Tomato Sauce vs Gravy and Others Part 2

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CuzinVinny
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2006/12/18 16:00:05 (permalink)

Tomato Sauce vs Gravy and Others Part 2

Now onto the second part of this debate, the difference between Ragu and Salsa, or Sugo. As is the case with Italian-Americans the nation over, gravy was the feature attraction of every Sunday afternoon. Most versions included either braciole, pork ribs or sausages, meatballs, roasts or a combination. The ragu was first served tossed with maccheroni, while the meat, served of course with more of the sauce made the second course. This was to be followed by either a cooked vegetable such as broccoli or spinach aglio e olio or a simple salad, bread, dessert and espresso.
Italians love to argue over whether this should be called gravy or sauce. Most of them know it as gravy, more specifically "Sunday Gravy", an homage to when it was always served. Truth be told, the word ragu originated from the French ragout, which means "to revive the taste" or "restore the appetite". Most early accounts of this dish came during the Renaissance, when the French politicked with Italy. The French were fashionable and well-to-do and thus brought forth many trends in fashion and of course in cuisine. Their ragouts were really nothing more than rich stew-like concoctions and always eaten plain, or were used to fill lavish gilded pies. We are uncertain as to when these stews first became served over maccheroni, though historians agree this was first discovered in the Northern Region of Emilia-Romagna. It is from here that we are given the infamous Ragu Bolognese, made from salt pork, minced beef, carrot, celery, onion, broth, white wine, a little tomato paste and a finishing touch of cream. This is unanimously served over fresh tagliatelle and featured in the classic Lasagna Bolognese, with spinach pasta, bechamel and grated Parmigiano-Reggiano. Even Neapolitans will say that the best Lasagna comes from Bologna, given their apparent love of white sauces.
The difference between North and South? Northern ragus tend to incorporate the meat into the ragu, to be served along with the pasta. Southern Italians always use large cuts of meat to be served as a second course, separate form the ragu itself. The meat used is always varied, and can include all beef, pork, veal, lamb or goat, as well as fowl. Usually a combination of meats are used to add depth and character to the ragu. One famous classic is braciole made with fresh pork rind, stuffed with raisins and pine nuts much like the original.
In closing, the term gravy is used to desribe any condiment made from or flavored with meat drippings, thus the example of Sunday Gravy, which is really a meat sauce considering the long, slow cooking time and the flavors extracted from the meat into the tomatoes, making for a thick and rich condiment for pasta. It is through this Neapolitan classic that so many of the dishes we know and love today have become as American as the folks themselves.
#1

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    NYNM
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    RE: Tomato Sauce vs Gravy and Others Part 2 2006/12/18 20:45:32 (permalink)
    As the granddaughter of an Anconese (?) (from the city of Ancona in Le Marche - on the Adriatic, notrh/central Italy, somewhat near Urbino), we would have these dishes wih some variation.

    We called it sauce, not gravy, which my grandmother always said (pejoratively) was from "Sicily". She usually put meat in it, braciole or sausage. Sometimes there would be veal, or veal cutlets, occasionally fish. We would then have the meat "on the side" without extra sauce ("not gravy) and sauteed or steamed vegetables and maybe salad too. She would often make her own pasta, which was wojnderful, and the serve "fritella" for dessert which was fried pieces of the pasta covered with powdered sugar. She also made a wonderful dessert of marinating orange slices in marsala wine with a bit of extra sugar.

    We would often have Sunday meals, but then it usually was just for holidays. Some of the fondest memories of my life....
    #2
    CuzinVinny
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    RE: Tomato Sauce vs Gravy and Others Part 2 2006/12/19 02:37:48 (permalink)
    The fact is, NYNM, that while the dish is considered a Neapolitan creation, it was eagerly adapted by the Sicilians who have in turn called it their own. In many old Sicilian cookbooks you will find ragu recipes with ingredients which are altogether different, such as potatoes and peas. This style of preparation is sometimes referred to as "Il Ragu delle Gran Feste" or "Feast-Day Ragu". One such source for noting this is Vincent Schiavelli's "Papa Andrea's Sicilian Table". Most of the ragus and tomato sauces alike in this book call for sugar as an ingredient, which the author says is always added. This is a matter of taste, and most Italians abroad would balk at the idea though I personally never add it.
    #3
    Ciaoman
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    RE: Tomato Sauce vs Gravy and Others Part 2 2006/12/19 12:33:21 (permalink)
    Great topic. I was always under the impression that a bit of sugar was added to compensate for less-than-pristine canned tomatoes. The sugar was to restore a bit of the sweet, fresh taste of ripe tomatoes. No? I also understand that the addition of sugar was pretty much limited to southern Italian (Campania, Calabria, etc.) ragu preparations because in the north, they used chopped vegetables like carrots which added sweetness to the dish.
    #4
    Fieldthistle
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    RE: Tomato Sauce vs Gravy and Others Part 2 2006/12/19 12:46:15 (permalink)
    Hello All,
    I have nothing to add to this...but NYNM, my wife has made numerous trips to Urbino and Ancona
    and she loves the area. She wants us to move their when we retire. I think she has a boyfriend
    there.
    I am ignorant, but I always thought that sauce was something that made from things different
    from the food being served, while gravy was made from a portion of the dish being made.
    My wife makes gravy from the grease and bits of meat. Again, I am ignorant.
    Sugar is okay to add to tomato sauces, but I've found a bit of salt, not a lot, adds to
    the sweetness. Again, I am not that smart about this, just what I do at home.
    I will mention this thread to my wife and she may have something to add. She is really a good cook and has become an artist when it
    comes to Italian cooking.
    Take Care,
    Fieldthistle
    #5
    NYNM
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    RE: Tomato Sauce vs Gravy and Others Part 2 2006/12/19 17:21:14 (permalink)
    quote:
    Originally posted by Fieldthistle

