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Gary Barlettano

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Tomato Sauce (a.k.a. "gravy" to the initiated)

by Gary Barlettano » Mon Jun 12, 2006 7:32 pm

Simple question: How many folks always use onions in their tomato sauce? I was brought up on a regimen of garlic only. The only exception was the "gravy" (pardon me, my New Jersey roots are showing) for chicken cacciatore which, by the way, was always accompanied by fusilli, the long ones and not those aberrant short cuts we often see today.

Nowadays, I make my tomato sauce in many different ways, depending on the mood my palate is in. Still in all, I often wonder just how mainstream or, conversely, off the beaten path my mother was in her not using onions. To be honest, I have never run across anyone who doesn't put onions in his/her tomato sauce.

Maybe there is someone out there more versed in the Italian kitchen than I who has a regional explanation.
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Re: Tomato Sauce (a.k.a. "gravy" to the initiated)

by ChefCarey » Mon Jun 12, 2006 8:34 pm

Gary Barlettano wrote:Simple question: How many folks always use onions in their tomato sauce? I was brought up on a regimen of garlic only. The only exception was the "gravy" (pardon me, my New Jersey roots are showing) for chicken cacciatore which, by the way, was always accompanied by fusilli, the long ones and not those aberrant short cuts we often see today.

Nowadays, I make my tomato sauce in many different ways, depending on the mood my palate is in. Still in all, I often wonder just how mainstream or, conversely, off the beaten path my mother was in her not using onions. To be honest, I have never run across anyone who doesn't put onions in his/her tomato sauce.

Maybe there is someone out there more versed in the Italian kitchen than I who has a regional explanation.


Never seen an Italian tomato sauce that doesn't include onions. Seen several without garlic.

Oh, and the term "gravy" is often used by those of Tuscan origin to mean Ragu alla Bolognese. Believe me, I know.
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Re: Tomato Sauce (a.k.a. "gravy" to the initiated)

by Niki (Dayton OH) » Mon Jun 12, 2006 10:07 pm

Gary

My mom never used onions, and when I make her sauce, neither do I. My mom's family was from Sicily, by the way, although much of her cooking was influenced by folks from Calabria (the toe of the boot). I don't recall any of my aunts or other relatives and their friends using onions, either. With chicken cacciatore, she sauteed the onions with the chicken, rather than add it to the sauce.
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Re: Tomato Sauce (a.k.a. "gravy" to the initiated)

by Gary Barlettano » Mon Jun 12, 2006 11:30 pm

Niki (Dayton OH) wrote:Gary

My mom never used onions, and when I make her sauce, neither do I. My mom's family was from Sicily, by the way, although much of her cooking was influenced by folks from Calabria (the toe of the boot). I don't recall any of my aunts or other relatives and their friends using onions, either. With chicken cacciatore, she sauteed the onions with the chicken, rather than add it to the sauce.


Hi, Niki, Thanks! It's nice not to be alone. My family came from Campobasso and later, as my name suggests, Barletta (father's side) and Naples (mother's side). To this day, I find tomato sauce with onion to be sweetish and somewhat dry on the tongue, this latter quality not unlike the effect of tannin in wine. And no matter how tasty the sauce is, tomato sauce with onions evokes sensations of Prego, Ragú, and Chef Boiardi. Odd ,eh? But I recently made some pasta fagioli using a suffrito and was quite pleasantly surprised at the outcome.
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Re: Tomato Sauce (a.k.a. "gravy" to the initiated)

by John Tomasso » Tue Jun 13, 2006 8:55 am

I have to disagree with Chef Carey here, in that our "gravy" never includes onions. Having compared and contrasted ours with friends and relatives over the years, I can say that most of their examples did not have onions, either. Our "gravy" making tradition comes by way of relatives hailing from Naples and Abruzzo.

Now ragu, that's another story. Both my long cooked ragu Bolognese, and my ragu sciue sciue contain plenty of onion.

For the uninitiated, the term "gravy" as it relates to tomato sauce refers to tomato sauce in which various meats have been braised. The sauce is then served to dress the first course of pasta, and then the braised meats are served as a second course. I posted a recipe a long time ago on the old FLDG, but I can't find the link, so here's a copy I found in my files.

