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Is sunday gravy the same as spaghetti sauce?

Ok, I am a Californian. Never lived in NYC or NJ ( So not much exposure to true Italian cooking) or the south.

Just made 14 lbs of homemade italian hot sausage ( not in casing) because I bought 20 lbs of pork butt for $1.39/ lb yesterday. Had butcher grind 14 lbs of it for sausage and used the other 6 lbs for Chinese roast pork (cha siu). Gonna put most of the sausage in the freezer uncooked, but was browsing for recipes tonight on CH.

Planning to make sausage gravy (so, looked up recipes for biscuits and gravy), Chicago pizza (which having never been to Chicago, I have never yet had) . . .and now looking up recipes for Sunday gravy or sausage spaghetti xauce.

Which bring me back to my original question: What is the difference between spaghetti sauce and sunday tomato gravy?

I already make a mean homemade sausage spaghetti sauce. . .but thought I'd try sunday gravy if there really is a difference.

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  1. Spaghetti sauce can be anything you want it to be.....meat or no meat.

    Sunday gravy typically is a ragu ....or meat sauce. It can have any or all of the following

    Sweet Sausage
    Hot Sausage
    Pork Shank/Osso Bucco
    Spare Ribs
    Country Style Ribs
    Pork Shoulder/Butt
    Beef Shanks/Osso Bucco
    Chuck Beef
    Ox Tails
    Short Ribs

    here are a couple of threads that have some member family recipes......including mine.



    1. www.chocodog.com/sauce2.htm

      From what I've read, Sunday sauce or gravy, is Italian American rather than true Italian. The above link might peak your interest.

      Drat. Try this.. www.chocodog.com/chocodog/sauce2.htm

      8 Replies
      1. re: Joyfull

        Growing up in a predominantly Sicilian part of Brooklyn we called it salsa ,sugo ,ragu but never gravy.

        1. re: scunge

          Yes, I am Italian and also grew up in Brooklyn, and I never heard the term "gravy" until I was an adult. My mother would say that she was making sauce. That implied a long-cooked tomato sauce made with some combination meatballs, sausage, braciole, and a piece of pork "sauce meat," which was usually a chunk of pork. Anything other than this was referred to by its component parts -- pasta with ceci, pasta with peas, pasta fagioli, pasta con le sarde, with the exception of marinara, which was without any flavorings other than garlic. Gravy was what you made with a roast like chicken or beef.

          1. re: roxlet

            Glad to hear this, I always heard it called "sauce" too, in both my husband's family and mine. Maybe "meat sauce" at the most. He's from Brooklyn, I'm from the Bronx (1950s/1960s). My husband did have a friend our age whose mother said "gravy" and I understood what she was saying, but it was weird fo me. Sunday sauce, I have no idea where that came from.. I feel like the two terms got popular after the Victoria Gotti show, with people who didn't actually grow up with it.

            1. re: coll

              Yes, the Sunday gravy or sauce thing is weird for me too since my mother usually made sauce twice a week -- Thursdays and Sundays.

        2. re: Joyfull

          and a South Boston Italian friend of mine won't call it anything *but* gravy.

          1. re: sunshine842

            Sunshine842, hi - did you ever post your Milanese grandmother's recipe for meat sauce and instructions for lasagne? I'd love to see them. Thanks!

            1. re: jns7

              Not my grandmother, the grandmother of a dear friend of mine...it's really a very standard meat sauce (and more a list of ingredients than a recipe in the truest sense of the word!)-- onions, garlic, celery, ground beef (yes, ground, not sliced/diced), whole tomatoes (crushed as you add them), paste, and a splash of whatever red wine happens to be on hand -- the only two things that make hers different is the use of a couple of finely-diced carrots (adds a bit of sweetness, and counteracts the acidity of the tomatoes) -- and a healthy grating of nutmeg over the ricotta in the lasagna -- it adds an amazingly complex flavor to the lasagna.

              The other key is making it the day before and letting it work overnight in the fridge.

        3. From what I understand it is just the name that is different. We make our sauce using sausage as the base, although it is not a meat sauce. The meat just flavors the sauce. Like they said you can use any meat as a base.

          We are from Southern CT are call it sauce not gravy.
          And we call all pasta macaroni as the generic term.

          1. From my non-italian background, spaghetti sauce can be no-cook, quick-cook, heck, it can be pesto!
            Sunday gravy or ragu is a long simmered tomato sauce with whole cuts of meat. This is a meal that one has in Italy though they serve the primo, pasta with the sauce, and then the meat is served as a secondo. In the Northeast, the whole thing with pasta seems to be served together unless the grandmother is the first generation.

            I never heard the term Sunday gravy growing up to be honest. It was all just called Sunday dinner. The smells in my apartment building on Sundays was quite amazing as each family cooked a slightly different ragu while the family was at mass.

            3 Replies
            1. re: smtucker

              ? Always served the meal as: antipasto, then pasta, then meat, then maybe chicken if desired; then espresso, cordials and dessert. Never had it all served all at once, and I have lived in the Northeast my whole life.

              1. re: coll

                Yes, it was never served all at once. We would have salad after the pasta and meatballs. Dessert, unless it was fruit, was rare.

                1. re: roxlet

                  We do serve the salad with the meat, that's the only doubling up.

            2. My understanding is all Sunday gravy is spaghetti sauce, but not all spaghetti sauce is Sunday gravy. Gravy has to have the mixture of meats in it.

              1. I dont think there is much " sunday gravy or sauce" in italian restaurants in Calif. I have gone to italian restaurants in "Little Italy" in Sf and lots in central and southern calif ( where I live), but none on the menu -- at least by that name . . .hence my never hearing of it before until I started doing a search.

