October is Italian Heritage Month, previously called Italian-American Heritage Month.

It’s time to celebrate the accomplishments of Italian Americans, which in our case means the food.

Beginning some 200 years ago, Italian immigrants in the U.S. with wonderful Mediterranean flavors and their home cuisine.

Some of those recipes got enhanced with American ingredients, including lots of meat, not affordable in the Old Country). Here are some favorite dishes that are not authentic Italian.

Whether from Italy or Italian American, we love Italian food!

1. Caesar Salad

This salad was invented in by Caesar Cardini of San Diego. He started a restaurant just over the border in Tijuana, Mexico during Prohibition, in order to serve alcohol. Here’s the history of Caesar Salad.

2. Cioppino

There are numerous seafood stews made along Italy’s coast line, but this version was invented by Italian-American fishermen in San Francisco.

3. Chicken, Meatball Or Veal Parmigiana

Eggplant parm originated in Sicily, but Italian-Americans adapted it to different meats, which were easily affordable to them in the U.S. (photo #1: Chicken Parmigiana).

4. Garlic Bread

A loaf of bread, sliced mostly through and then spread spread with butter or oil and minced garlic is then toasted in the oven. But it’s definitely an American creation. In Italy is bruschetta, individual slices of bread, brushed with olive oil, with garlic and herbs, is its parent.

5. Italian Dressing

In Italy, salad is served with oil and vinegar. Adding garlic, herbs and an emulsifier is American (photo #2).

6. Fettuccine Alfredo

This rich dish, tossed the pasta, butter, cream and parmesan, was invented at a restaurant in Rome as Fettuccine all’Alfredo. However, it didn’t migrate much beyond Rome: You won’t find it at a restaurant elsewhere. Thanks to Italian-American cookes for spreading the recipe. Here’s the history of Fettuccine Alfredo.

7. Marinara Sauce

In the U.S., marinara sauce is made from crushed canned tomatoes, olive oil, onions, garlic and herbs. It is the American version of sugo di pomodoro (tomato sauce), which is made from the same ingredients plus basil.

In Italy, sugo alla marinara, which originated in Naples, means “made in the style of the sailor,” or “mariner’s sauce.” It indicates a sauce used with a shellfish dish. It’s a similar sauce that adds oregano and sometimes anchovies, capers and olives.

Neapolitan marinara sauce is believed to have originated in the mid-16th century, when Neapolitan ships returned from the the Americas with tomatoes. A possibly apocryphal story references how sailors’ wives would start a quick sauce when they saw their husbands’ boats returning [source].

8. Muffuletta

This hero-type sandwich was invented in New Orleans by Sicilian immigrants.

9. Neapolitan Ice Cream

While layered ice cream exists in Italy (think spumoni), bricks of chocolate, vanilla and strawberry together was popularized in America and named after the Neapolitan-immigrant-run ice cream shops that sold it (photo #5).

8. Pepperoni Pizza

Italian-style pizza is different from the American variety. In Italy, less is more: less cheese and just one or two ingredients. Common Italian toppings include anchovies, corn, olives, prosciutto and sausage. Pepperoni, while an Italian sausage, is an American addition (photo #3). Pizza pockets: definitely all-American.

10. Rainbow Cookies
Those three-layered cookies in Italian pastry shops were invented in the U.S. in the early 1900s.

11. Shrimp Scampi

This is splitting hairs, but scampi is the Italian name for a small member of the shrimp family, langoustines. In the U.S., large shrimp were available, and were used in a dish called Shrimp Scampi—or, Shrimp Shrimp. In Italy, langoustines sautéed in butter/olive and garlic is simply called Scampi.

12. Spaghetti and Meatballs

This Italian classic is actually “faux” Italian. Few people in Italy had the money to serve large meatballs. Little meatballs were used in some dishes, but not pasta. This dish was invented in the U.S., where beef was plentiful (photo #4).

If you find any of these dishes in Italy, it’s because they were brought back to Italy from the U.S.!

There are more Italian-American dishes, of course. Sausage, peppers and onions on a roll. Sunday Sauce. Perhaps Baked Ziti, and Penne Alla Vodka.

We love them all.


[1] While Eggplant Parmigiana came from Sicily, the use of meat-based parm occurred in the New World, where even low-income people could afford to add chicken, meatballs and veal (photo © MackenzieLtd).

Wishbone Italian Dressing
[2] Born in the U.S.A.: Italian dressing (photo © Wish-Bone).

[3] Pepperoni pizza is an Italian-American favorite. (photo © Tablespoon).

[4] Those luscious, large meatballs? Strictly American (photo © Delicious Shots | Blogspot).

[5] Neapolitan ice cream was created in the U.S. by Neapolitan immigrants (photo © P. Schemp | Wikipedia).



THE NIBBLE Blog – Adventures In The World Of Fine Food

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