Italian American “Gravy”

Say gravy to most anybody, and they either think of the gloppy sausage flavored stuff served on biscuits, or the brown gloppy stuff served on roasts. Say gravy to an Italian American, however, and his eyes light up as he thinks of the smell of garlic, tomatos, beef, pork and basil wafting through the house. That’s because, for some odd reason, the meat enriched tomato sauce served in just about every Italian American home on Sunday afternoon has come to be referred to by that name, rather than the more technically correct <I>pasta sauce</I>
Now, there are probably as many versions of Italian American gravy as there are Italian American cooks. Indeed, mine never comes out exactly the same twice. But here is a version I hope you enjoy.

For the meatballs:
1.25 LB ground beef
1 cup bread crumbs
2 or 3 eggs, as needed
fresh parsley, chopped
salt to taste
pepper to taste
garlic( I use granulated )
grated romano cheese
Combine ingredients, form into meatballs weighing around 1 oz. If you wind up with 13 meatballs, it’s bad luck, so break one in half, or combine two together. Set aside.

You also want to have on hand:
Your favorite hot Italian sausage links
Something with a bone in it, I like country style spare ribs
A hunk of beef chuck, pork shoulder, anything goes here, within reason

Start your sauce:
In 1 TBLSP XVOO, sweat some finely chopped fresh garlic, along with chopped fresh parsley. We’re just lending flavor here, so just BEFORE it begins to color, add 2 cans Italian style tomatoes that have been briefly whirled in the blender, not too much, we still want a somewhat chunky texture. I usually add a half can of water to thin it a bit. Season with salt, pepper, crushed red pepper, parsley, fresh thyme, and a little fresh basil. (we’ll add more later) <b> No Oregano!!!!</b>(it makes it taste like canned sauce) Set on medium heat, and go to work on the meat.
Coat the bottom of a large skillet with XVOO. Turn on medium heat, and drop some large pieces of fresh garlic in, say three or four cloves. Wait a minute or so, then put your meatballs in. You don’t want to brown them too deeply, but color on all sides. Remove as soon as they look done. Now brown your sausage, and the rest of the meat.
Once all the meat is browned, and your sauce comes to a boil, you are ready to add the meat to the sauce. Just plop all in, it should all be submerged. Turn the heat down to a simmer, and cook for at least two hours. Stir every twenty minutes or so with a wooden spoon, bring up the bottom, this helps thicken it. Oh, and here’s my secret. Degrease, aggressively. I usually remove about a half tomato can of grease from the surface of the gravy by the time it is done. People who don’t do this wind up with heartburn. You’ll know it is done when the sauce gets thick, and the meat starts falling apart. Add some more fresh basil at this point.
Meanwhile, cook your pasta, and sauce it with the gravy. (leaving the meat in the pot)
After you’re done with the pasta, bring the meat out as a separate course.

Enjoy
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Re: Tomato Sauce (a.k.a. "gravy" to the initiated)

by Gary Barlettano » Tue Jun 13, 2006 11:24 am

John, with some teeny tiny differences which are of no consequence your modus operandi when it comes to making "gravy" tracks with mine. What I find especially refreshing, however, is the "no oregano" comment. In my very small world oregano is used pretty much exclusively in pizza sauce and rarely if ever in any "gravy" which is to go over macaroni or spaghetti.
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Re: Tomato Sauce (a.k.a. "gravy" to the initiated)

by Jenise » Tue Jun 13, 2006 12:37 pm

Gary,

[Hand in the air, waving frantically] I'm one! I once dated an ex-New Yorker of Italian descent. It was from him that I first heard the term "gravy", in fact, for spaghetti sauce. And one night he made for us a pasta marinara wherein he sauteed a good bit of garlic in some olive oil, then added thyme, basil, bay leaf, canned tomato sauce and water (which would evap out during the cooking process). It was a revelation to me, as marinaras go, because it DIDN'T contain onions, and I loved it and have made that sauce ever since. I do use onions in other spaghetti sauces that I also make (amatriciana, sausage, and others), but a marinara? Just garlic.
My wine shopping and I have never had a problem. Just a perpetual race between the bankruptcy court and Hell.--Rogov
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Re: Tomato Sauce (a.k.a. "gravy" to the initiated)

by Gary Barlettano » Tue Jun 13, 2006 1:29 pm

I'm glad to see we're getting the garlic-only folks out of the closet. In general, I don't use thyme in my "gravy," but I do use parsley and sweet paprika.

If you like the garlic-only thing, you could make spaghetti aiul (= aglio olio) which has no tomatoes.