                Melpy, since I am doing a sausage and /or sausage meatball "sunday gravy" , do you (or anyone else here on this board) have a recipe for that. Who knows maybe I have been doing it all along and didn't know it. eg long simmer, crushed tomatoes, meat in the sauce . . .

                The concept of using other meats such as pork chops, ribs, etc is totally a foreign concept to me...I'm definitely thinking that sunday gravy is more a east coast type of thing. The name ragu I have heard of -- but again when I have ordered it in california restaurants, there is not a mixture of different meats in it, usually just meatballs and sausage.

                4 Replies
                1. re: cookinglisa

                  This is my basic "gravy" recipe. I usually do meatballs, sausage, pork neck bones/spareribs and leave out the piece of beef. The Rao's recipe for meatballs is pretty darned good, but I've started cooking them in the oven instead of the frying pan. Much easier, but not quite as tasty. http://therecipereader.com/sunday-gra...

                  1. re: cookinglisa

                    Yes, the Italian food traditions on the West coast are very different from the East coast due to different immigration patterns (on the East Coast primarily from Naples and Sicily, in San Francisco mainly from Lucca and Genoa). In addition, like almost all West coast populations, the immigrants were more assimilated and less concentrated into neighborhoods that reinforced cultural traditions and developed new ones specific to the neighborhoods.

                    1. re: cookinglisa

                      "Ragout" (pronounced ra-GU) is the French word for stew. "Ragu" is a commercial brand of spaghetti sauce sold in jars and has somewhat become a generic term for spaghetti sauce in jars just as Kleenex, a commercial brand, has become a generic term for disposable paper handkerchiefs.

                      1. re: Querencia

                        This is reasonable, but false. Italian ragùs , bolognese or neapolitana, were known by that name at least as early as the late 18th century; the spelling is a variation on ragoût, probably first used to name a meat-based pasta sauce in Emilia-Romagna.

                    2. I make this with sausage in casing, sliced pork butt (pork steaks w/ bone in ), any cheap cut of beef with bone, imported Italian tomatoes, red wine and herbs toward the end. The meats are removed because it cooks for at least 12 hrs, and they are pretty much flavorless by this time. The sauce is an almost brown-red color and intensely rich in flavor. Maybe serve with meatballs, but doesnt really need anything added. You might serve with sauted Italian sausage, onions and peppers.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: robt5265

                        I forgot to say that the meats need to be heavily browned in olive oil, then removed while you deglaze the pan with red wine. Add the meats back, along with the tomatoes. Simmer for 12 hrs.. or more at a very low temp.

                      2. Sunday gravy is a ragu where leftovers were repurposed.

                        I like to make this the last night we are at a vacation rental. All the scraps of meat left over from other meals find their way into the pot.

                        1. In my family all sauce was referred to as either sugo or gravy. It didn't matter if it had meat in it or not.

                          1. I'm not Italian but grew up on Long Island, NY. To me, Sunday gravy is the one with lots of meats in it. Otherwise, there's marinara sauce, which is quick cook and has no meat. If you're just putting ground meat in your sauce, that's meat sauce. Sunday gravy normally has big meat. like meatballs, sausage links, braciole, and pork ribs. BTW, I don't know where you live, but as someone who has lived in the South for a long time, if you're following a recipe for biscuits and gravy, double the sausage and make angel biscuits, they are much better.

                            4 Replies
                            1. re: Floridagirl

                              what are angel biscuits, and can i make good biscuits if I don't have white liy flour ( I think that is the name) , which I can't get in California. Would it be worth it for my daughter who attends Univ of Alabama to bring some home for the Holidays?

                              I did make homemade sausage gravy last night with my homemade sausage and it turned out much better than what I have had in restaurants . . .and the only restaurant that I have had it in the south was at "Cracker Barrel", I think the name was).

                              1. re: cookinglisa

                                i should think anything you make would be better than what can be had at a cracker barrel. ;)

                                my brooklyn italian-american family always just called it sauce. my interloper sicilian aunt called it gravy. it was long cooked, with browned meat like short ribs, neck bones or soup bones. it included both canned tomatoes and paste. browned meatballs ( a combo of ground pork and sausage) and sausage were added towards the end.

                                1. re: cookinglisa

                                  Angel biscuits are raised yeast biscuits rather than a baking powder quick bread. I consider "biscuit" to be a misnomer in this case; I ordered biscuits and gravy at a place here in Pasadena, shortly after moving from Nashville, and was disappointed to be served what were basically yeast rolls and a clear brown gravy!

                                  You CAN get White Lily in CA. Where are you?

                                  1. re: Will Owen

                                    isn't there some issue with the white lily formulation having been changed?

                              2. In my ex's family "Sauce" with a capital-S was the spaghetti sauce made with the meats....I always used pork neck bones & pork rib ends. The Sunday gravy around here is typically a thinner (but not very thin) smooth tomato spaghetti sauce.

                                1. As an Australian living in the UK I find it pretty funny that of all the terms you have used above I"m least confused by what you mean by "Chinese roast pork (cha siu)".

                                  That is I have never heard of "Sunday Gravy" and I suspect the "Gravy" and "Biscuits" are nothing like I imagine them to be. Or even referring to minced beef as "Sausage" seems categorically wrong - is that what you mean by "sausage spaghetti sauce" or "sausage gravy".

                                  Its so weird how perverted certain terms can seem.

                                  22 Replies
                                  1. re: echoclerk

                                    "Sausage" in gravy is Italian pork sausage, flavored with fennel. The sausage in biscuits and gravy is also pork sausage, but flavored with sage and red pepper.

                                    Biscuits are not cookies, they are made with baking powder, white flour and shortening, with some milk or buttermilk (better). Like scones, I think, but no sugar.