    Hello All,
    I have nothing to add to this...but NYNM, my wife has made numerous trips to Urbino and Ancona
    and she loves the area. She wants us to move their when we retire. I think she has a boyfriend
    there.
    I am ignorant, but I always thought that sauce was something that made from things different
    from the food being served, while gravy was made from a portion of the dish being made.
    My wife makes gravy from the grease and bits of meat. Again, I am ignorant.
    Sugar is okay to add to tomato sauces, but I've found a bit of salt, not a lot, adds to
    the sweetness. Again, I am not that smart about this, just what I do at home.
    I will mention this thread to my wife and she may have something to add. She is really a good cook and has become an artist when it
    comes to Italian cooking.
    Take Care,
    Fieldthistle


    Hey, watch out for those Italian men!! Does your wife cook in the style of the Marches? I have visited my relatives there and they eat a lot of fish, inclduing tiny fishes all piled up in a dish. The made a wonderful jam from fresh apples and rum. I also remember the open wine bottles on the table "white" and "black" (ie - red) wines, esp. verdicchio which was local. My grandmother often served polenta rather than pasta. I just bought my mom a cookbook for Christmas "Cucina of Le Marche: Reccipes from Italy's Last Frontier" by Fabio Trabocchi who apprently has a famous restaurant in DC. My mom loves the book. Maybe your wife would too (give it to her from her "Italian boyfriend")
    #6
    CuzinVinny
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    RE: Tomato Sauce vs Gravy and Others Part 2 2006/12/19 17:32:25 (permalink)
    Thank you so much for posting the title of that book.. it sounds excellent!!! I have never seen a book devoted to the regional cuisine of Le Marche, so for a collector like me you really brought me a lot of joy!!!! I'll be sure to add this to my collection.

    Thanks again, NYNM!!!
    Merry Christmas to you and your family!!

    <3 CuzinVinny
    #7
    NYNM
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    RE: Tomato Sauce vs Gravy and Others Part 2 2006/12/19 19:26:37 (permalink)
    The book also has lots of stories, anecdotes, etc. about the area, as well as recipes. The author himself comes from Ancona, so he covers the place well.

    I remember when I visited my family in Ancona, they also had a little "seaside" apartment in Falconara Maritima which is the next town. We went to the beach each day, then home again for a nice seafood dinner. I also remember the night they treated me to pizza, but being from NYC I was a bit disappointed...I thought the NYC style was better
    #8
    EdSails
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    RE: Tomato Sauce vs Gravy and Others Part 2 2006/12/19 19:34:09 (permalink)
    OK------I'm going to derail this subject, but only slightly. More like pulling onto a siding to let the eastbound freight pass by.
    I'm making a lasagna tonight. I've seen you mention the sugo and the ragu. Which is better for a lasagna? And I've seen some recipes with ricotta, some with bechemel, but none with both. What's the traditional way? Do you ever combine the bechhemel with ricotta? Are the ragu and the sugo interchangable? any other suggestions?
    #9
    CuzinVinny
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    RE: Tomato Sauce vs Gravy and Others Part 2 2006/12/19 19:49:27 (permalink)
    If you plan on making the classic Neapolitan lasagne, you would make a batch of ragu first. Make sure to include sausage and homemade meatballs, as they will be incorporated into the dish. Bechamel is only featured in baked pasta dishes where a ground meat ragu is used, as in Bolognese. You could even make a ragu with ground meat and tomatoes, as this is called "ragu alla macinata" in Italian. For this, use whatever ground meats you like. Sausage is a wonderful addition, removed from their casings and sauteed. Even if you wanted to skip the meat and use a sugo, your lasagna will still be quite tasty, only lighter and not as filling. Ciao, a tutti!!!!
    #10
    Greymo
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    RE: Tomato Sauce vs Gravy and Others Part 2 2006/12/19 20:15:45 (permalink)
    So tell me Cuzin..............what Italian restaurants that you go to are ones that you really like? Do you consider any of them to be real Roadfood places?
    #11
    Foodbme
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    RE: Tomato Sauce vs Gravy and Others Part 2 2006/12/19 20:22:24 (permalink)
    I tried Googling SUGO and found nothing food related. Help this old Irish boy out. Describe Sugo Please
    #12
    EdSails
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    RE: Tomato Sauce vs Gravy and Others Part 2 2006/12/19 20:35:00 (permalink)
    Thanks, CuzinVinny. I have sweet Italian sausage and ground beef to combine. do you think it would be good to combine the bechemel with ricotta or stick with the ricotta or bechemel only?
    #13
    Michael Hoffman
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    RE: Tomato Sauce vs Gravy and Others Part 2 2006/12/19 20:48:53 (permalink)
    quote:
    Originally posted by Foodbme