Sweat a goodly amount of thinly sliced garlic (maybe 4-5 cloves) in some nice olive oil. Add some salt, pepper, and chile flake (if you're into the tang). When the garlic is soft but not brown, toss about a half a cup of chicken broth onto that and let it simmer for about 10-15 minutes. (Some folks like to use the starchy water from the cooking pasta instead of the broth.) Cook up about a half pound of your favorite spaghetti, drain, and toss it with the garlic mixture. If you want to heighten the fun, add fresh parsley and basil to the mix. And don't forget the grated cheese!
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Re: Tomato Sauce (a.k.a. "gravy" to the initiated)

by Gary Barlettano » Tue Jun 13, 2006 1:55 pm

Randy, I have the dubious honor of having grown up in the area of New Jersey where The Sopranos takes place. Perhaps you've heard them mention "Nutley." In fact, that big lumberjack holding the rug at the beginning of the show was once stored in my grandfather's shop in Jersey City. At one time, he did have some lumber in his hands, but the lumberyard failed and my grandfather, who had a sign business, got the the large display and eventually resold it to a rug retailer. Anyway ...

They have used the term "gravy" for "tomato sauce" on The Sopranos. Had they not, many New Jersey Italians might have boycotted the show! :lol:
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Re: Tomato Sauce (a.k.a. "gravy" to the initiated)

by Christina Georgina » Tue Jun 13, 2006 6:30 pm

For some types of sauce I use onion, for others , not. Marinara is garlic only. Depends on what pasta or polenta, what season, what type of tomatoes are available.
Mamma Mia !
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Re: Tomato Sauce (a.k.a. "gravy" to the initiated)

by ChefCarey » Tue Jun 13, 2006 6:53 pm

John Tomasso wrote:I have to disagree with Chef Carey here, in that our "gravy" never includes onions. Having compared and contrasted ours with friends and relatives over the years, I can say that most of their examples did not have onions, either. Our "gravy" making tradition comes by way of relatives hailing from Naples and Abruzzo.

Now ragu, that's another story. Both my long cooked ragu Bolognese, and my ragu sciue sciue contain plenty of onion.

For the uninitiated, the term "gravy" as it relates to tomato sauce refers to tomato sauce in which various meats have been braised. The sauce is then served to dress the first course of pasta, and then the braised meats are served as a second course. I posted a recipe a long time ago on the old FLDG, but I can't find the link, so here's a copy I found in my files.

Italian American “Gravy”

Say gravy to most anybody, and they either think of the gloppy sausage flavored stuff served on biscuits, or the brown gloppy stuff served on roasts. Say gravy to an Italian American, however, and his eyes light up as he thinks of the smell of garlic, tomatos, beef, pork and basil wafting through the house. That’s because, for some odd reason, the meat enriched tomato sauce served in just about every Italian American home on Sunday afternoon has come to be referred to by that name, rather than the more technically correct <I>pasta sauce</I>
Now, there are probably as many versions of Italian American gravy as there are Italian American cooks. Indeed, mine never comes out exactly the same twice. But here is a version I hope you enjoy.

For the meatballs:
1.25 LB ground beef
1 cup bread crumbs
2 or 3 eggs, as needed
fresh parsley, chopped
salt to taste
pepper to taste
garlic( I use granulated )
grated romano cheese
Combine ingredients, form into meatballs weighing around 1 oz. If you wind up with 13 meatballs, it’s bad luck, so break one in half, or combine two together. Set aside.

You also want to have on hand:
Your favorite hot Italian sausage links
Something with a bone in it, I like country style spare ribs
A hunk of beef chuck, pork shoulder, anything goes here, within reason

Start your sauce:
In 1 TBLSP XVOO, sweat some finely chopped fresh garlic, along with chopped fresh parsley. We’re just lending flavor here, so just BEFORE it begins to color, add 2 cans Italian style tomatoes that have been briefly whirled in the blender, not too much, we still want a somewhat chunky texture. I usually add a half can of water to thin it a bit. Season with salt, pepper, crushed red pepper, parsley, fresh thyme, and a little fresh basil. (we’ll add more later) <b> No Oregano!!!!</b>(it makes it taste like canned sauce) Set on medium heat, and go to work on the meat.
Coat the bottom of a large skillet with XVOO. Turn on medium heat, and drop some large pieces of fresh garlic in, say three or four cloves. Wait a minute or so, then put your meatballs in. You don’t want to brown them too deeply, but color on all sides. Remove as soon as they look done. Now brown your sausage, and the rest of the meat.
Once all the meat is browned, and your sauce comes to a boil, you are ready to add the meat to the sauce. Just plop all in, it should all be submerged. Turn the heat down to a simmer, and cook for at least two hours. Stir every twenty minutes or so with a wooden spoon, bring up the bottom, this helps thicken it. Oh, and here’s my secret. Degrease, aggressively. I usually remove about a half tomato can of grease from the surface of the gravy by the time it is done. People who don’t do this wind up with heartburn. You’ll know it is done when the sauce gets thick, and the meat starts falling apart. Add some more fresh basil at this point.
Meanwhile, cook your pasta, and sauce it with the gravy. (leaving the meat in the pot)
After you’re done with the pasta, bring the meat out as a separate course.

