Spaghetti and meatballs, garlic bread, pepperoni pizza. While tasty, these are not “authentic” Italian recipes. Does this make it wrong to call them Italian-American dishes then? No! In fact, the beauty of Italian cooking in America is that it reflects change, taking the very best of Italian food and making it “authentic” for America.
Taste Over Time
The arrival of Italian influence on American food started with the over 7 million Italians who emigrated to America between the late 1800s and World War I. During this time, travel was limited in Italy and these immigrants brought with them the regional diversity in cooking that is still prevalent in Italy today.
As new arrivals in America, however, these Italians from different regions found themselves living – and cooking – next to each other. With influences from Florence to Rome and Bologna to Naples, Italian cooking began to evolve as recipes were shared, tips were traded, and new meals were created.
The evolution of Italian cooking continued when U.S. soldiers arrived back after World War II, bringing a new wave of desire for Italian food. The generations of Italians who now called America home rose to this demand by opening new Italian-inspired delis and restaurants. As prosperity grew in the U.S., meals changed further, such as the inclusion of meat on a more regular basis versus only for a special occasion.
Cooking continued to evolve in the decades that followed as Italian ingredients and foods were easier to come by throughout the nation, both in restaurants and in supermarkets.
Through the years, because of this direct Italian influence, new recipes have become the basis for the authentic Italian-American cooking we love today!
Taste in Tradition
While some Italian-American cuisine may deviate from food made in Italy, the roots of all dishes remain true. The spirit of Italian cooking focuses on centuries of tradition and an approach that centers on simplicity, freshness, and love for the meal – hallmarks that make Italian cooking some of the most beloved meals in the world!
- Flexible flavors
The underpinnings of all Italian cooking are the ingredients used in each meal: olive oil, garlic, and herbs. There are certainly other ingredients used regularly but these staples, whether in a pasta, polenta, or risotto, serve as a base to bring the best out of Italian recipes. Building good, deep flavor – whether Italian or Italian-American – comes from the first step of using olive oil, garlic, and herbs as a foundation for each dish.
- Freshest vegetables
A trademark of Italian meals is the use of fresh, seasonal vegetables. The flavors are drawn out through different cooking techniques to ensure the most appetizing dishes. Healthy vegetables can include tomatoes, eggplant, dark leafy greens, asparagus, and artichokes. Whether as part of the entrée or side dish, marinated, sautéed, or roasted, fresh vegetables are important to all Italian cooking.
- Cherished cheeses
A variety of cheeses offer flavor and texture to Italian meals. Versatility and variety dictate what type of cheeses will be used in which recipe and the choices are almost limitless! Crumbly, runny, grainy, and moist, Italian cheeses each have a place in every course of the meal, including after dinner with a hunk of country break. Italian-American use of cheese may be different but the result is the same: delicious!
- Passionate approach
A passion for food, so prevalent in Italy, is probably a result of Italian life revolving around the kitchen. Just as in Italian-American cooking, the delight comes in understanding the elements of each meal, care in preparation and cooking, and presentation of the meal. But it’s more than just the meal – passion for all genuine Italian eating is about ambience, experience, community, and family.
For such a small country, Italy (less than half the size of Texas) has made a big impact on food in America. While Italian recipes have changed since arriving in America, the spirit of the meal remains the same. Incorporating the best ingredients, infusing flavor with a passionate approach, and sharing meals with joy – this is how incredible Italian meals are made. Salute!