A second-generation Italian-American, we’ve always called it sauce in our household. We gathered around for Sunday dinner at my Grandmothers for pasta and sauce. Gravy was brown and something served with turkey at Thanksgiving; after the lasagna and stuffed artichokes of course.
This being said, my best friend refers to it as gravy and never misses an opportunity to “correct” me. Since we are both passionate cooks in our own right this topic has sparked many an unresolved and comical debate in the kitchen. “It’s called GRAVY!” and “No, it’s SAUCE what kind of Italian calls it GRAVY?” are thrown around alot. You get the idea.
Here is what I understand to be true, Gravy is not a term native to Italy. Gravy is a term adapted by some early Italian immigrant families to refer to meat sauce, or Ragu. My family refers to sauce as sauce, whether there is meat involved or not; as long as it cooks all day with the promise of meatballs and pasta hanging in the air, it’s pasta sauce.
Here’s a great video narrated by Robert Loggia: Our Contributions: The Italians in America . Here he refers to it as gravy but there is no mistaking the common thread of culture we are familiar with whether we are Italian-Italian, Italian-American or American-Italian. Being Italian truly is a special gift and an honor.
So which is correct? The answer is simple, both.
Call it what you want: sauce, gravy, ragu, marinara, brodo, or sugo… there’s no right answer; or is there? What do you think?