My friends, you have been deceived.
You may not realize it; in fact, I’m sure you haven’t. But that red stuff that the dining hall workers have placed next to the bowtie pasta is nothing more than a bowl of lies, a concoction of criminality. Tomato sauce? Please. Tell it to your jar of Ragu, sweetie.
Okay, so I’m exaggerating. But anyone who knows me well knows that I never touch what the Yale Dining Services has so blasphemously named “tomato sauce.” Yes, technically that is what it is: a tomato-based red sauce flavored with salt, pepper and fresh herbs. And most of you non-Italians won’t notice anything amiss about it; you might even — dare I say it? — enjoy it.
But I am no fool. As a good Italian-American girl whose family hails from the culinary cornucopia that is the Little Italy of the Bronx, I have eaten more tomato sauce than one could possibly conceive. And to me, it is not simply an accoutrement of pasta, but a living tradition. It is the flavor of my childhood, the aroma of my adolescence! It is in itself a form of art! It must not be disrespected!
First, let’s get one thing straight: The proper name for what we’re talking about here is not “tomato sauce,” or even “sauce.” No — it is gravy.
Oh, I know what you’re thinking: gravy? What the hell is she talking about? Gravy is obviously the brown stuff made from turkey drippings that you eat with your meat and mashed potatoes on Thanksgiving. If this girl is putting gravy on her pasta, then I’m going to stop reading right now.
But, my dear readers, again you have been deceived! Gravy is, in fact, the name by which most Italian Americans call their beloved tomato sauce, a rich and hearty blend anointed with a meaty flavor that can only come from the warmth of an Italian grandmother’s heart (right before she whacks you with her wooden spoon and tells you to get out of her kitchen). Don’t believe me? Watch The Sopranos. Paulie wasn’t playing the fool when he cried out in frustration, “Can I just get some macaroni and gravy?” Oh, yes. He knew the truth.
Which brings me to my second point. You don’t serve gravy with just anything. You serve it with macaroni (not pasta), and you serve it at 2:30-3:00 in the afternoon on Sunday. Every Sunday. And you invite your loud and obnoxious extended Italian family to your house to eat with you. Don’t forget the meatballs, make sure you have enough red wine to keep Uncle Louie sedate and ignore your grandmother’s nagging about how you still don’t have a boyfriend and thus will never get married. Add a loaf of crusty bread from a reputable bakery (meaning one whose name ends in a vowel) to sop up the excess gravy after the macaroni is gone, and baddabing! You’re practically a paisano! Viva Italia!
But seriously: Take your gravy seriously. Like I said, gravy is an Italian tradition. It’s what brings families — however dysfunctional — together for a meal that, if you’re lucky, some of your oldest relatives can remember serving to their children in Italy. Nearly every Sunday of my life, I was fortunate enough to wake up to the crackle of frying meatballs and the smell of simmering gravy. It is one of the things that I miss most while being here, and one of the things that I most look forward to when I return home. Although it’s a time-consuming process, try making macaroni and gravy yourself sometime. Trust me — you’ll never look back. Then you, too, can turn up your nose the next time Yale Dining Services tries to stuff you with that red slop and say, “They call this gravy? Let me tell you, in the old country…”
Well, maybe not. But you will have joined the ranks of the enlightened. Benvenuto and buon appetito.