Born and raised “South Philly Italian” in the suburbs of Philadelphia, author Lorraine Ranalli is a  media personality and communication strategist. Best remembered for her years on KYW Newsradio, B-101, and Talkradio 1210 WPHT, Lorraine currently hosts Cucina Chatter, an entertaining syndicated radio talk show that embodies her passions: faith, food, and family.

When Lorraine’s not cooking up fodder for broadcast or print, she’s in the kitchen cooking up family favorites. Such was the case when the Gravy Wars concept came to fruition. Ageeta set in as Lorraine bore the self-inflicted burden of preparing yet another almost-seven-fish Christmas Eve dinner, La Vigilia. Realizing that such martyrdom was as unnecessary as it was amusing, she began to reflect on the many similar genetic quirks. Thus, Gravy Wars was born.


From the city that brought us Rocky, cheese-steaks, and soft pretzels, comes

Gravy Wars | South Philly Foods, Feuds & Attytudes…

…a humorous narrative about the Italian-American culture, told from a South Philly perspective. You’ll laugh out loud as you read the truth about Italian traditions and superstitions. Plus Gravy Wars is peppered with more than 65 scrumptious original recipes to help you win your own culinary competitions.

Best-selling author, Lisa Scottoline calls Gravy Wars “Charming and heartwarming, and an authentic echo of growing up Italian-American. Ranalli is the real deal, and it shows!”

Preface – Gravy Wars: A Live Broadcast

The preface describes a radio bit as it unfolded during the morning drive program of a major Philadelphia radio station where Lorraine was co-hosting with Chris McCoy. The gravy subject was brought up and Chris called Mrs. Ranalli, instigating a challenge between mother and daughter. Proceeding with the description of the on-air gravy contest, this and the opening chapters set the stage for the stories in the book.

Chapter I – An Eye For Taste

The first chapter opens with a discussion of the age-old Philly region debate over the use of the term gravy vs. sauce. It is the only place in the book where the truth is revealed—that gravy is a term unique only to South Philly Italians. Lorraine offers theories as to how the term came to fruition. Subtitles in this chapter offer advice for following the recipes in the book.

Chapter II – How Wars Are Started

Dialogue around the Sunday dinner table offers readers a taste of typical family dynamics. In addition to character traits, the “big secret” is divulged in this chapter—that the main difference from one pot of gravy to another is largely attitudinal. 17 family gravy and meat recipes follow How Wars are Started.

Chapter III – Breeding

Insight into the self-image and traditions of Italian immigrants who settled in Philadelphia in the early part of the twentieth century is revealed through the introduction of Lorraine’s fraternal grandparents, their struggles, and their legacy. From language barriers and economic difficulties to a sense of family and community, most Americans will identify with this nostalgic account. Eight impressive meals that can be prepared without much effort are included at the end of this chapter. They’re referred to as Old Standbys.

Chapter IV – Once Removed; Migrating to the Suburbs

As the title suggests, this is the story of a family’s big move out of the city—a whole four miles away—during the second half of the twentieth century. With amusing sarcasm, Lorraine offers a detailed description of the “Little South Philly Italy” in which she was raised. No longer able to walk to a relative’s house, transportation by auto, although still novel, had become a necessity. Six “heavy duty” pasta recipes accompany this chapter. They are the special pasta dishes that are served when the whole family gets together.

Chapter V – Malocchio; Stay Outta My Kitchen!

Every culture has superstitions that distinguish it from other cultures. They can be regarded as something to fear or something to laugh about. Chapter five offers a subjective historical explanation of the many traditionally Italian superstitions, including the most dreaded malocchio, or evil eye. Like recipes, Italians disagree on either the meaning or history of these superstitions. Malocchio also addresses the consequences philandering Italian men have to face. For this reason, side dish recipes are included in chapter five.

Chapter VI – “Fungu” Shui

Hiding behind poetic license in the assumption that most readers will know the meaning of the first word in the title of this chapter, Lorraine does not offer a translation. However, feng shui, the term obviously being mimicked by the chapter title, is defined. As though you are sticking to plastic slipcovers, you will adjust you posture while reading this hilarious description of the interior décor typical of Italian-American homes in the early 1970s. Pride in decorating ranks right up there with food preparation in this culture, so the recipes included are listed under the category Italian Soul Food.

Chapter VII – From Velour to Valor

From Velour to Valor recounts Lorraine’s experience as a celebrity judge during a “sandwich make off” at Philadelphia’s swanky Bellevue Hyatt Hotel. Describing a chef’s dejection to having lost one of two awards demonstrates the extreme competitiveness and pride that is indicative of Italian men, not just women. Because this chapter’s setting is a sandwich contest, a dozen Panini, Pizza and Stromboli recipes are included.

Chapter VIII – Dolce Vita

Italians do not serve dessert. Instead, they prepare a sweet table. Nine tempting recipes, which will entice readers to consider living the “sweet life,” follow a self-deprecating account of martyrdom in the kitchen. This chapter mocks a prideful resistance to boxed cakes.

Chapter IX – One Fish, Two Fish, Crostaceo is Still Fish! La Vigilia

Italians are known for their traditional seven fish feast on Christmas Eve, but is this really an Italian tradition? Several theories are argued, but the fact that Italians serve an abundance of food to their guests is never disputed. Observing that the farther anyone strays from his birthplace the more diluted family traditions become, this chapter evaluates the metamorphosis of a traditional Christmas Eve.

Chapter X – Silence of the Lamb

Curiously enough, Lorraine’s parents never established a customary Easter Sunday dinner. She admits that she was only vaguely familiar with Italian customs at Easter until conducting research and interviews for this book. Responding to Lorraine’s inquisition as to why her family wasn’t raised eating lamb on Easter Sunday, Mrs. Ranalli responded, “Go ask your father.” Mr. Ranalli, it turns out, was just a boy when a sunny spring day on a farm became an indelible memory that inadvertently created in him a permanent aversion to lamb. Silence of the Lamb describes that fateful day. Three recipes that are an Easter tradition in the Ranalli family follow the story.

Chapter XI – Ciao! Hello, Goodbye, and What’s to Eat?

The wit that is laced throughout this book is wrapped up in the closing chapter. It takes you right into the glossary by addressing semantics, specifically, the word “ciao,” which in Italian can mean hello or goodbye. The English pronunciation is chow, the slang term for food, which, ironically meshes with the theme of the book. Chapter eleven offers sage advice for interacting with Italian-Americans. It concludes with One for the Road—an original cocktail recipe.


Italian-American vernacular varies as greatly as the many dialects in Italy. Although each is based on actual Italian words, pronunciations and, frequently, the meanings are lost in translation. Glossary terms are listed according to their South Philly pronunciation. Two parallel columns offer the corresponding Italian word and the translation or definition.