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Gravy Wars Revisited – My Review of the Winning Gravy!

A few weeks back, I went spoon-to-spoon with Una Mamma Italiana in a Sunday Gravy War. After all of the votes were tallied, Una Mamma ended up being top tomato. Today, I finally had the chance to make a pot of the winning gravy, step by step. The verdict is in…..and Una Mamma’s Sunday Gravy is definitely a winner!

Rather than go over each step of the gravy making method (you can see the recipe first hand by clicking here), I thought it would be best to highlight was makes Una Mamma’s gravy so different than mine.

While I start my gravy process with frying up some garlic in olive oil, this recipe calls for garlic AND two onions (I only use onion powder as a flavoring). So right out of the gate you’re dealing with some great aromatics. This is also when the wild card ingredient comes in to play…the butter. Now I’m sure that some of you, as I, were stumped with the butter ingredient. Who puts butter in red gravy? You’re actually using it to sauté the onions and garlic, so it makes total sense and adds nice flavor.

The next difference that I noticed was adding the tomato paste to the sautéed veggies BEFORE adding the tomato purée. This helps break down the paste into a flavorful brownish sauce that incorporates nicely with the tomatoes…and this is a nice trick that I think I will start to use with my own recipe.

And the final difference is adding the meat at an early stage. I like to first have all of the seasonings and tomatoes marry together for a good 45 minutes or so prior to adding the meats. This allows the sweetness of the tomatoes to really shine through, while allowing the meat flavors to add a tremendous accent to the meal. I call this the Clemenza method (all of you Godfather fans will relate). Una Mamma’s recipe, on the other hand, gets the addition of the seared meats involved immediately. This really allows the fats and flavors of the meats to take over, which makes this a true, hands down, no denying, by-the-book MEAT GRAVY.

Final thoughts – my family and I give Una Mamma thumbs up all around! We did find the gravy to be a bit thinner than mine (my addition of a can of sauce thickens it up a bit), however it was very flavorful with an amazing aroma. The thinner gravy isn’t a bad thing, it just means [to me] that I would know ahead of time that I would be aiming for this particular taste and texture. Of course I would never turn my back on my own gravy – this would be like turning my back on my own child. But, like all good parents, you are always ready to welcome your friends’ children into your house to play as well. And I guarantee you that I will be serving up Una Mamma’s Sunday Gravy again in my house.

Bravo, Una Mamma!


And the Sunday Gravy Wars winner is…


The scores have been combined and tallied and a big congratulations and a tip of the stirring spoon goes to my colleague, Una Mamma Italiano! While I am very proud of my gravy recipe, there is no doubt that Una Mamma’s is rich in both taste and tradition, and I look forward to making her recipe and posting a review of it very soon!
The whole point of this gravy war was to realize the signifiance of the Sunday Gravy tradition. And no matter which recipe looks closest to yours, any one who keeps the tradition going is the real winner. Let us never lose our cultural heritage that boasts such things as family meals and awesome food!
Try our gravy recipes. Dare to compare them! Why not submit your own recipe to us? We love to hear about other paisani that love Italia as much as we do.
So thanks for all the votes and Buon Appetito!

A Sunday Gravy War!

You know what happens when very passionate cooks duke it out in the kitchen? Those of us standing on the sidelines win!

Be prepared to win big in the latest war between the Mamma and the Cucina. These dueling cooks are about to go spoon to spoon in Gravy Wars! Yes, inspired by my book (pause for a little pat on the back), Una Mamma Italiana and Cucina Domenico are preparing to unveil their secret gravy (or sauce, if you will) recipes to the entire universe. They want you to vote on whose recipe is best. It’s a virtual taste-test. You will be asked to judge based on your interpretation of the info presented by our beloved bloggers of cookery.

This, my friends, is the crux behind “Gravy Wars | South Philly, Foods, Feuds & Attytudes!” You don’t need to be Italian, a professional chef, or a native of Philadelphia to be sucked into legitimate kitchen competition. All you need is a passion for food and a mild interest in preparing it, and before you know it, you too will become competitive and possessive in the kitchen.

It truly is a phenomenon to behold! 

Oh, if only we could get the Mamma and the Cucina to dole out their signature sauces to the entire social media world at some place like the Superdome. Ah, maybe someday. Alas, we’ll have to settle for the online battle.

Be sure to get your friends, relatives, co-workers, Farmville competitors, and acquaintances of all types to weigh in on this match. Who knows? With enough hype, we may just get these two to Louisiana yet!
– Lorraine Ranalli

NOW, Let the Gravy Wars begin!!!!


