Monday, April 11, 2016

No, really, it's "gravy," not "sauce."

Article in the Philadelphia Inquirer on a recent "red gravy" cookoff.  
I'm always humored by food writers perplexed by the use of the word "gravy" to describe a particular style of pasta sauce.  "Why is it called 'gravy'?" they ask. "Isn't 'gravy' the brown stuff you pour over your mashed potatoes?"

Can we drop the puzzled queries about the origins of the word "gravy" to describe Neapolitan-style meat sauce? It's simple: Italians call this "rag├╣," which can translate into several English words: "sauce," or "gravy," or even "stew."  Italians in America seem to have adopted the English word "gravy" to describe this sauce a couple generations ago.

"Gravy" describes a particular kind of pasta sauce, a long-simmering tomato sauce that contains meat. Not ground meat in the Bolognese style, but chunks of meat -- pork ribs, veal shank, sausage, brasciole, to name but a few options -- that are cooked with tomatoes, removed from the pot at the end of cooking, and served as a second course, after the sauced pasta. It is a style common to the Campania region of Italy (as well as other regions).

You may even see variations on this usage. It's typical to call the sauce made with crabs "crab gravy," as it is virtually the same as meat gravy, but with crabs substituting the meat.

When mom said she was "making gravy" on a Sunday morning, we knew precisely what she meant. Trust me, it wasn't a light "pomodoro" sauce with basil chiffonade she spent the morning cooking.

In the Italian-American lexicon, "gravy" and "sauce" are different things.  If it doesn't have meat, it's not "gravy."