Mmmmm…my whole house smells like the best meal you’ve every had at your Nonnie’s house. Some friends are coming over for dinner tonight, and I’m making macaroni and gravy. Not pasta and sauce, mind you. That’s an entirely different thing.
See the difference?
In my Southern Italian, Northern NJ world, macaroni was macaroni. There was no “pasta” when I was growing up. I’ve since come to define the difference as such: macaroni is the dried product, while pasta is the thing you find in the refrigerator case, or make fresh. The internet disagrees with me. It says pasta is the dough, and what you make out of it comes in many shapes and sizes, and they’re all called pasta. It also tells me that macaroni is a particular shape–the elbow kind usually found in macaroni and cheese. Tell this to my Grandma Grace, or my Nonnie. They’d look at you like you had spaghetti growing out of your ears, hit you with the wooden spoon, and tell you to put the water on. As it is, they can only roll over in their graves.
In my Southern Italian, Northern NJ world, gravy has meat in it. It cooks for hours and hours and hours. Low and slow. You use regular olive oil, canned tomatoes, and dried herbs (oregano, basil, garlic) because fresh would never hold up. You need the kind that will lovingly, languidly give up all those essential oils. Fresh herbs would lose all their flavor long before the meat became fall-apart tender. Garlic can go bitter. After letting it barely simmer for three, four hours, you add a bit of red wine, a knot or two of butter, let it simmer another fifteen minutes and take it off the heat to spend the next couple of hours melding all that deliciousness into the zesty, hearty, unbutton your pants because you’re definitely having seconds dinner later on.
In my Southern Italian, Northern NJ world, sauce* is typically made with all fresh ingredients, because you’re not cooking it for more than half an hour. Sauce is lighter, more delicate, and loves to slather itself all over clams, shrimp, scallops. It likes vermouth or white wine better than red, and extra virgin olive oil better than the regular kind, or butter. Though, lets be honest, there’s really nothing on the planet butter can’t make better. In this kind of sauce, you can add a little lemon to impart that acidic zing, a zing you’d never notice in gravy’s ponderous deliciousness.
Sauce is far more versatile. It’s a better vehicle for creativity. It allows other ingredients to shine, while keeping the starring role. “Oh, wow,” you’ll hear. “Are those capers? Do I taste fennel?”
Gravy is a powerhouse. It shares the limelight with no one. It’s that thing you long for on cold winter nights, or after a long day doing yard work. No one is going to remark on all the layers of flavor, or your subtle use of thyme. There will be a lot of grunting, plate licking, and bread dipping, though.
I’m aware that my Southern Italian, Northern NJ versions of gravy and sauce aren’t everyone’s, but I am curious to know what yours is, if you care to share.
*Sauce doesn’t have to be tomato based, but this is the one I’m talking about.
10 responses to “My House Smells Amazing”
We’re Sicilian – grandparents came through Ellis Island in the 20’s. We never had gravy, always sauce. It was made fresh from tomatoes and herbs from the garden. She canned the tomatoes for winter. It could have meat or fish in it as well.
Pasta meant dough, therefore ‘antipasto’ was the course before the dough. My grandmother made fresh pasta, in all shapes (the pasta names) and it would lay out on her long dining room table to dry. My cousins and I would sneak under the table and steal it raw and eat it, LOL.
I think each region of Italy is different and then when the Italian immigrants came and settled in different parts of the country (especially the NE – we we’re in NY) they brought their food and I’m sure as time went on, things evolved.
Doesn’t really matter what you call it – just enjoy with a homemade glass of vino – that was my grandfather’s job and his contribution to the meal!!
LikeLiked by 1 person
I wonder if part of the difference is, your grandmother was born in Italy, and mine were both born here. They used what was available. Made do, like Italians have always done. I don’t remember either of them ever making pasta from scratch. Except for gnocchi.
Thanks for sharing!
I like Chef Boyardi when Shoprite has a can can sale. Annonymous ( Franlie D )
LikeLiked by 1 person
Frankie D, you’re not anonymous if you sign your name. And it also appears above you post. And also, you get Chef Boyardi tonight while everyone else gets good food. 🙂 ❤
Well, maybe it’s make a difference, I don’t know. Your post did make me long for my childhood and all the good food and big family meals, though. Nice memories to have.
LikeLiked by 1 person
My grandmothers are downstairs, probably having tea and discussing all the ways they’re proud of me. I can almost hear them. 🙂
I wanna be in your house! I can almost taste it! If that picture is actually your gravy and macaroni, I want to DIVE into it! I’m saying it again, Terri-Lynne DeFino, you need to write a cook book! I’ll buy the first copy!
LikeLiked by 1 person
Not mine, no. Mine looks even better. 🙂 Next time you visit CT, I’ll cook for you!
Growing up in my slightly waspy world found in IBM infested Poughkeepsie, I’m afraid we adhere to the dictionary definition of pasta v. macaroni. Those elbow shaped things were macaroni, a type of pasta. And sauce meant tomato based, no matter what was tossed in. My mother never claimed to be a good cook, so what we ate was pretty plain. But I have distinct memories of her serving pasta and sauce with grated AMERICAN cheese. Yuk!! Sure, back then I didn’t complain. It’s what we did. But now, I find the whole thing a disgrace and cannot imagine what she was thinking.
Now gravy on the other hand had nothing to do with pasta. It was brown for beef or…and this was the best…milk gravy that my father made. Pulling form his southern roots, he’d make fried pork chops, home fries potatoes, and a side of gravy by adding milk and to the pan frying the pork chops. Down home southern good. Nothing was better. But we never had “red” gravy… As I relay this, I see now why I wore husky clothes as a child. Oh well, it was worth every gravy filled bite!
…American cheese? I’m not judging you. But I’m TOTALLY judging you! LOL
Gravy was also the thing we put on turkey, or chicken, or meatloaf.