About the long-standing debate over calling your pasta topping sauce or gravy?
As Italian immigrants flooded The United States in the 20th Century, clashes of the new and old world were inevitable. All aspects of the culture, including cooking and language would be altered in order to assimilate to the new American life but as the Italians settled, first on the east coast and then throughout the rest of the country, debates about words and references in Italian culture have surfaced. One bone of contention that seems to always stir up some controversy is the Sauce Vs. Gravy debate. How could such a minor detail become such a major issue amongst Italian Americans? The answer lies within the origin of both words, their counterparts in the Italian language.
Gravy for most Americans has a strong association with Thanksgiving turkey and roast beef. It’s usually a thick, dark sauce derived from meat. I imagine that if I were to entire a diner in certain parts of the country and ordered pasta with gravy, I would receive a plate of noodles smothered in a brown sauce, and served with equal parts befuddlement and disgust by the waitress. With each passing generation, the argument has become more and more heated but the origin of the words goes back to the Italian language and the words succo(juice),salsa(sauce)and ragu(meat sauce).
This explains a lot of the confusion, and yet still creates more. Words like succo and salsa were most likely changed into sauce and ragu is most likely the origin of gravy. Webster’s Dictionary defines gravy as “The juices that drip from cooking meat”, and defines sauce as “A flavorful seasoning or relish served as an accompaniment to food, especially a liquid dressing or topping for food.” The two definitions are pretty general and are open to a number of different interpretations. It seems that the truth behind the argument has been buried since our Italian ancestors first arrived in the USA. Regardless of which side of the battle lines you are on, that fact is, we may never be able to decipher which word is correct.
“What’s in a name? That which we call a sauce by any other name would taste as sweet.” -William Shakespeare(Italian Style)
I was hoping to find a definitive answer as to the correct usage of Sauce and Gravy but I have come to what I feel is a satisfying conclusion: Who Cares? You can call it whatever you like, I’m only truly interested in how it tastes. If you find yourself still heated about the argument then direct your attention to the little bit of Shakespeare above. I know, I know, the quote has been altered a bit, call it my Italian re-imagining. My only advice is that you have a good meal- whether it’s pasta and tomato sauce or macaroni and gravy.
Published in: Cooking