                                    1. re: sparrowgrass

                                      and Italian gravy is typically tomato-based.

                                      "Biscuits and gravy" is a flour and milk-based sauce.

                                      And yes, biscuits are an unsweetened scone.

                                      1. re: sunshine842

                                        Don't forget there's Southern red gravy, which is tomato and roux based...

                                        1. re: deet13

                                          roux being flour and fat...

                                          Italian gravy doesn't have flour or milk.

                                          1. re: sunshine842

                                            This is what I find so horrifying. That someone would refer to pasta sauces in general as merely "gravy".

                                            It just seems such an injustice! In Australia and the UK gravy can only ever refer to the basic sauce served with Roasted Meats / or Meat Pies made that is traditionally made from flour, water and drippings. or increasingly, in Australia, made from Gravox powder. See the photos of that brown goop on your roast meat.

                                            1. re: echoclerk

                                              we don't call our charcoal grill a "barbie", either, but we really don't care if you do.

                                            2. re: sunshine842

                                              So in parts of the USA they will refer to a tomato based Pasta Sauce / (ie Bolognese Sauce) as "Italian Gravy" .

                                              It just seems rude. Like calling foie gras "French Liver" or something

                                              1. re: echoclerk

                                                no, they just call it gravy, or Sunday gravy.

                                                of all the battles you could pick, changing what generations of families call a given dish is one that pretty closely resembles a windmill.

                                                And the French call foie gras "fat liver" -- why shouldn't anyone else?

                                      2. re: echoclerk

                                        that's why I started this thread.

                                        I live in California --and even though I'm somewhat of a foodie and pretty adventurous when I cook, and have traveled to the east coast and Alabama ( where my daughter attends college)-- I had NEVER heard of Sunday Gravy.

                                        I had heard of the white sausage gravy made with milk, though. (Is that gravy just known as "sausage milk gravy"?)

                                        . . still trying to figure out the biscuit aspect (do I need White Lily? Why the distinction between aluminium baking powder and non, what are angel biscuits, what is considered a true southern biscuit?)

                                        Obviously, in Cali, there is not nearly much focus on sunday gravy, southern cooking, etc

                                        When I write about sausage spaghetti sauce, I use ground sausage and simmer in tomato sauce with italian herbs and garlic-- and serve with boiled spaghetti noodles or pasta. I think that is what east coasters call a meat sauce ( which I have now learned is NOT what sunday gravy is)

                                        I think there should be a regional foods thread . . it would be amazing to learn what foods are mostly served in what areas. I'm betting there are probably lots of foods common only to Calif that the British, or Southerners, or native east coasters have no clue what they are.

                                        (I'm just amazed that until a few days ago, I had no idea what "Sunday gravy/ sauce" was -- apparently, a very commonly known dish that has been around for generations).

                                        1. re: cookinglisa

                                          I'm a third-generation Californian, and I've watched several people eat an artichoke (i.e. a whole one, not artichoke hearts or pieces) for the first time!

                                          1. re: cookinglisa

                                            I'm from North Carolina, and all I've ever heard is "sausage gravy" for the gravy made with milk. Around here, everybody knows it's made with milk; it goes without saying. The main distinction I've heard all my life is "white gravy" (made with milk) or "brown gravy" (made with pan drippings and water. In my experience chicken gravy was always white, but gravy with beef could go either way.

                                            A "true southern biscuit" is the one your grandma made!

                                            1. re: cookinglisa

                                              don't get "Sunday gravy" from Italian families with "sausage gravy" - they're two completely different sauces that have little to nothing in common.

                                              "Sunday gravy" to someone of Italian descent is a tomato-based meat sauce (as above, the variations are endless). It might or might not have sausage, depending on who's making it.

                                              "Sausage gravy" to a Southerner is a milk-and-flour-based sauce over sauteed sausage.

                                              White Lily flour is a lower-protein flour made from soft wheat. It makes very light and tender baked goods (not just biscuits) because of the lower protein.

                                              Angel biscuits are just one of the kerjillions of biscuit recipes out there.

                                              And there are dozens of regional boards out there....if the mods don't move your regional-foods request to the Home Cooking board.

                                              1. re: sunshine842

                                                So according to this recipe: http://www.simplyrecipes.com/recipes/...

                                                Sausage Gravy is a Béchamel sauce made with the fat from pork sausages and with onions, pork mince, and other seasonings. That just sounds weird to me.

                                                1. re: echoclerk

                                                  But it it oh so good.
                                                  I make mine a little spicy with a splash of maple syrup ton sweeten

                                                  1. re: echoclerk

                                                    echoclerk, it might not be a bad idea to open your mind to ideas from different countries.

                                                    The fact that it's different doesn't make it weird or bad, any more than anything you service is weird or bad to someone from a a different country.

                                                    It's not better or worse -- it's just different. It would be a hideously boring world if we ate exactly the same thing and called it the exact same word.

                                                      1. re: echoclerk

                                                        It is an inexpensive "belly filler" that can be served for breakfast or supper, not unlike SOS but heartier. It makes whatever meat you have stretch.

                                                        In my neck of the woods (Philly) the "gravy" made on Sunday in South Philly is a tomato-based pasta sauce. I work with a number of people who would NEVER call it "spaghetti sauce"; they make a big pot of gravy on Sundays. It might be a meat sauce, but more often than not it has meatballs and is flavored with meat on the bone which then cooks to shreds and flavors the gravy.

