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So why do Italians call pasta sauce "gravy?"

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eyesroll Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Feb-08-06 07:37 AM
Original message
So why do Italians call pasta sauce "gravy?"
I use the probably very typical American definition of gravy -- something meat- or stock-based, that's been seasoned and thickened.
But the Italian definition, as we've seen here, is something that goes over "macaroni."

I see "macaroni and gravy," and I automatically think of elbow mac with turkey gravy, which isn't exactly appealing. (And yes, I know "macaroni" is a broader term in Italian than it is in American English.)

So, how did this usage of "gravy" come about? Is the typical American usage actually newer?
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Stinky The Clown Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Feb-08-06 09:00 AM
Response to Original message
1. It is probably (now) atypical.
But it was (and still is in many places) common in Italian immigrant communities. My gandparents called it gravy (in their broken English). My parents called it gravy. I call it alternately gravy and sauce. My kids call it sauce (although I rap their knuckels when they do :) ).

Pasta is actually an Italian word. It means the dough from which macaroni is made. At least that's how I always heard it used when growing up. Today, it seems the term is used interchangeably.

Interestingly, the term 'macaroni' goes back to Marco Polo's days. In Italy (actually, in what is now southern Italy, the country not being a country back then) the peasants (paisanos) were called 'mangiafoglie' ... 'leaf eaters'. When macaroni was introduced, it quickly became a staple of their diet and they were called 'mangiamacherroni'.

So the term has been of long standing and the product is known by that name, still today.

As to the entymology of 'gravy' ..... ? Beats me! :shrug: One thing is for sure ... its an American term, not Italian.

Here's another term that was in common usage among Italian immigrants ...... 'bacouse'. I have NO idea if that's how to spell it cuz I never saw it written ... only heard it spoken. The word is BAH-kowz ...... a corruption of the term 'back house' ...... or as we commonly know it ..... outhouse. :) Both my grandparents still had them standing when I was aware of the world, although indoor plumbing had long been a part of their lives. The holes had long been filled, and the floor patched. They served, in both cases, as garden sheds. One of them still had a moon cut out in the door! But to the day they died, they never went to the bathroom, unless to take a bath. When they had to use the toilet, they had to 'go to the bacouse'. I can still hear my grandmother speaking to me as I was standing there, all of three years old, holding my crotch and dancing ...... 'Michele, you gotta go to da bacouse?'

Gravy's the same sort of story. :)
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The empressof all Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Feb-08-06 11:39 AM
Response to Reply #1
3. In our neck of the woods
Pasta was what the fancy assed folks ate. We ate Spagetti or Macaroni which was any other pasta that wasn't Spagetti. That changed for us in the 60's when Pasta became more acceptable term and less high falootin. :shrug:
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The empressof all Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Feb-08-06 11:20 AM
Response to Original message
2. It was explained to me this way
Gravy was the "Sunday Sauce" which in my area of New Jersey consisted of creating a sauce that was meat based. You browned meat and veggies and then added paste and tomatoes as the liquids and simmered slowly. The Gravy was served not only as a sauce for pasta but also as a gravy for the meat which is served as the main course.

Sauce was something you made more quickly with tomatoes, roasted peppers or something else.

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Stinky The Clown Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Feb-09-06 09:01 PM
Response to Reply #2
5. What part of Joisey? My mother's family was in the Patterson area.
In fact, the congressman from that area, Bill Pascrell, is married to my mother's cousin.
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The empressof all Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Feb-09-06 09:35 PM
Response to Reply #5
8. I'm from North Arlington/Lyndhurst area
Home to Pizza Land of Soprano credits fame. God I miss the food and Mazurs Bakery.
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Stinky The Clown Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Feb-09-06 09:47 PM
Response to Reply #8
11. Oh yeah ... I know eher that is .... south of Fort Lee by about .... mmmmm
..... 20-30 miles?

All in the same part of the world, really.
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The empressof all Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Feb-10-06 12:47 AM
Response to Reply #11
13. Yes Southern most part of Bergen County
Pretty close to Newark. I hear it's changed quite a bit. I'm not sure if that's good or bad but it was certainly an ummmmmmm "interesting" place to grow up.
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Lugnut Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Feb-09-06 12:12 AM
Response to Original message
4. My husband is Italian
I've never heard anybody in his family call the pasta sauce "gravy". They do refer to any kind of pasta as macaroni though. :shrug:
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The empressof all Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Feb-09-06 09:38 PM
Response to Reply #4
9. Is he Italian or Italian American
Big difference in food and culture IMO. North East Italian American Culture is a nationality of it's own.
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Stinky The Clown Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Feb-09-06 09:46 PM
Response to Reply #9
10. Hahahahaha
Well said! :hi:
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Lugnut Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Feb-09-06 11:34 PM
Response to Reply #9
12. Italian-American
Second-generation. All four of his grandparents came from the Naples region of Italy. I'll have to ask him what they called it.
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GoneOffShore Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Feb-09-06 09:03 PM
Response to Original message
6. Not atypical in South Philly
People still call it 'gravy', but I don't know where it comes from.

Macaronis, I think, have to do with dried machine made pasta. Pasta refers to fresh pastas like linguine, fettucine. Whereas macaroni refers to penne, 'elbows', etc.
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DawgHouse Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Feb-10-06 09:10 PM
Response to Reply #6
14. DH was born in Philly, a non-Italian family
but he calls it "gravy" too.
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Tab Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Feb-09-06 09:26 PM
Response to Original message
7. I have heard pasta sauce called gravy
Even if it was tomato-based sauce (which we think of as sauce).

Pasta is pasta - be it macaroni, fettucini, linguini, etc. I've never heard pasta tied to one specific shape, unless it was by someone who only experienced that incarnation (e.g.: linguini).
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yy4me Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sat Feb-11-06 04:05 PM
Response to Original message
15. To this 3rd generation Italian, Its "Sauce"
Gravy goes on turkey, chicken, roast beef etc. The first time I heard anyone use the word gravy in reference to spaghetti sauce, it was a little embarrassing. My neighbor made reference to making "gravy" for Sunday dinner. I foolishly asked if she was cooking a roast. Oops
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