Sauce or Gravy?

Sauce or Gravy?

If you have any Italian blood in you and if you grew up in New York, this is perhaps one of the great debate points of all time. Exactly what do you call that wonderful tomato-based concoction that you mom made every Sunday, after preparing it for hours and then making sure it simmered for the exact right amount of time?

This is one of those debates that people are passionate about! It’s a “take no prisoners ” kind of passion and there is no room for compromise. Is it Sauce or Gravy?

The opposing sides appear to be equal in number, so simply overwhelming the other guy is basically impossible. However, even if one side only has two members out of the thousands of Italian Americans in New York, they would rather go “down with the ship” than give in.

If you were on the Gravy side, the Sauce people were sacrilegious heathens and vice vera.

Now, my family was definitely Sauce people. Gravy was for mashed potatoes. Red sauce was for Sunday dinner, hands down. To be honest, I really didn’t care what you called it, as long as Mom was cooking it on Sunday. That kind of “middle of the road”, non-committed could get one killed, so I never voiced that until I got to Texas, where people think Olive Garden is Italian.

Now, even if you agreed that it was Sauce, everyone had their own way of cooking the Sauce. Sauces were recognized by the name of the person preparing it. For example; In our extended family there was:

Moms Sauce
Mary’s Sauce
Rose’s Sauce
Antoinette’s Sauce
Etc, etc…. and of course this led to more debates, or ..outright wars.

Everyone had their favorite, but being we were all family, one would not outright diss another’s sauce.
For example, Dad would often be heard saying;
“I like Mary’s Sauce, but it doesn’t hold a candle to Moms Sauce”

The feeling would be similar from others. IE, My Uncle Dick, Mary’s husband, would be heard saying:
“Helens Sauce is “nice”, but she doesn’t put any meat in it??”
Uncle Jimmy, Aunt Roses’ husband would declare; “No one puts as much meat in their Sauce as my Rose does”… and on and I it would go.

Please note how the husbands unanimously took the side of their wives’ Sauce… a very wise and healthy position to take.

This opens up the next debate. Should the sauce have meat cooked in it? Or should the sauce be a purer tomato sauce? Again, Using my family as an example, there were three basic schools of thought, each with subtle variations that are much too intricate to get into now. One of the obvious rules: no bottled sauces. That was tantamount to treason. Fresh tomatoes were preferable, but crushed tomatoes in a can were very acceptable as well.

Mom: sauce was a basic tomato sauce with no meat cooked in the sauce. The exception may be meatballs, but they were usually cooked separately. However, it was quite acceptable to cook them in the sauce.

Aunt Mary’s sauce; definitely meatballs, with chunks of pork or beef added as well.They made the sauce extremely flavorful and the beef or pork was wonderfully tender.

Aunt Rose’s sauce; Meatballs, pork; much of the time on the bone, sausage, and chicken. Aunt Rose loaded up on the meats, giving her sauce a rich, unique flavor. It was a meal in itself, which really didn’t need to be over pasta… or macaroni … which leads to the next debate. Was it Pasta or Macaroni.

In our family, it was generally agreed it was macaroni. There was little debate internally, but on the city at large? The debate raged, and in many ways is still debated today.

I think as time advanced, Pasta has taken over as the more general designation, however, die-hards will hold on for dear life to the Macaroni designation.

Rhonda, my wife, learned the Italian way of cooking from my mom, so we, in general, lean toward a simple but very flavorful tomato sauce. Copious amounts of garlic and fresh basil contribute greatly. However, there are times when we will drift over to the Aunt Mary/ Aunt Rose school and enjoy the meats cooked right in the sauce.

Personally, I love them all, but I can still hear Dad: … “their sauce is nice, but it’s not Moms…..”



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