                                                        1. re: echoclerk

                                                          Béchamel(modern, one of the mother sauces) is white sauce that has a whole onion studded with a few cloves and nutmeg, added to it while it simmers, to cook out the flour taste. Béchamel uses white pepper. Milk gravy is white sauce with black pepper added. Sausage gravy can be made by making the roux from either the fat from the sausage or (better yet) from bacon fat that is render after cooking. Then the cooked sausage is crumbled and added with lots of large grind black pepper. Sausage gravy may be served on a biscuit or some people like it on their grits. Nobody makes biscuits (a short bread) like they do in the south, light fluffy puffs of heaven. Biscuits with country ham are good too.
                                                          Do not knock Sausage Gravy and biscuits until you have had them in the south.
                                                          Milk gravy is served over chicken fried steak, in the south.

                                                          1. re: Berinlist

                                                            sorry. no. bechamel is a base. it does not include an onion. and the flour is cooked with the fat, before adding the milk. THAT is how to cook out the raw flour taste.

                                                        2. re: sunshine842

                                                          ""Sunday gravy" to someone of Italian descent is a tomato-based meat sauce (as above, the variations are endless). It might or might not have sausage, depending on who's making it."

                                                          Actually, no. I'm of Italian descent, and the phrase "Sunday gravy" was meaningless to me until I was an adult and read about it. I think your statement is quite a generalization.

                                                    1. An often used product in the SAUCE was pig skin sometime rolled stuffed with parsley and garlic Later it was picked out and sliced .There could of had hard cooked eggs in some as well as raisins . What I do remember fondly is the heated disputes over the making of the proper macaroni sauce as well as many other foods. Little old ladies fighting putting curses on each other regarding the proper making of a polpetta Then they would be back to being friends............. maybe.

                                                      4 Replies
                                                      1. re: scunge

                                                        this sounds very southern -- possibly sicilian?

                                                        we only used onions and garlic, no carrots, celery or (gasp) raisins. ;)

                                                        1. re: hotoynoodle

                                                          It probably is Sicilian. I remember one year when my father was still alive, and my husband made cassoulet, which he makes by lining the casserole it's baked in with pig skin. My father (of Sicilian descent) was so excited to see this when we reached the bottom of the dish, and ate it with relish.

                                                        2. re: scunge

                                                          I always tell the story of two of my father's older sisters (he had 4), and the proper way to make struffoli. We're at Aunt Rose's house (she's the oldest), and Aunt Therese has brought struffoli to Christmas dinner. "These are good, Therese," Rose says, and then asks, "What did you fry them in?" Therese's eye begins to twitch a little. "Mazzola," she says. And Rose shakes her head sagely, with a tiny bit of triumph in her voice, "They're good," she says, and then the coup de grâce, "but they're not authentic."

                                                        3. I grew up in NJ. I'm not Italian, but my father grew up next door to a woman from Italy, and she taught him how to cook, so I have a bit of "nonna" tradition when it comes to food.

                                                          I never heard the word "gravy" used except in reference to that flour-based sauce you put on sliced roast meat and mashed potatoes, usually on Sunday, until an episode of The Sopranos, in which Dr. Melfi's son referred to "Ginzo gravy" at a family dinner (and there's that G-word again, sort of).

                                                          A recipe for Sunday gravy appeared in The Sopranos Family Cookbook. Allegedly it's from Artie Bucco, but I think it comes from Rao's IRL (I don't have the book with me now).

                                                          17 Replies
                                                          1. re: Jay F

                                                            I was told that the Neapolitan's called it ragu (gravy ?) and the Sicilian's called it salsa (sauce). My non English speaking Sicilian grandmother it was salsa ,sugo or if there was meat in it ragu

                                                            1. re: scunge

                                                              No, I don't think so. My mother was of Neopolitan extraction, and she said "sauce" not "gravy." Her mother did too.

                                                              1. re: roxlet

                                                                I think Lina was from Naples, but I'd have to check her out on ancestry.com to know for sure.

                                                                I never heard "sugo" until I read Marcella Hazan's first cookbook in the '70s, The Classic Italian Cookbook. She also used the word "ragu," which I of course knew as that crappy jarred sauce. Even when I was a kid, I knew Ragu was awful.

                                                                And salsa was always a Mexican thing for me. (Or did I read *that* in Marcella, too?)

                                                                1. re: Jay F

                                                                  Salsa is just "sauce" in Italian.

                                                                  1. re: Jay F

                                                                    I live near Boston but grew up in NY, and had never heard tomato meat sauce called "gravy" until I began working with MA natives of Sicilian descent. Growing up, when people said "spaghetti sauce" they meant a meaty tomato sauce. I really don't like the term gravy for this, and don't use it but hey, it's not my heritage. To me, gravy is made from meat drippings, roux, and one (tomato-less) liquid or another.

                                                                    On the local show Chronicle tonight, food writer/critic Corby Kummer raved about a local chef's Bolognese sauce, which is a meaty tomato sauce that seems to be what many refer to as Sunday gravy. In discussing the pronunciation, which is a challenge for some, he said ragu was the Northern Italian term for Bolognese.

                                                                    1. re: greygarious

                                                                      "ragu" is just a meat-based sauce. the word is related to the french "ragoût". both are derived from the french "ragoûter" which means "to revive the taste".

                                                                      was he suggesting northern italians were unable to pronounce "bolognese"? that's especially ludicrous since bologna *is* in the north.

                                                                      1. re: greygarious

                                                                        Yesterday I was a witness to a debate between 2 women of Italian descent with reference to what the red stuff is called that tops pasta before it is served. My wife of Calabrian descent calls it 'gravy', and the other woman of Sicilian heritage calls it 'sauce.' Now this controversy has raged in our house between my wife and me for over 50 years of marriage. I say that the labels on cans of the red stuff say 'tomato sauce.' I am not of Italian descent. This debate will continue among people for decades to come.