Enjoy


I don't think we disagree at all. The classic tomato mother sauce always contains onions. There are infinte local tomato sauce variations and I'm sure there are dozens without onions. I think I misspoke when I said "never." Mea culpa. (For those of you scurrying for your culinary dictionary, no, that's not a tomato sauce.)

All the second, third and fourth generation Italians around this part of the country - and there are thousands of them - claim Tuscany as their ancestral home. They *all* call the ragu "gravy."
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Re: Tomato Sauce (a.k.a. "gravy" to the initiated)

by ChefCarey » Tue Jun 13, 2006 6:57 pm

Oh, and I absolutely agree with you about the oregano - unless one is making a pizza. The Italian chefs with whom I have worked over the years call oregano the "pizza spice." (Yeah, I know it's an "herb."
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Re: Tomato Sauce (a.k.a. "gravy" to the initiated)

by Bob Henrick » Fri Jun 16, 2006 8:58 pm

Niki, do you have the recipe for your Moms' sauce for her cacciatore? My wife makes one that we like a lot, but I have no idea how authentic it is. I do know that she sautees the chicken in olive oil (EVOO since that is all I buy) and she always uses about a half bottle of white wine That I might have open. If I don't have one open she wants a "good" one, and she isn't fond of wine at all. She does the onions in the sauce and adds the browned off chicken to the sauce and cooks it until it is falling off the bone.
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No onions used in our sauce...though, technically...

by Richard Atkinson » Sat Jun 17, 2006 1:47 pm

Most of our red sauces tend towards marinara in style. With the one exception being the sauce for meatballs. But again, that sauce also tends toward a chunky , rustic marinara rather than a more fully cooked version.

No onions in it...though we do add a bit of onion into the meatballs.

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Re: No onions used in our sauce...though, technically...

by Carl Eppig » Sat Jun 17, 2006 7:39 pm

We put onions in all our Italian sauces; and for that matter Mexican ones too. We recently made a very rich mole sauce to go over Mexican Pork Roll, and it started with a Vidalia Onion cooked in 3 Ts of lard. Sorry about yous on a diet.
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Re: Tomato Sauce (a.k.a. "gravy" to the initiated)

by Niki (Dayton OH) » Mon Jun 19, 2006 8:20 pm

No real recipe, Bob, but she always browned the chicken first in olive oil, then removed from the pan, then browned onions, bell peppers, and garlic, then added white wine to deglaze the pan, then added some of her homemade marinara sauce (which NEVER had onions) to the pan, added the chicken back, and sauteed until the chicken was done. Sounds like your wife's version is as authentic as any others....
Cheers,

Niki
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Re: Tomato Sauce (a.k.a. "gravy" to the initiated)

by Bob Henrick » Mon Jun 19, 2006 9:17 pm

In fact Niki, it is a lot like what you just wrote, and she has never been to Italy! :-) Thanks, and we missed you in Cinci on the 12th.
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Re: Tomato Sauce (a.k.a. "gravy" to the initiated)

by Niki (Dayton OH) » Tue Jun 20, 2006 8:26 pm

I would have much preferred to be at Pho Paris with y'all, but unfortunately my employer had other plans for me ;-)
Cheers,

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Re: Tomato Sauce (a.k.a. "gravy" to the initiated)

by Carl K » Thu Jun 22, 2006 10:32 am

Add another one for whom it depends on which sauce I'm making. If i'm making a marinara sauce then I only use garlic. If I'm making a ragu or my own meat sauce, then I use both onions and garlic (although admitting that could get me banned from several kitchens I hung out in while growing up :wink: ). Oregano is another one. No oregano in the marinara unless I'm going to use it for a dipping sauce for fried provolone (which is better with spicy mustard anyway) and/or bread sticks (another thing that would get me banned) or for pizza. Also no oregano in the various ragus, but yes in my own meat sauce.

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