We Called It Gravy Too*

I awoke to the aroma of a simmering sauce that filled the kitchen and crept into my room and onto my pillow. My ears were tuned to the sound of…plop blurp, plop, blurp. The aroma and the sounds were coming from the tomato sauce…gravy…cooking on the kitchen stove, and it meant it was Sunday.

Courtesy of Brian

I sat on the edge of the bed, wiped my eyes, got up and shuffled to the kitchen. Pajamas hanging below my feet, I stretched to tiptoes and peeked over the top of the large white pan on the stove over the small gas flame. The cover was tilted to allow the steamy aroma to escape. I used the “mopine” to lift the cover and look in, though already aware that it was the gravy for Sunday’s pasta. “Edward, what are you doing?”
The gravy was bubbling and popping, releasing with each burst a pocket of vapor with its smell into the atmosphere. Partly exposed meatballs floated along the surface like hot icebergs. A piece of bone, probably pork, was peeking through.
I shuffled like a hockey player to the pantry and the bag of Italian rolls fresh from Crugnale’s Bakery. Dad was reliable. The rolls were warm and soft. I removed one, ripped off a corner, held it between my thumb and two fingers, returned to the pan, swiped it through the gravy and held it up straight, gravy at the top.
Steam rose from the roll as the gravy cooled. To protect my fingers, I twirled the bread just ahead of the dripping lava, allowing the gravy to move to another side of the bread, cooling as it did so…a skill learned in the early years of the Italian family.  Though irresistible, it was still too hot for my sensitive, eager tongue. Test it. Touch it lightly with the tip of my tongue. OK. Ready. Cool enough.
The mass was formless, soft in my mouth, wet, moist, full bodied, and rich with the rage of tomato and the hint of garlic and basil… breaded gravy heaven. Time for another dunk, and another and another, piece after piece of bread ripped off, dunk after dunk made with the same caution, taste after taste completed for the thrill of Sunday’s gravy. “You’ll ruin your dinner”.
Now for the meatballs. I needed another corner of bread. There they were, floating; a deep brown color laced with red meant they were done. They had been fried before they were put into the gravy, and sometimes good to eat just after the frying, the simple flavors of garlic and olive oil enveloping the meatball and spilling into the bread. But today, I planned to rescue them from the gravy.
They were ripe. It seemed as if the meatball fit better into a split rather than cut bun. A spoon was sitting in the ladle next to the simmering pot. I lifted out a meatball, dropped it into the bun, and then ladled more of the deep red, shimmering, hot sauce. Blowing the steam away, I resisted the tendency to gulp it down. The meatball was firm, the bread soft and chewy, the gravy almost hot. Some of the gravy spilled out of the bun onto my pajama top. No matter.
I chewed slowly, rolled my tongue around and enjoyed the flavors of the heated, slightly crunchy meatball that married perfectly with the soggy bun and the gravy.
“You’ll ruin your dinner.” I smiled.

* From the book, “Growing Up Italian; Grandfather’s Fig Tree and Other Stories.”

Barking Cats Book Publishers

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13 Comments on “We Called It Gravy Too*”

  1. Joe Giusto Says:

    Man, do I feel hungry for one of those “gravy” sandwiches. Your description fits it to a T…that what I experienced as a child…and much later too.
    Oh,since I was a “first generation” Italian. we never heard the term “gravy”, it was always, “la salsa” in our home.

    Joe Giusto

  2. June Champagne Says:

    Dr. Iannuccilli,
    I can close my eyes smell and taste the “gravey” and meatballs in the sauce I don’t know if I relayed a story to you. As you know I married a “non-italian” as my father would say. I grew up with the smell of gravey on Sunday, how else would you have know it was Sundaymorning! I of course kept the tradition of making the “gravey” on Sunday. So when I married the “non-italian” Sunday was macaroni and meatballs. I would get up early and do the prep and make my “gravey” before breakfast so it would cook while I went to mass. Well after sometime my husband said to me, “do you have to do that before breakfast? I replied, “do what”, he says, “cook all that garlic and stuff you do? I looked at him surprised and remarked, I have been doing this since you have known me and now, after all this time, you are telling me not to do this before breakfast. Sunday is the day to make meatballs and macaroni, have them cook on the stove while I’m at mass. It wouldn’t be Sunday if I didn’t do this. I can even remember as a small child going to church with my aunts at St. Lawrence Church in Centerdale, sitting next to the the “nanna’s” and smelling the garlic and fried meatballs. What good memories. And the best part of it all is when I make the “gravey” and meatballs, I can close my eyes and time goes back to my mother’s kitchen. In fact, Sunday morning we had meatballs for breakfast (my mother always overcooked some so we had them with bread and some sauce.

  3. Carl Antonucci Says:

    Dr. Iannuccilli,

    I just started reading your great book. My mom lives in Florida and she asked me to get her a copy. I also ordered a 2nd copy for myself. I started reading some of the stories last night and could not put the book down. I am only 43 but I have great memories of my gradmother in her three decker tenament on Federal Hill. The chapter on Gravy also brough back memories and tears. I used to always dip my bread in the gravy that my grandmother made. Your description was great. I had a question about the Italian tailor in your neighborhood that you mentioned in one of the chapters. My great grand father, Carlo Antonucci, had a tailor shop on Academy Ave. I wondered what years that you are describing in this chapter? He died in 1942. He was from vasto in the Chieti region of Italy. Best, Carl Antonucci

    • Thank you for your kind and beautiful comment, Carl. I can smell that “gravy” today.
      The tailor who ‘pegged’ my pants was on the corner of Academy and Armington Avenues. He pegged them, and I almost could not put them on , when I was in George J. West Jr, High, between the years 1951-1954. So I do not believe he was the one. Do you have any pictures of the shop? I suspect I might remember his. And on what street was your grandmother’s house?
      My new site is

  4. Carl Antonucci Says:

    I have one photo of my great-grandfather inside of his tailor shop. I will scan this and send it along. My paternal grandparents, Nancy and Joseph Antonucci, lived on 54 Ring Street in Federal Hill. My maternal grandmother, Natalie DeMarco Meola, grew up on Regent Avenue. My maternal grandfather, Nicholas Meola, was a Providence Police Officer. He was the first Italian American Vice President of the Fraternal Order of Police. He also owned Nat’s Furniture which was located on Chalkstone Avenue for many years.

  5. Sharon Cogean Says:

    This was a typical Sunday in my home growing up, right down to the hot buns from Crugnales. My father went early every sunday morning for dough for pizza at night time and for the hot buns. I woke up to the same aromas of the GRAVY and always got yelled at because me and my father would sneak in and dunk a hot bun in the gravy. Mom used to worry about getting the crust from the bread into the gravy.

    Thank you so much for sharing this blog. It brings back so many beautiful memories. Wish things were the same today. 😦

  6. Susy Says:

    Your post remind me how much I love Italian sauce. Unfortunately I’m not able to cook it in the old Granny way as you Italians always try to explain.

    For this reason I look up for Italian home made products and I’ve landed on this website called Vetryna. I can say that heating up this sauces give the same perfume of Granny sauce!

    Thanks God there’s always someone that can save a desperate housewife like me! 🙂

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