ago

I totally agree with the vote on the best answer by Klrcon !!

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23b88974 7a89 4ef5 a567 d442bb75da04  avatar
PHIL

PHIL is a trusted home cook.

added 12 days ago

Rose, this subject really gets to you. Regarding the "cooks all day" term , I should clarify, The process itself, frying the meatballs, making the brasciole , braising the meat started in the morning and then the sauce would cook for a while. Since Sunday dinner was no later then 3 the sauce didn't really cook all day. There was always extra meatballs, as sampling would take place throughout the day. Bread dunking was also a constant. Ahh the smell of garlic permeated the house!

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23b88974 7a89 4ef5 a567 d442bb75da04  avatar
added 11 days ago

Thank you so much Phil, for clearing that up. I'm sorry if I came on a little strong. But yes it does get to me. I have had friends tell me their grandmothers or mothers cooked their sauce all day, or even over night!!! That makes me crazy! But how you described it made sense, I do the same thing. I have lots or meatballs and sausage in my sauce too. I make my own bread too, for dunking!
Thanks again for your response.

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