It’s gravy. Tomato sauce is what you pour into chili or onto pizza.
Gravy. That’s what it was called in the Pagano household and the two preceding households that the Pagano household was derived from. So that’s what it is in the new Pagano household. (follow me on that? Both Grandparents, my parents and my household).
Call it sauce if you want. Just don’t tell me what to call it, because I’m not listening.
Gravy, and the liking or disliking, is more a part of what you were brought up on. That flavor is ingrained in the psyche. Your taste can change if you have different for a long period of time, but you will always remember Mom’s or Grandma’s gravy and judge against that measure.
I am reminded of Sunday afternoons when I was young, which was when Mom was making gravy for the week. The house was filled with wonderful aromas; garlic frying in olive oil, the tomatoes cooking down, sausage frying. The smells of home. I have come to find out that this was by no means unique to my upbringing.
A gravy, like a lot of things, is family specific. You learn how to from a higher source. The taste is passed down. Even so, my Grandmother’s tasted different from my Mom’s, which is different from my Aunt’s. But amongst us Pagano’s (including Lisa, my wife) you will taste a distinct similarity.
Here is the bottom line: You will judge your gravy against that which you know. As for me, only my Mother and Sister can do better. The closer mine comes to tasting like theirs is how I gauge how well it came out.
I would put my gravy down next to anyone’s, so confident am I that it is the best. Although I am sure that mine is the best, I feel this way because it comes closest to what my mother’s tastes like.
Too many chefs (replete with I-can-do-no-wrong opinions of themselves) claim to make a great lasagna, baked ziti or manicotti. But they all topple for lack of a good gravy.
The color, texture and aroma will tell you immediately if a gravy is done right. Gravy embodies the essence of tomatoes with undertones of sausage and accompaniments of choice spices- garlic and basil. Hold off on the oregano. That is for pizza sauce. Notice the word ‘sauce’ after ‘pizza’.
Back to the nature/nurture point made earlier; all gravies have the same basics- tomatoes (fresh, canned, whole, peeled, pureed), olive oil, garlic, basil, salt and pepper. There after, other spices are incorporated that will make a gravy unique; fennel seed, wine, onion, green pepper, parsley, oregano. But all in all, the building blocks are the same.
So how much different can one gravy be from another? That answer lies in the spice formulation particular to the individual or family. I am reminded of the offensiveness (defensiveness?) I often encounter when I ask someone the secret ingredient to their gravy.
No carrots, onions or peppers. Not ever. This isn’t a salad we are making here. I will concede on one point and one only; onion (and this only out of respect for my friends Marco Piazza and Sue Braun).
It has come to my attention that the onion removes the acidity the tomatoes impart unto the gravy. And here is where the tree begins to branch. I prefer a more acidic gravy, probably comes from my partial Sicilian heritage (might be the same thing that makes us so bitchy). The addition of onion in one form or another removes the acid. This sweetens the gravy somewhat. Depending on your preference, the onion can make quite a difference.
Fresh or dried spices? I don’t care. What is important here is the outcome. In the summer months I will pluck herbs fresh from the garden. I have noticed that you need a good deal more fresh than you would use dried and it does affect the outcome. However, the ingredients are the same.
Chunky, smooth or any of that nonsense not withstanding, a good gravy needs to be thick. Not so thick that it doesn’t flow well, it must coat the pasta thoroughly, but not so thin that when you fork up some ziti all you are left with is a red film reminiscent of grease. Diner gravy. This you may call sauce.
Cooking time is critical. No matter what, a longer, slower cooked gravy will always taste better than a hastily prepared one. And remember what my Bro says, “You have to make a mess to make a good gravy.”
And another thing – according to my nephew, William Teeling III, Esq. (yes, Esquire) and I quote, “People that call it ‘gravy’ tend to make it better than those that call it ‘sauce'”.
Amen to that, brother.
Gravy is cooked in a large pot- no lid, slowly. It takes me 4 hours to spin off a pot of gravy. The water must be cooked out of it and the tomatoes cooked to perfection. And therein lies the reasoning behind the long cooking time. The tomatoes need to be cooked for a long time.
The incorporation of meat in some way pushes gravy production over the top. My Sys tells me that pork in some form does it for her. This I remember from Grandma’s. I prefer Italian sausage, browned in the same pot as the gravy is being made.
And brown them bitches good. Slightly burned on the outside is optimum. Then begin your gravy production in the same pot – unwashed! Add the meat to the gravy for the duration of the cooking process.
And that should settle the ‘is it gravy or is it sauce’ debate. Gravy, by definition, is made with meat stock and my gravy is made with meat stock, even if it is the burnt remains and oils after a high fire frying.
You cannot have a good pasta dish if you don’t have good gravy. Great pasta dishes have extraordinary gravy (like mine).
It’s pasta we’re talking about eating here. Not fish, pork, chicken or beans, although all of those could use a good gravy also.
Pasta. When the gravy is good that is all you need, with maybe the addition of a small salad. If the gravy is great you won’t be able to stop at 2 helpings. To conclude this thought I will speak of my Grampa Sam, who could eat pasta every day of the week. No man can eat pasta every day of the week if it the gravy is not good.
The only gravy recipe I know:
2 small cans tomato paste
2 cans tomato puree
salt, pepper, basil
enough water to fill the two puree cans.
Cook until done.
What? You thought I was going to include detailed instructions on how to make my gravy?
And remember what the ol` man taught me: When we cook, we drink. Salute!