Let me begin by saying that Sunday gravy is a lot like a marriage – the more love you put into it, the better it gets. A good gravy recipe perfects itself over time, and my recipe is definitely age old. My great grandmother taught it to my father, who taught it to me, and NEVER with a recipe! So like Dom, I had to endure the sheer agony of writing down my measurements and step by step instructions. I kid you not, people, this took me a week. It’s hard stuff when you’re assuming that some gravy crazed paisan out there is reading this recipe and isn’t quite sure what a ‘pinch’ or a ‘shake’ of something is. (who am I kidding – neither do I). The fact is, there are not any words to describe the attention to detail that goes into my “Nonni’s” recipe for red gravy. 

This is appropriately called gravy because of the fact that it is derived from the juices of MEAT. In our case, we’re talkin pork shoulder and meatballs. Check out the recipe, copy it, change it, whatever you please – just don’t miss out on the opportunity to start a Sunday gravy tradition in your family! Buon Appetito!

3 28 oz. cans whole peeled tomatoes (preferably San Marzano)
1 6 oz. can tomato paste
Extra virgin olive oil (enough to sear the pork and then to barely cover the onions)
3 TB butter
2 lb. pork shoulder
2 onions, chopped
8-10 cloves garlic, sliced
2 cans water
Salt and pepper to taste
1 TB sugar
2 TB Italian Seasoning

Season the pork shoulder with salt and pepper. Start with enough e.v.o.o. in a pan to sear the pork on both sides. Remove the meat and set aside. Throw in the onions (then the garlic about 5 minutes later) adding enough oil to just barely cover the onions. It looks like a lot but it is the emulsifier you need to get this sauce good and creamy once blended. Add the butter at this point to aid in simmering the veggies. *disclaimer: Lorraine Ranalli, Gravy War QUEEN, might be judging me right about now, but all I can say is WATCH OUT! because butter is quite possibly my second favorite thing to cook with (the first, of course, being my hubby)!

Mix in the tomato paste and cook for 5 minutes. Add the cans of tomatoes and the water. Mix together then blend with hand blender until smooth. Put the meat back in. (at this point, you would add your meatballs too, if you made them. I like to fry my meatballs and sear the pork in the same oil. Then I would set aside BOTH meats until after the sauce is blended. Then add the meats back to the sauce pot.)

Season the sauce with salt, pepper, Italian seasoning, and sugar. Simmer 2- 3 hours, or until the meat is cooked thoroughly. 1/3 hour before serving, double check your seasoning and make adjustments accordingly.

How to serve?
Over pasta and with a big chunk of Italian bread to soak up the gravy with. Is there any other way?


I have made countless pots of gravy since I was literally a kid, but only in the past few years have I really zeroed in on a specific recipe. However, I have never followed a written recipe. It was always from memory, or whatever mood I was in that day. Although I found it a bit painstaking (as I believe this should be a free-form dish), I documented every measurement while making this version of my gravy. 

First, let me address the whole gravy versus sauce issue. There are countless opinions on the subject. When I hear “sauce,” I think Marinara. Quick. Delicious, nonetheless…but quick.You heat your oil and garlic, add your tomatoes, onions, seasonings, maybe even some meat or even shrimp, and in 20-30 minutes you have a tasty meal. Gravy, on the other hand, is a bit more complex. My guess (and this is only a guess) is that the term comes from the flavors of the meats that are incorporated. The “other” gravies (beef, turkey, chicken and pork) are, of course, made from meat drippings. So when you add your meats to your red sauce and let it simmer for a few hours, the meat flavors the sauce to make it a red gravy. But the main difference to me is the time, patience and love that you put in to your gravy (I was gonna go with blood, sweat and tears, but that would be gross). You treat your pot of gravy as if it were a child. You raise it and nurture it, from it’s infant stage until it matures.

I always add meatballs to my gravy, usually with either sausage, boneless country spare ribs, or brasciole (thin steak stuffed with a breadcrumb mixture and rolled up). I also prefer to bake my meatballs and sausage, instead of the traditional frying. It’s just as tasty, healthier for you, and frees up some quality time.

Before we get into the actual recipe…you’ll notice that I suggest adding two baby carrots to the gravy. This is an old trick that I learned a few years back. The carrots add a natural sweetness to the gravy, while at the same time they soak up some of the acid from the tomatoes.


2 28-oz cans crushed tomatoes
1 29-oz can tomato sauce (plus one can full of water)
1 6-oz can tomato paste with Italian herbs
olive oil
1/4 cup finely chopped onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tblspn Italian Seasoning (marjorim, thyme, rosemary, savory, sage, oregano and basil)
1 tblspn sugar
Salt and pepper to taste
1 beef bouillon cube
2 baby carrots
1 cup red wine(whatever you have opened)
1 loaf crusty Italian bread

Drizzle bottom of sauce pot with olive oil to coat on medium-high heat. Add chopped onion; stir for 1 minute or until onion is translucent. Add minced garlic; stir for about one minute. Add the two cans of crushed tomatoes, one can of tomato sauce plus one can of water, and one can of tomato paste; stir. Add Italian seasoning and sugar; stir. Heat and occasionally stir until slowly bubbling. Add bouillon cube, baby carrots and splash of wine; stir. Add salt and pepper to taste. Lower heat, slightly cover and simmer for one hour. Add cooked meats; simmer partially covered for 2-3 hours, stirring occasionally. Sip and enjoy the remaining cup of wine as you dip some bread into the gravy while it’s cooking.

