Italian macaroni.

Last week or so we were talking about a place called Romano’s Macaroni Grill, and I mentioned that the Italian people I knew in New York’s Little Italy called pretty much all shaped (rigitoni, farfalle, orecchiette, etc) pasta “macaroni”. It seems I’m fuckin’ nuts. I don’t think so. I remember, for certain, that these 1st and 2nd and so on generation Italian-american folks, most from S. Italy or Sicily, Called it all macaroni, wit “gravy” onit. Not the long stuff, maybe, but the shapes for sure.
Sally’s Cucina Italiano, on or around Mulberry st, rules BTW. :slight_smile: Sally is, or was, a man. I was there in the mid 60’s.
Has anyone else ever heard Italian-americans call pasta, generically, macaroni?

No, you’re not nuts. I grew up in the Little Italy neighborhood of Chicago. Everyone I ever knew called pasta in all forms “macaroni” and the “sauce” ( it still pains me to use that word, but if I don’t, non-Italians won’t know what I’m talking about ) was gravy. You were either “makin’ gravy” that day, or you weren’t. You never, ever made anything called …sauce. It was “spaghetti gravy”, if you were talking to a non-Italian then, whether it was going on spaghetti or some other macaroni.

We had, on the corner of Taylor St. and Laflin St., what we called “The Macaroni Factory”. If that was not the official store name, then I don’t remember any other name being used to describe it. It was a store front, basically, with a work room in the back. The wall that separated the front from the back was sort of like a gigantic shelf unit with diamond shaped bins, filled with all manor of shaped pastas. The counter was a glass-front affair, mostly holding spaghetti and cheeses. Spaghetti was the most commonly used shape, so naturally had the most shelf space, but it was all macaroni.

:door slams:
“What’s for dinner, Ma?”
“Macaroni. Don’t you smell the gravy?”

You could smell it, alright…from the sidewalk. The aroma drew you home. You just had to verify that it was, in fact, your Ma that was makin’ gravy and not the neighbor kid’s Ma. Yum.

Ack! Should be “all manner of shaped pastas”. Damn it…and I previewed it, too.

South Philly…Philadelphia…Italian as they come. Friends, family right off the boat:

Macaroni = generic term for all types of pasta.

Typical conversation @ 1 pm on any given Sunday:

setting: Mom is making the gravy. Dinner will be at approx 2pm.
Kid(s): Mom, what kind of macaroni are we having today?

Mom: Stop dipping the bread. Your father wants ziti.

Kid(s): Mom, I hate ziti. Can’t we have gnocchi?

Mom: Gnocchis suck up too much gravy, and we won’t have enough for tuesday and thursday.

Kid(s): Can’t we have any other macaroni besides ziti?

Mom: Run down the street and see if your Aunt has any rotelli. Stop and get some lucatelli for the macaroni.
Now…some Italians will loathe the use of both gravy and macaroni, preferring sauce and pasta (even in my neighborhood). BUT…that being said…‘macaroni’ and gravy have been commonly used in most Italian neighborhoods up and down the ol’ USA.

My Sicilian immigrant great-grandfather had a shop many years ago that made pasta in both noodle and shaped form. Our family has always referred to it as the “macaroni factory” (it is now a vacant lot on E. 143 St in Cleveland.) But in the kitchen we usually use the specific term, e.g. spaghetti, shells, rigatoni, etc. Nobody ever used the term “pasta”.

I think this is because the American public was already familiar with the word “macaroni”, and the immigrants wanted to fit in. Also, “pasta” in Italian just means “dough” and is applied to several things made from dough, whereas there is no confusion if you say “macaroni”.

On the other hand, I never heard the term “gravy” applied to tomato sauce. We always called it…“sauce”. It is my understanding that some people only call it gravy if there is meat in the sauce.

I wonder how certain Italian Americans came to call all their sauces “gravy.” Gravy is an English word derived from a misspelling of a French word. I doubt it ever migrated back to Italy, since the Italians were pretty far ahead of the English in sauce making. I believe Italians call their sauces salsa as in Salsa Marinara.

I had an Italian roomie for about a year, and he made me learn the names of all the different kinds of pasta, because “They are NOT all macaroni!!” (as he repeatedly told me). He’s from the Calabria region of Italy.

Dad was born in Sicily, Mom is Italian and grew up in the “Little Italy” of Erie, PA (where they met and got married). We called shaped pasta “macaroni” , but NEVER called the sauce “gravy”; that sounds very wrong to my Italian ears.

Well, my pop’s a Silician and in my NY house, it is pasta. Never macaroni. That’s what comes the the box with a cheese sauce packet.