    I tried Googling SUGO and found nothing food related. Help this old Irish boy out. Describe Sugo Please

    Sugo is Italian for gravy.
    #14
    CuzinVinny
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    RE: Tomato Sauce vs Gravy and Others Part 2 2006/12/19 22:37:20 (permalink)
    For this particular style of preparation, EdSails, ricotta would be a better choice though you certainly could use bechamel. Just don't use both in the same dish, please!!!! If using bechamel, the only cheese to use would be Parmigiano-Reggiano. If you decide to use ricotta, then go ahead and add mozzarella.
    Michael, I found out that "sugo" can mean either a smooth tomato sauce or a meat gravy. The word basically means "juices", which easily describes the smooth tomato puree or the flavored drippings which add body to any meat sauce. Italians are especially well-known for butchering the language they speak into a gutteral dialect with many slang words for which only they can use to identify something.
    And finally, Greymo, in my immediate area are few Italian restaurants where I would frequently dine, but they include Bertucci's Brick-Oven Ristorante and Mel's Restaurant. I also have some suggestions for whenever you plan on visiting Boston's North End: Monica's Trattoria, 67 Prince Street, Antico Forno, 93 Salem Street and Terramia, 98 Salem Street. And whenever in Providence, RI be sure to check out Joe Marzilli's Old Canteen on Atwells Avenue. Buon appetito!!!!
    #15
    Greymo
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    RE: Tomato Sauce vs Gravy and Others Part 2 2006/12/19 23:13:55 (permalink)
    I have been to Joe Marzilli's twice in past 3 years and loved it but I would not bother going to that "chain" restaurant, "Bertucci's". I try to avoid chain restaurants.
    #16
    Fieldthistle
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    RE: Tomato Sauce vs Gravy and Others Part 2 2006/12/20 07:50:12 (permalink)
    Hello All,
    NYNM, my wife made tiramisu for her office party. She has 9 Italian cookbooks. Last year I bought
    her "In Nonna's Kitchen," and "Celebration Italy," as Christmas presents. She says she uses them
    when she wants somethinng reasonably authentic or hard to find in an Americanized Italian cookbook.
    When she was in Urbino they gave her prima piatti of gnocchi and different pastas instead of polenta.
    She never had polenta in Italy, but made some here at home. It is very heavy, like Italian corn bread.
    She wanted to make amaretti, but it seems that bitter almonds are illegal in the U.S.. Some friends
    in Italy sent us some amaretti, which we really liked.
    I like this thread as I am ignorant of the topic and getting an education.
    Take Care,
    Fieldthistle
    #17
    NYNM
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    RE: Tomato Sauce vs Gravy and Others Part 2 2006/12/20 09:17:23 (permalink)
    Yes, my grandmother made gnocchi a lot. Delicious. As to polenta, as we had it it wasn't too heavy, actually a bit light (more like heavier souffle). They usually put some tomato sauce ("not gravy") over it. I refused to eat it when we grew up, not knowing it would become a hot trend in the future!

    Now our resident Eyetalian expert, CuzinVinny (great movie ther!) has given me the idea to start a new topic on regional foods.
    #18
    Ashphalt
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    RE: Tomato Sauce vs Gravy and Others Part 2 2006/12/20 09:25:18 (permalink)
    Lots of interesting info here, thanks, CuzinV.