Serve over your choice of pasta and enjoy!

One last note…if you decide to try either of our Sunday Gravy recipes, we would be delighted. But if you decide to alter our recipes, and add your own flavors or ingredients, we would be overjoyed. Experiment, adjust the flavors to your likings, and most of all have fun. And be sure to share your version of the recipe with us.


Crabs and Macaroni

July 27, 2009 Entrees, Menu, Pasta 5 Comments


When I was a kid growing up in South Philly, there were certain foods that we would always look forward to and enjoy during the summer. There was Pop’s Water Ice, with real chunks of fruit floating in a refreshing cup of icy goodness. There was the pretzel man who would push his wagon up and down the streets, ringing his bell and yelling “soft pretzels!!!” and he would slather the mustard on your pretzel with a paint brush. There was the Mr. Softee ice cream truck that knew to come around the neighborhood blaring it’s famous jingle just as you were finishing up dinner. And then there was my favorite summertime meal – spaghetti and crabs. Just the smell of crab gravy (spaghetti sauce cooked with crabs instead of meatballs for you non South Philly readers) brings me back to when I was a kid – sitting in my parents’ living room on a hot Sunday afternoon, listening to Harry Kalas and Richie Ashburn call a Phillies game on the tv or radio, anxiously waiting to crack a claw or two. These days, I have to settle for the neighborhood Rita’s Water Ice (good, but not Pop’s), there is no more neighborhood pretzel man, and Mr. Softee….well, he now comes around just as we’re starting to eat dinner (damn that jingle!!!). But I still make it a tradition to have at least one Sunday Crabs and Macaroni dinner each summer.

What’s so unique and special about this dish is the amazing flavor that comes together when you cook the crabs in the sauce. Words can’t describe how good it tastes and smells. The sauce also adds an incredible tenderness to the crab meat. Most people I know would call it Spaghetti and Crabs. When my mom would make crab gravy, she would serve it with thin spaghetti and we would dig into the crabs afterwards. They were the reward for eating your entire plate of pasta. She would also use blue crabs that my Grandfather would either catch or buy fresh and send over to our house. I decided on a slightly different approach when I started making my own crab gravy. First, I prefer using either ziti or rigatoni. That’s why I went with the more generic “Crabs and Macaroni,” but feel free to use whatever pasta you like. Second, I like to add a can of crab meat to the sauce for extra flavor*. I also like the fact that you get some meat into the mix with your pasta. Why wait until the end to enjoy the taste? Third, while it’s more expensive, I prefer to use pre-cooked snow crabs that you can find at the seafood section of the supermarket. I always felt that the smaller blue crabs involved a lot of effort with little payoff. The snow crab legs, however, have plenty of meat with much easier access. Feel free to use whatever choice of crab you like best!

Now, if you decide to make this meal (and I encourage you to do so), there are a few things that you should be forewarned about.
1. This is a very messy meal. All shame goes out the window. Shells will be flying and sauce will be splashed. There’s no way around it. With that in mind…
2. Keep plenty of napkins on hand. You can even go rib-shack style and just keep an entire roll of paper towels at the table.
3. Do not wear a white shirt. You will walk away from the table looking like you were involved in a crime scene.
4. No matter how much you wash them, your hands will smell like crabs for the rest of the day. It’s a special meal…savor the funk.

* If you decide to use a can of crab meat, be sure to buy the large 16-oz cans of crab meat that are located in the seafood section of your supermarket. While they can be a bit pricey at times, they are packed with 100% crab meat. The smaller cans that are found near the cans of tuna are packed with about 1/3 water, so you are getting your money’s worth with the larger cans.

Now get crackin’!

1 tblspn olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1 29-oz can tomato sauce
1 28-oz can crushed or pureed tomatoes (depending on your preference), plus 1-1/2 cans of water
1 6-oz can tomato paste
2 tblspn sugar
1 tblspn Italian Seasoning
1/2 tspn Old Bay Seasoning
1 1-lb can of crab meat
2-lbs crabs

Heat olive oil in a large pot over medium-high heat until hot, but not smoking. Add garlic, heat for 30 seconds. Add tomato sauce, crushed tomatoes, tomato paste and water; stir. Add sugar, Italian Seasoning, and Old Bay; stir. Bring to boil, the lower heat to medium-low. Add can of crab meat and crabs; stir and partially cover. Stir occasionally. Cook on medium-low for 1-1/2 to 2 hours.


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