I wonder if it’s really an Italian/Italian-american thing, or a generational thing. I don’t remember hearing anybody refer to “pasta” when I was a kid. Not the 1st or 2nd generation Italians or Germans or Irish. It was either a specific name (spaghetti, ziti etc) or macaroni. Except in the special case of “pasta fagiole” . I don’t thing I heard anyone use the term “pasta” outside of a cooking show until at least the mid '80s

No, that’s mac. Mac 'n cheese. It’s in my (departed) mom’s cupboard right next to the Chef Boyardee authentic spaghetti with meat sauce. And the campbell’s soups. I am not wistful about my childhood dinner table. :eek:

They eat pasta in Silicia?

In Italy as a whole, pasta is called pasta, and you put sugo on it.

For those who check in to say the Italians don’t use ‘macaroni’, rememer that the solicitation if for references to Italians who DO say ‘macaroni’.

The closer to the boat you are, the less likely you’ll say ‘macaroni’. That’s a good summary. Read my earlier post.

While I can’t speak for all Italians, it is safe to say that ‘macaroni’ is pretty American, but italians use the word, especially as the get down in generations.

“Pasta” appeared as a yuppie catch-all term in the USA in the early 1980s. We non-Italians in Boston before that either called it whatever the Prince company called it on the box, or called everything spaghetti.

I’m Italian by descent and grew up in a very Italian household - Mom and her siblings all came over on the boat and kept their Italian ways. We spoke Italian, ate Italian, read Italian newspapers, watched Italian movies, and traveled to Italy numerous times. I never in my life heard the word “gravy” to mean sauce, nor “macaroni” to mean anything except elbow-shaped pasta, until I was working at a semi-pseudo-Italian restaurant in Boston in 1993. Someone asked for macaroni with gravy and I thought he wanted elbows with the kind of gravy you put on roast beef and told him we had neither. After much confusion, I figured out that he wanted pasta with meat sauce.

If it makes a difference, we are from Northern Italy; the Veneto region to be precise. Maybe “macaroni and gravy” is a Southern or Sicilian thing. Or upon preview, I think Philster’s got it perfectly: the closer you are to the boat, the less likely you’ll say “macaroni.”

Oh, and we might have said “pasta” but more often we used the word for what shape the pasta was. Not, “Do you want pasta tonight?” It was, “Do you want rigatoni tonight?” or “Do you want penne rigate tonight?” If Mom said “We’re having pasta for dinner,” someone would surely ask which kind, since it definitely makes a difference. Some shapes go better with certain sauces than others.

“We’re having macaroni tonight” meant Kraft from a box, with a delightful sauce of orange powder.

Absolutely. No use of ‘gravy’, but allow me to mention some use of salsa (sauce), mostly when there is no tomato. In addition to that, I can tell you that in my place of origin (Rome) we make a distinction between ‘long’ pasta - spaghetti, fusilli, bucatini, ziti or whatever - and ‘short’ pasta - maccheroni, penne, ruote, conchiglie, farfalle and so on. There are, I am told, complex rules to decide between long and short pasta, that I really don’t get, but are mostly related to the kind of sugo/salsa and how much of it should be captured by the pasta shapes.
By the way, it is maccheroni, and it refers to a single particular shape, altough I realize the misspelling is too deeply rooted now. But we’re here to learn the straight dope about it, right? :slight_smile:

I wasn’t allowed to have Irish Spring soap in my house, and my friends were ostircized for dating non-Italian girls. No one said ‘macaroni’ in these families. But some other friends - and even relatives - who were farther removed from Italy toss around pasta and macroni like they are meaningless/interchangeable.

Sauce and gravy is another example. Americanization (?) led many Italians to use ‘gravy’ as a decriptor of meat sauce. In one house, it’s gravy…in the house next door, it’s sauce…and I’ve been there as everyone argued about it.

Again, while you can spot and note exceptions…‘macaroni’ and ‘gravy’ are used by Italian Americans, but the trend seems to be that it is more common as you move generations away from Italy. If you were marketting a chain style restaurant to Americans, using ‘macaroni’ in the title might be a good idea.

For other Italians: These rules apply to even the way we pronounce different dishes and cheeses. Muzzarell versus mozzarella. Rigut versus Riccota. Capagol versus capicolla. Proszut verus proscicutto.

Hey there!

I have the very same heritage but I’m not American. I’ve never heard ‘macaroni’ used generically, except on American TV. So let’s go with it being an American thing. It’s not a Southern or Sicilian thing either, bless’em.

Gravy? What, where did that come from? No way.