Thank you to The Manual for including me in this round up! So fun!
End Your Week The Italian-American Way With Proper Sunday Gravy
For diners in the United States, a lot of what we consider “Italian food” is, in fact, “Italian-American food.” Spaghetti and meatballs? Chicken parm? Fettuccine Alfredo? All dishes developed by Italian immigrants in America during the 19th and 20th centuries, combining techniques and recipes used in traditional Italian cooking with ingredient variations based on what these cooks could find stateside. The result? A delicious hybrid cuisine known for bright flavors, plenty of melted cheese, and the love and devotion of Italian-American grandmothers (popularly known as “nonnas”).
The crown jewel of Italian-American cooking comes in the form of “Sunday gravy,” a valued weekly tradition for plenty of families across the United States, but one that often confuses those who didn’t grow up with it simmering on the stove. If you equate “gravy” with “a brown, meat-drippings-based sauce served with turkey,” then the red version favored by Italian-Americans may prompt an eyebrow raise. In fact, the use of the “gravy” term to describe this sauce also perplexes native Italians; executive chef Fortunato Nicotra of Felidia in New York City tells us that “I came to America at the age of 34. My first introduction to the term ‘gravy’ was at a Thanksgiving dinner where I tried my very first turkey with mashed potatoes and gravy. I understand now many years later that there is quite a bit of controversy regarding the ‘gravy’ versus ‘sauce’ concept at Italian-American tables. I was born in Sicily, where fresh tomato sauce is a very important part of our culture, so to me, [Sunday gravy] represents culture.”
If you’ve never heard of Sunday gravy before, we’re here to clear things up with a full explanation: what it is, what it’s called in different regions of the U.S., how it’s made, and why everyone, even those without a drop of Italian blood flowing through their veins, should try it out.
What other terms are used for this dish?
Chicago-based chef Michelle Durpetti of Gene & Georgetti also remembers calling Sunday gravy “sugo,” telling us that “in our family, it was actually ‘Nonno’s favorite sugo.’” My grandfather Gene was always at the restaurant, and [on] Sunday evenings when I was growing up, it was a special treat for him to be in the kitchen at home. Food is life in our family, and there is no place we celebrate better than together at a table with a grand feast! Being of Tuscan origin, we always fall on the ‘sugo’ (or sauce) side of the ‘sauce/gravy’ discussion. His recipe is a classic Tuscan bolognese, on the rustic side utilizing both beef and pork, extra virgin olive oil, fresh garlic and not too finely chopped carrots, onions, and celery. A splash of red wine, a beautiful rind of Parmigiano and a bay leaf to finish (more or less), set to simmer on the stove for hours. A great paccheri pasta that really scoops up the sauce was the most perfect accompaniment. This recipe and his method for making it is one that I use quite frequently on Sundays as an adult, welcoming my family over to celebrate together and honor my Nonno’s legacy in the best place possible: the kitchen!”