Sauce or Gravy?
Every once in awhile someone on social media gets bored and starts an online argument about whether Italians call it “sauce or gravy”? Bottom line: just eat it, don’t worry about labels. It is basically whatever your mother or family called it.
The much longer explanation is still pretty simple. When Italian immigrants came here, they obviously did not have the English vocabulary to specify what the dish was called, so they called it what translated into meat sauce, in this case, gravy. Gravy is any sauce created from meat drippings and/or containing meat in general, like Bolognese. And no, gravy does not need to be brown to be called gravy. Go to Texas and the biscuits and gravy is actually a white gravy.
How did meat get into this whole argument anyway? Well, as it turns out when Italian immigrants first came to the USA they found the tomatoes too acidic for their tastes, so they first added sugar or even wine. The sugar cut the acidity and made it more palatable. Over time, they also found that throwing scraps of meat into the sauce also mellowed out the acidity and made the sauce taste better. Now it was “gravy” since it is made with meat.
The final part of this argument is that Spaghetti & Meatballs are not Italian, it is an American dish. This is also a very simple argument to settle. Spaghetti is pasta. Pasta is Italian. Tomato Sauce is Italian, Meatballs are Italian. While you might not find this commonly served on the same plate in Italy, it is Italian. Italian immigrants have been making spaghetti and meatballs since they arrived over 100 years ago. That is pretty much Italian and settles the argument for me. If all four of your grandparents came from Italy and have been making Spaghetti & Meatballs for the past century, don’t let anyone tell you it is not Italian, and if an Italian tells you its not Italian, tell them we Americans improved the dish and wait for their reaction.
Any dish will vary from region to region and certainly from country to country and continent to continent depending on the ingredients readily available as well as other conditions and variables. If you really want to call something authentic, it all depends on how far back you want to go. Tomatoes were not incorporated into Italian cuisine until after Christopher Columbus came back from Mexico with tomatoes. That was 500 years ago. Does this mean that tomatoes are not Italian? If you want to go that far, then barbecue is not Texan, it is African, since that is where and when meat was first thrown into a fire to be cooked. Today of course, there is Texan BBQ, St. Louis, Korean, Brazilian Churrascaria, Rotisserie, etc. etc.
As my dear Calabrian friend Vittorio once said “don’t worry about the food that goes into your mouth, worry about the words that come out of it”. In other words, just shut up and eat, don’t worry about anything else like vocalizing a bad opinion.