                                                                        I have begun to refer to the red stuff as 'condimento.' Webster's New World Italian Dictionary defines 'condimento' as sauce if the reference is to 'salsa.'

                                                                        1. re: ChiliDude

                                                                          Sicilian Gravy in a bottle.


                                                                          i have no idea where it's made....

                                                                          1. re: fourunder

                                                                            Sicily hopefully? Roland is a top end importer of fine foods, so I bet the sauce is interesting if not great.

                                                                            I'm guessing the label was made here though, and someone in the Roland office decided on the official name.

                                                                        2. re: greygarious

                                                                          Bolognese is not Sunday Gravy is not Spaghetti Sauce. Three completely different dishes.

                                                                          1. re: greygarious

                                                                            I hesitate to contradict the esteemed Corby Kummer, but that is ridiculous. I never heard the term gravy for a tomato sauce till a few years ago, but I gather that was just me. But in my household (non-Italian, Manhattan with dominant Irish-Philadelphia grandmother) gravy was exactly as you say: "made from meat drippings, roux, and one (tomato-less) liquid or another." But that is neither here nor there. Ragù, in many parts of Italy, is a hearty sauce, which could be said to contain either meat or something pretending to be meat (such as fish or mushrooms). It is usually qualified -- ragù di carne, ragù di pesce -- but in its own locality may simply be called ragù because everybody knows what the local ragù is. Therefore in Bologna, what the world calls bolognese is simply called ragù. Often these geographical designations are omitted in their place of origin (romaine lettuce is usually called simply lattuga in Rome but romana elsewhere). Bologna has great food but not a lot of imagination, and everybody knows the composition of the local ragù (which does not include tomato, but I don't want to get into that here). This is probably what Corby meant. But there are many ragùs.

                                                                        3. re: roxlet

                                                                          my family was from near naples too. we had "sauce."

                                                                          1. re: hotoynoodle

                                                                            Sicily and Calabria, settled in New Haven, CT and we had "sauce".

                                                                            1. re: melpy

                                                                              Sicily and Abruzzi, "sauce". For some reason I had the impression from our elders that "gravy" was only used by the hoi polloi.

                                                                              1. re: coll

                                                                                you know "hoi polloi" translates to "the many", right?

                                                                                1. re: hotoynoodle

                                                                                  I don't know the literal translation (despite a few Latin classes) but I always understood it to be loosely translated as "the unwashed masses". I only use it in a humorous sense.

                                                                                  Oh I just looked it up and it's Greek. One of the few languages I never studied at all. It just always struck my fancy.

                                                                    2. I grew up in a neighbourhood that was heavily populated by Greek and Italian families, usually second generation, but Grandma, who was first generation, often lived with one of her kids. The moms called it sauce. The grandma called it gravy. We always thought that 'gravy' was a little bit wrong, an error or dumbing-down of translation...kind of the way that Sal or Nikki's grandma would tell them to 'brush their hairs.' Sometimes it was 'red gravy', as in "Get you some of that good red gravy on that bread." It was usually made of tomatoes, onion, garlic, carrots, celery, and whatever bits and pieces of meat had been left from dinners the week before. Every refrigerator had a bowl in it that contained half a pork chop, some gristly slices of steak, half a sausage, and the end of the roll of salami....all of it went into the pot on Sunday. I think a lot of my neighbours were probably Sicilian, which may account for the word 'gravy', if earlier posters are right in thinking that it may be more of a Sicilian thing. I cringe to admit that we didn't differentiate much between 'Sicilian' and 'Italian', everyone was referred to (in our defence, also self-referred to) as 'dagos'.
                                                                      When my rural-Missouri/Anglo family said 'gravy' they meant white gravy/milk gravy made with some sort of fried meat pan scrapings (mostly bacon or pork, but often fried chicken and even, sometimes, hamburger, flour and milk and served over potatoes, bread, or biscuits. My mother made the best gravy, ever. She'd spoon some gravy on a piece of toast and shake about a tablespoon of pepper on it and call it breakfast. She didn't much like to cook, but she could made that cast-iron skillet walk and talk when she made gravy.

                                                                      1 Reply
                                                                      1. re: tonifi

                                                                        This thread is mostly about Italian tomato-base sauce but your post, tonifi, does homage to another big gravy tradition, that of the more Anglo-descended South and Midwest. I must have been three years old when I learned how to make gravy, from watching this daily routine---start with a big skillet in which meat had been sauteed, add flour to the fat, stir to get the meat scrapings into the game, cook, stir, and then add milk, cream, water, or stock to make GRAVY (it was decades before I heard "deglaze" but that is what they were doing). The result was poured, at the table and by the individual diner, over meat, potatoes, bread, or biscuits. A plate would have on it meat, potatoes, vegetables, and the inevitable bread-and-gravy.

                                                                      2. Every Italian household I've ever had the good and delicious fortune to know served Sunday gravy that included meat (ground beef, pork balls or both enhanced with fresh garlic, traditional Italian sausage and a large piece of pork on the bone) stewing low & slow in a large pot of tomato sauce (that they had jarred themselves over the summer) and at the finish a bit of fresh basil. The sauce was thin and the meats flavored the sauce. The meat was served on its own dish and the sauce was poured over prepared macaroni.

                                                                        Spaghetti sauce was made without meat and served on macaroni that also including toppings of grated parm cheese and even ricotta cheese. A light sauce.

                                                                        The sauce varied family to family and I can't recall ever being disappointed or hungry the rest of the day--great home cooking!

                                                                        2 Replies
                                                                        1. re: HillJ

                                                                          You are right! Sauce is without meat, Gravy is when made and simmered with all the meat that had been marinated for a couple of hours in wine garlic and basil. From Castellammare Del golfo Sicily.