    I'm really interested in your description of classic Neopolitan lasagna. Back in the 70s my Mom found a recipe somewhere, probably in a magazine, for something the recipe called "Lasagna Verde al Forno." She'd make it for special occasions or guests, and it was exactly what you describe. Home-made spinach pasta, a meat sauce that was effectively a Bolognese, bechamel and a sprinkling of parmesan. The Italians in our neighborhood (all from the South or Sicily) insisted that was some foo-foo invention by the "English." She wouldn't serve it to them, but we liked it.
    #19
    CuzinVinny
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    RE: Tomato Sauce vs Gravy and Others Part 2 2006/12/20 10:34:27 (permalink)
    Fieldthistle, don't ever say that you are ignorant. From what I've read in your posts, you seem to getting more and more educated as time goes by. Don't forget, even we who are educated are always learning some new tricks.
    Buon Natale!!!!!

    -CuzinVinny-
    #20
    CuzinVinny
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    RE: Tomato Sauce vs Gravy and Others Part 2 2006/12/20 10:55:04 (permalink)
    NYNM, perhaps you have also heard of that indiscriminately Neapolitan creation, Ragu alla Genovese. It was named thusly due to the belief that wealthy Genovese merchants supposedly brought this dish to Naples after learning it from the French. This is really nothing more than a sauce of slow roasted beef and onions which predates the incorporation of tomatoes in Italian cookery.
    This ragu is unknown in Genoa, and Neapolitans are unsure as to how it received it's name. Since all cuts of beef at the time were quite tough, braising was the only steady means of tenderizing. Even the vegetables, originally a mirepoix somewhere along the line became altered so that the onions took prevalence. Nowadays, a single carrot and a stalk of celery are added to as many as four pounds of sliced onions along with some odds and ends of pancetta, salame and/or prosciutto. The meat is used to flavor the onions, not vice-versa, which reduces to a thick puree. Of course, nowadays more beef is used, which is sliced like a roast and served as the secondi piatto. The classic pastas to use for this delicacy are long ziti broken into 1 1/2" lengths or long fusilli.
    #21
    EdSails
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    RE: Tomato Sauce vs Gravy and Others Part 2 2006/12/21 15:12:57 (permalink)
    Well, I read CuzinVinnny's post just after I made my lasagne, so I wound up using both the bechemel sauce with a good dose of fresh-shredded parmesan mixed in and also ricotta cheese mixed with 2 eggs. Ground beef, Italian sweet sausage and mozarella were also in the layers. The sauce consisted of onions, garlic, carrots, whole canned tomatoes and tomato paste simmered. The day before I had made a brisket with a similar sauce, cooking the brisket for hours in the sauce, so I added the sauce with the intense meat flavor to the freshly made sauce. It turned out excellent. Is it just tradition why I shouldn't combine the bechemel and ricotta cheese?
    #22
    CuzinVinny
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    RE: Tomato Sauce vs Gravy and Others Part 2 2006/12/21 17:11:56 (permalink)
    Yes, traditionally you would use only one of the two, just as you would never combine garlic and onions in a basic tomato sauce. This last preference is entirely up to the person in charge, though in Italy they rarely use both in the same dish, unless they are to be incorporated with a meat course. In most cases where both onions and garlic are combined together, one garlic clove is simmered in oil to release it's flavor before being removed. This is also a good step to include for those who have difficulty digesting garlic, as the garlic itself is not eaten.
    #23
    CuzinVinny
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    RE: Tomato Sauce vs Gravy and Others Part 2 2006/12/21 17:36:17 (permalink)
    Both of these different styles seem to be very much another distinction between Northern and Southern Italy. Garlic and peperoncino, and even tomatoes do not often feature in the North as they do South. Northern Italy seems to be more directly influenced by France, Germany and Austro-Hungaria, the latter especially found within the borders of Trentino Alto-Adige and Friuli Venezio-Giulia in the Northeast. Here, ricotta is used mainly for dolce and their dishes known for their use of paprika and caraway, influences that are derived from Austria and Hungary. Even in Milan, the national dish of breaded veal scallopine seems to have been originated from Austria's Weiner Schnitzel.
    Southern Italy typically uses influences from their surrounding countries, Spain and North Africa, though many French ideas are equally welcomed and put to use. Perhaps the greatest contribution to the South by France is found in their desserts and pastries made with custard.
    As well as any other, Italy is no less a melting pot of unique culture, people and cuisine. Who could ask for more?
    #24
    EdSails
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    RE: Tomato Sauce vs Gravy and Others Part 2 2006/12/21 20:34:42 (permalink)
    Interesting. I had not realized that onions and garlic would not be combined. Sure enough, dug out my copy of Marcella Hazan's Italian cookbook and-----no garlic in the tomato sauce recipe. I've always naturally assumed that an Italian tomato sauce would have garlic in it!
    #25
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