Why some call whats on top of their macaroni, pasta "Sauce or Gravy" ?
It goes without saying that they are both basic words in the American vocabulary, but accurately understanding what each word really means can be the very different sometimes. Depending on what region of Italy your relatives came from (most immigrants from the North never began using the word gravy in any sense once in America). Though the term is used in all major cities, the original practice of calling "sauce" gravy started in the Long Island, New York region "Port Washington." A section of Long Island mostly made up of Italian immigrants at the turn of the century. Though some Italians did not refer to it as "sauce", only gravy depending again where their relatives came from, it became a mix of both in many area's. This term of gravy was then carried into New York City and the northern parts of New Jersey. From there, it migrated into cities such as Philadelphia, Baltimore, Boston And Chicago. Today many of the older Italians had stopped this usage opting to use the more common United States term as "sauce."
Here is somewhat an answer for fellow foodies, Italian-Americans and all Americans: I call for one and our family call it sauce. I have gotten in several discussions with many reasons why every family may have a different version of whats right and wrong, but our family calls it sauce and in Upstate NY, (Utica/Rome area to be exact where I am from,) they called any topping for macaroni, sauce period. As a matter of fact some were totally disgusted by the word gravy and would take offense by referring to it as gravy and argue about this for hours. They would get so passionate about it, many would argue they were more Italian than you are were. Gravy was something you would have on Thanksgiving with turkey but not on pasta, never, ever, perhaps the following will provide a bit more information on why it was referred to as gravy to begin with by some, but never to others. There are actual reasonings behind why indeed it is okay to also call a tomato sauce, gravy it's Whatever ...
Tomato Sauce( wikipedia version) (a marinara sauce my recipe), is any quick sauce created with only tomatoes, olive oil, garlic and other spices and no meat. It can be used for topping macaroni or pasta, chicken, beef or veal. As it is a condiment for those meats (and not cooked using the meat itself inside the sauce), it is not considered a gravy in any social or food-related sense.
So here is some accuracy on what is correct here although I believe whatever your family calls it is ok with me!
The term “meat gravy,” is used to describe any sauce that is made from any kind meat. Any sauce that had meat in it, in definition was considered a “meat gravy” is a long, slow cooking time with enhanced flavors extracted from the meat. The classic Italian-American recipes call for meatballs, sausage, pork ribs, braciole or beef, to be combined with the spices and tomato making a thicker, richer sauce which was why some referred this to a gravy, it all came down to meat in the sauce.