                                                                          1. re: deaconedm

                                                                            am curious why you think a fishing town, on the water, would be the birthplace of a meat-laden sauce? historically, very few, if any, of the residents would have been keeping cows and pigs.

                                                                            when sicilians got to the americas, many than did call that sauce "gravy", but it's not native to them.

                                                                        2. I get the explanation. But Italians also need to accept that when you say gravy non-Italians will think biscuits and mashed potatoes and turkey.
                                                                          And you won't find Sunday Gravy on the shelf in the stores. You'll find spaghetti sauce and we don't have to be told that we can use it on other things. sheeeesh

                                                                          8 Replies
                                                                          1. re: gayr_zeee

                                                                            Good luck with that, gayrz. When in Rome is much easier.

                                                                            1. re: HillJ

                                                                              Good luck with that, HillJ. I'm not in Rome, I'm in the USA. And good luck with finding anything on your store shelves ANYWHERE here in the US that doesn't say either pasta sauce or spaghetti sauce. You won't find anything that goes on pasta labeled as GRAVY.

                                                                              1. re: gayr_zeee

                                                                                You may not find it on your grocery store shelf.....but in the many Italian Specialty shops that dot the landscape in local neighborhoods.....you will find it.....with or without the meat.

                                                                                1. re: gayr_zeee

                                                                                  LOL, I didn't mean literally the beautiful city of Rome...I meant, "when in Rome" as in go with the flow, enjoy what the people feeding you call it...how funny!

                                                                                  I don't buy jarred tomato sauce. I make it and everyone I know makes it and shares theirs with me. They all call it Sunday gravy.

                                                                                  As for my use of a phrase..

                                                                                  1. re: HillJ

                                                                                    Again, I'm not in Rome. No one from Rome in the USA is feeding it to me, either. Sorry you're having to struggle with this. It's sauce, it's sold as sauce. I stand by my statements.

                                                                                    1. re: gayr_zeee

                                                                                      It is not called "sauce" in many American homes.

                                                                                      1. re: chefj

                                                                                        Sure, chef. And it's not called sauce on the labels of all the jars of it in stores. pffht

                                                                            2. Growing up in New Orleans, on Sunday my Italian Grandmother, as well as the rest of her family, would make meatballs and gravy, the "gravy" being what my California relatives called spaghetti sauce. She would also put in hard-boiled eggs along with the meatballs. By the way, both the meatballs and gravy were delicious and never really replicated by the next generations.

                                                                              1. Hi Cookinglisa!
                                                                                This is an old post of yours, but I'm compelled to respond. I'm an Italian-American born and raised in Brooklyn, NY. Growing up, there wasn't a sunday morning in my life that I didn't wake to the incredible aromas of my mom's Sunday Sauce slow simmering in the kitchen. Mom would start the sauce early in the morn...then the family would have breakfast, go to church, come home, turn on the game, and soon after sit down to Sunday dinner, which would always include Sunday Sauce! It was a sweet and wonderful family tradition carried out by most Italian Catholics in my neighborhood.
                                                                                The things that make this sauce different than "spaghetti" sauce are all the meats and slow simmering that are signature to it. When it's referred to as a meat sauce it shouldn't be confused with a Bolognese that uses ground meat. Sunday sauce has large chucks of various meets, almost always pork, and usually on a bone which adds crazy flavor. Meatballs and sausage can be in it too. It's a sauce style from southern Italy and typically served with ziti or rigatoni.
                                                                                Each family has its own spin on it... families also vary, usually according to neighborhood, as to whether they call it sauce or gravy. In my family and "hood" sauce is for pasta, NEVER called it gravy.
                                                                                If you ever have any other Italian food questions, feel free to reach out...food is one of my passions and I come from generations of incredible chefs!
                                                                                Happy Holidays! Ciao for now, bella!

                                                                                15 Replies
                                                                                1. re: NormaV

                                                                                  HI Norma,

                                                                                  I now have 2 "graduate school" daughters on the east coast -- one in Haddenfield NJ and one in Woodside, Queens so now have gone to phila /NY area twice since I have started this thread. Guess I dont know which Italian restaurants to go to though, because I still have never seen this on a menu (although LOL, my NJ daughter just texted me last week saying she found it in a restaurant).

                                                                                  . .As for trying to make it -- after reading all the wonderful replies (thanks everyone), I will probably stay with making my spaghetti sauce with meatballs or sausage (since I probably can't cook what I've never tried). I still would love to actually eat it sometime .

                                                                                  Someone further down the thread mentioned that the italians in calif aren't from the same part of italy as those who immigrated to East coast, so that is probably why I -- and most others -- here in calif are unfamiliar with the sunday sauce or gravy. I'm guessing that southern Italians didn't really immigrate to california or landed more on the east coast?

                                                                                  1. re: cookinglisa

                                                                                    Since they mostly came by boat, it makes sense. Not too many planes around the turn of the century, or even up to WWII.

                                                                                    The ones that made it to California were probably the next generation, I'm guessing.

                                                                                    1. re: coll

                                                                                      That is not totally the case.
                                                                                      Mostly northern Italians came to California during the Spanish rule and again around the Gold Rush. There were other Emigrations during the 1900's as well.
                                                                                      It is a pretty interesting History and there is a lot of writing about the history of Italians in California and their huge impact on the culture here.

                                                                                      1. re: chefj

                                                                                        I'll have to look it up after the holidays. I admit I was basing this on my own experiences, totally off the top of my head.

                                                                                        1. re: coll

                                                                                          see how many california zinfandels have italian family names: guglielmo, parducci, biale, pedroncelli, chiarelli, rafanelli, seghesio, pichetti, puccioni, martinelli, montevina, etc. admittedly these men were starting with primitivo-based field blends but their wines became what we today call zinfandel.

                                                                                          these guys, plus gallo, mondavi and italian swiss colony, basically began the american wine industry.


                                                                                          1. re: hotoynoodle

                                                                                            Yes that I do know, I remember having only Gallo, Mondavi and Carlo Rossi to choose from back when I starting drinking wine. I seem to recall stories of how they made it through the Prohibition by making Communion wine exclusively?

                                                                                            Here on the North Fork of Long Island, I'd say at least half the vineyards have Italian names too, although none are older than 30 or 40 years.

                                                                                    2. re: cookinglisa

                                                                                      If you want to try a variation on your spaghetti sauce try Marcella Hazan's Bolognese Ragu. A basic combo of Italian sugos, ragus, or bolognese are the onion, carrot and celery. You will find many other ingredients and as many ways to cook them as there are Nona's in Italy (and America).

                                                                                      I am not of Italian decent, but have always considered mirepoix to be the difference between spaghetti sauce and Sunday gravy. That and the use of meat on the bone and long cooking times.


                                                                                    3. re: NormaV

                                                                                      Hi Lisa I should have read your post before I wrote mine now I feel like I'm plagiarizing. Lol! Crazy isn't it? Those were the days.

                                                                                      1. re: NormaV

                                                                                        Norma I wrote this to Lisa but I think I meant to write it to yuou I should have read your post before I wrote mine now I feel like I'm plagiarizing. Lol! Crazy isn't it? Those were the days. Do you still live in Brooklyn? Do you still make sauce on Sundays?

                                                                                        1. re: frankfic

                                                                                          Hey Frank! I live mostly out west but still have a residence in Bklyn that I visit as often as possible. When I go there I always return with a suitcase packed with semolina bread, olive loaf, tarrali, and PIZZA (that I travel with frozen).
                                                                                          I still make Sunday sauce, but not as often as I'd like, more on special occasions. I just simmered up a vat for an early Christmas dinner with extended family. Meatballs, sausage, pork shoulder and ribs. I soak all of the meat (except the meatballs) in garlic and red wine for several hours before cooking. Folks trip out at the flavor. I LOVE it...not only the flavors, but all of the aromas being back memories.
                                                                                          How bout you?

                                                                                          1. re: NormaV

                                                                                            Hi Norma, I can relate. I moved to the desert Southwest about 20 years ago. Henderson NV next to Vegas. Back then you couldn't get anything Italian out here. I use to have friends and relatives send me supplies. Heck I even had to figure out how to make my own Italian ices. It's gotten better, but still not like New York, and the Pizza and bagels Fuhgeddaboudit! Lol! Like you I still make a pot of Sunday sauce but not as often as I should. Sadly, the weekly Sunday dinner is a thing of the past. We get together when we can. You are right. There are a lot of memories in those flavors and aromas.

                                                                                            1. re: frankfic

                                                                                              I'm afraid our generation is going to be the last with this tradition. At least from what I see.

                                                                                              1. re: frankfic

                                                                                                FrankV I'm laughing because I'm right next to you in Boulder City NV! Small world! Have you ever been to Metro Pizza? The owners are from NY and they do an amazing pie!
                                                                                                I write for La Voce. Do you know this Italian-American News Magazine? My article is called La Casa. Check it out when you can. You can find copies in many Italian restaurants--it's a free publication, although you can get a yearly subscription for $20. It's a monthly so the January issue will be out soon.
                                                                                                Ciao for now!

                                                                                                1. re: NormaV

                                                                                                  Boulder City! You are right. It sure can be a crazy small world. You know I've heard good things about Metro Pizza but from people that eat at Pizza Hut so I never took them seriously. I guess that makes me a pizza snob. On your recomendation I will give them a try. I have read La Voce, though not a regular reader. I think I have picked copies at the Italian American club. Now that I have made the acquaintance of one of its' columnist I will be sure to pick up the next issue. Nice chatting with you. Frank

                                                                                        2. I'm an Italian American born and raised in New York. Not Buffalo NY. Brooklyn, Manhatten, Long Island. Growing up it was pretty much a given that Sunday morning you would wake up to the smell of a delicious meat sauce in the making. Beef short ribs, Pork loin, Meatballs and sausages were ususally in the mix . I never once heard my grandmothers, mother, aunts or anyone else Italian or not refer to it as gravy.It was alway "Sauce" Yet they are one in the same. The first time I heard it refered to as gravy was on the " Sopranos". Since then I'm hearing it more often. I remember talking to my cousin on the phone telling me she had to start the "gravey" If her mother were alive she would have thought she was making a turkey or a roast. So maybe it's a Jersey term that's spreading. Any Jersey Boys or Girls out there? Did your mom or grandmother call it Gravy? I'd like to know.

                                                                                          4 Replies
                                                                                          1. re: frankfic

                                                                                            We did have one friend who's mother called it gravy, way back when. Then I heard it from Victoria Gotti's show and all of a sudden that's what everyone was calling it. Everyone but me, that is!

                                                                                            1. re: frankfic

                                                                                              It is a common term in the Boston area.

                                                                                              1. re: chefj

                                                                                                My family, Brooklyn-Italians, always called it gravy.

                                                                                            2. I have been under the impression that calling Bolognese sauce "gravy" was a thing from the South (the US South, that it).

                                                                                              1 Reply
                                                                                              1. re: LorenzoGA

                                                                                                HI- I WAS TAUGHT IT WAS SAUCE, WHEN YOU DID NOT PUT MEAT IN THE POT, PLAIN ITS CALLED MARINARA,

                                                                                                PUT MEAT IT'S CALLED ??GRAVY, ??? LIKE TURKEY GRAVY- CHICKEN GRAVY, THE SOUTH CALLED IT CHICKEN AND DUMPLINS W/ GRAVY.

                                                                                                WHAT DO YOU THINK OF THAT ???

                                                                                              2. We always called the sugo or ragu - "Gravy" but my grandparents were Italian-American born in the Bronx and Anglicized everything. The word "Gravy" did not create much confusion because American South "white gravy" was unknown on the table. I wonder what my great-grandmother called this sauce - it would not have been her own, she was Abbruzzese (I have her Chitarra) and much of our family food is distinctly from that region but her Gravy, as passed down, is more southern-Italian in style and must have been made to the preferences of her Neapolitan husband.

                                                                                                The meats included sweet and hot Italian Sausage, meatballs made from beef, pork and veal, and beef braciole (which is my favorite part)

                                                                                                made every Sunday during the cool months of the year by my mother as well growing up it is one of my favorite smells of home.

                                                                                                This "sunday sauce" certainly can be and sometimes was eaten on spaghetti but never would have been called such, it was "Gravy" or sometimes "Red Sauce" but really it was a ragu

                                                                                                "Spaghetti Sauce" OTOH in my mind, and probably my mind only, is thicker, sweeter and simpler sauce (often from a jar) served at pizza restaurants and never eaten at home.

                                                                                                1. Sunday gravy, first heard the term today, is the sauce Italian women (grandmothers, mothers and aunts) make and cooked all day Saturday for Sunday Dinner. The term "gravy", used for spaghetti sauce, I first heard when we moved from Pennsylvania to New Jersey. Only people from certain towns used the term gravy, not all over NJ. Reading some on line post, I learn some people from New York also use gravy.

                                                                                                  Most people think and in my book, gravy is made by thicking a broth with a roux (fat and flour) and is opaque. A sauce is thicken either by reducing, adding cornstarch or arrowroot and is translucent. A sauce usually has a more intense flavor gravy.

                                                                                                  1. Sunday gravy is to spaghetti sauce as a pint of Ben 'n' Jerry's Super Chunk is to vanilla.

                                                                                                    6 Replies
                                                                                                    1. re: EarlyBird

                                                                                                      First, I don't eat or support lib commie ice cream companies who cross the line with their filthy and stupid flavor names. Second, when I make tomato/spaghetti/pasta sauce, it's delicious, and it's not gravy. When you say gravy, non-Italians will think biscuits and mashed potatoes and turkey. If I ever go to Italy, I won't ever say sauce. I'll say gravy, and I'll take note of the reactions I get from the locals.

                                                                                                      1. re: gayr_zeee

                                                                                                        Damm commies! First they go for our ice cream, then they go for our guns!

                                                                                                        1. re: gayr_zeee

                                                                                                          uh, you know unilever bought ben & jerry's over a decade ago, right?

                                                                                                          1. re: hotoynoodle

                                                                                                            But their sentiments and tacky flavor names live on.......

                                                                                                      2. My grandparents (both first generation New York Italians, with each at least having one older sibling born in Italy before they came here) called it Sunday Gravy or just Gravy, when they were speaking English. My mother was born in 1951 to give you a timeline. (she is one of the youngest of all her cousins).

                                                                                                        Sunday Gravy was the heavier sauce that cooked all day on Sunday and ended with the entire family at my great-grandmothers house in the evening. My mother and all of her family grew up in Italian Harlem (now called East Harlem, NYC), then moved to Port Washington (West Long Island). Sunday Gravy was such a tradition, that even in the summer when the family (all the aunts/uncles/cousins/etc) drove out to Jones Beach... They still would have the pot of gravy cooking on the beach... because it was Sunday! My mother said they didn't even think twice about that. Everyone loaded up in their cars, each aunt bringing something different, they would stop at the bakery to pick up a few loaves of bread and pastries, then caravan to the beach from NYC.

                                                                                                        I have tried looking this up to try to find where the term gravy came from. Nothing with a definitive answer. Personally I think it was just the English word some families felt was the closest.

                                                                                                        Someone in an earlier post, briefly mentioned the term "macaroni"... which is what we called any type of pasta.

                                                                                                        How families cook their gravy, I think, is as varied as there are families in all of Italy. Because of where my Grandmother was from.. we never had a Bolognese (ground beef in sauce), only whole chunks of meats. Also, I never in my pre-adult life had alfredo sauce. Most of the time my mother made a thick, deep red gravy with pork cooking in it.

                                                                                                        Someone implied that people are calling it gravy because of the TV shows Sopranos.. well.. I was born in 1974. Because I no longer live around a lot of North East Italians... I have mostly changed what I call my sunday gravy & macaroni, just so others know what I am talking about.

                                                                                                        1 Reply
                                                                                                        1. re: tpn11

                                                                                                          Thanks for the memories. In my first gen Calabrese Brooklyn family it was always sauce, even on Sunday. And on Sunday, no spaghetti was ever served--only hearty forms like rigatoni, ziti, long fusilli. Gravy only applied to these thick meat sauces in homes where "gravy" was the word. Some families, esp those from Naples, used "ragu", or in Neapolitan "'o rrau". At the butcher, tho, you asked for cuts of meat (pork,l beef) for "gravy".

                                                                                                        2. Techincally, a sauce is a sauce and a gravy is a gravy, period.
                                                                                                          Sunday or any other day.
                                                                                                          But that's no reason to let the 'Gabbagool' eat ... whatever, it is, they eat.
                                                                                                          (and make sure you get some chicken, along w/ that pork, in the pot ;-)