Italian American cuisine is a popular and delicious cuisine. It is a style of cooking adopted throughout the United States that was shaped by waves of Italian immigrants and their descendants. However, what is known in America as Italian food is often not found on the Italian table.
Pizza originated in Naples but Americans usually don’t like the original Neapolitan pizza with a crust that tends to be soggy in the middle — unlike the crisp New York Italian American version. Italian Americans continued to put new spins on the Neapolitan version. In Chicago, they created the deep-dish pizza. New Haven’s legendary Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana is famous for its white clam topping. Corporations also got into the act, including Domino’s and California Pizza Kitchen. Few foods are more popular in American and pizza is now synonymous with American cuisine.
If you go to Naples and ask for a Pepperoni Pizza – what you’ll get is pizza with peppers, because the word pepperoni in Italian sounds almost the same and, in Italy, there is no type of salami called pepperoni. In Italy, you would need to ask for pizza with sausage or spicy salami.
It is traditional in Campania to make a soup with green vegetables and meat, especially pork, called Minestra Maritata, which is the translation for wedding soup or married soup. It is not what Americans call “Italian Wedding Soup”.
Garlic bread- no Italian restaurant will ever serve that to you. Instead bruschetta is served as an appetizer topped with fresh chopped tomatoes or rubbed with garlic and extra virgin olive oil.
In Italy, they make meatballs and sometimes small meatballs can be found in lasagna, but no Italian family serves spaghetti with meatballs for dinner.
No one in Italy knows what marinara sauce is. There may be different variants of such a sauce that depend on regional or family traditions (with or without garlic, with or without onions, with or without carrots, with or without a pinch of sugar to counter acidity, etc.) but tomato sauce is simply called “salsa” or “sugo” depending on whether you’re from northern or southern Italy. What’s commonly called marinara sauce in America is tomato sauce in Italy that is the base for pizza, pasta, etc., but without garlic or onion or herbs that are not fresh basil.
Parmigiana is made with eggplant, tomato, caciocavallo cheese and basil. No chicken or veal. At best, in some parts of Italy, they alternate the layers of eggplant with prosciutto or beaten eggs for added flavor.
Here are some classic Italian American recipes for you to try:
New York Style Pizza
Authentic Italian pizza is far less cheesy than its American counterpart and definitely won’t have a cheese-filled crust.
- 1 teaspoon active dry yeast
- 2/3 cup warm water (110 degrees F/45 degrees C)
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 (8 ounce) can tomato sauce
- 1 pound shredded mozzarella cheese
- 1/2 cup grated Romano cheese
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
- 1 tablespoon dried oregano
- 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
Sprinkle the yeast over the surface of the warm water in a large bowl. Let stand for 1 minute, then stir to dissolve. Mix in the flour, salt and olive oil. When the dough thickens, turn out onto a floured surface and knead for 5 minutes. Knead in a little more flour if the dough is too sticky. Place into an oiled bowl, cover and set aside in a warm place to rise until doubled in bulk.
Preheat the oven to 475 degrees F (245 degrees C). If using a pizza stone, preheat it in the oven as well, setting it on the lowest shelf.
When the dough has risen, flatten it out on a lightly floured surface. Roll or stretch out into a 12 inch circle and place on a baking pan. If you are using a pizza stone, you may place it on a piece of parchment while preheating the stone in the oven.
Spread the tomato sauce evenly over the dough. Sprinkle with oregano, mozzarella cheese, basil, Romano cheese and red pepper flakes.
Bake for 12 to 15 minutes in the preheated oven, until the bottom of the crust is browned when you lift up the edge a little and the cheese is melted and bubbly. Cool for about 5 minutes before slicing and serving.
Pasta alla marinara (“mariner style” pasta) does exist in Italy, but it’s usually prepared with shellfish or olives—sometimes both. In the United States, the term “marinara” refers to the simple tomato-based “red” sauce that’s a standard in Italian-American cooking.
- 3 garlic gloves, minced
- 1/2 large onion, chopped fine
- 1 carrot, chopped fine
- 1 celery stalk, chopped fine
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- One 6 oz can tomato paste
- Four 28 oz containers Italian chopped tomatoes
- 1 teaspoon each dried oregano, dried basil, crushed red pepper and dried thyme.
- Salt and pepper
Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a Dutch oven and saute the vegetables and garlic. Add the tomato paste. Fill the empty can with water and add it to the pot.
Add tomatoes. Simmer, uncovered, for 1 hour.
Add 2 teaspoons salt and 1 teaspoon each black pepper and the dried oregano, dried basil, crushed red pepper and dried thyme.
Simmer, uncovered, for another hour or until the sauce thickens.
- 2 cups plain bread crumbs
- 3 tablespoons fresh flat-leaf parsley, minced
- 1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 4 eggs, beaten lightly or egg whites or egg substitute
- 2 chicken breasts, halved
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 2 cups Homemade Marinara, recipe above
- 1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
- 8 slices of mozzarella cheese
Combine breadcrumbs, parsley, 1/2 cup of grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, a pinch of salt and pepper to taste. Place bread crumb mixture, flour and eggs in three separate dishes.
First, dredge chicken breast halves in flour, making sure to shake off any excess. Dip in beaten eggs and, like the flour, make sure to let any excess drip off. Finally, dredge in the breadcrumb mixture to coat well. Allow breaded cutlets to rest for a few minutes on a plate before frying.
Heat olive oil in a large skillet on medium-high heat. Fry chicken until golden. Be sure to turn for even cooking, about 4-5 minutes per side. Remove from the hot oil and onto a baking sheet lined with paper towels.
To bake, preheat oven to 375˚F. Spread about 1 cup of Marinara sauce in the bottom of a 9 by 13-inch casserole dish. Arrange the breaded cutlets on top of the sauce. Top with 1 cup of Marinara, covering each piece. Sprinkle with Parmigiano. Cover the dish with foil and bake, 15 to 20 minutes, or until bubbling.
Uncover and place a slice of mozzarella on each cutlet. Bake for another 5 minutes or until the cheese melts.
“Shrimp scampi” is a dish where large shrimp are sautéed with garlic, wine, butter, herbs and red pepper flakes, then served over pasta or rice. It is a staple in Italian-American restaurants, most likely the descendant of an Italian recipe that involves langoustines sautéed in wine, olive oil, onion and garlic. Langoustines are a type of tiny lobster, called scampi in Italy. Italian-American cooks adapted the recipe but kept the old name.
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 lb medium shrimp, peeled, deveined, tails attached
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- ¼ teaspoon crushed red chili flakes
- 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 2 shallots, finely chopped
- ½ cup white wine
- ¼ cup fresh lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon lemon zest
- 1 lb thin spaghetti, cooked
- ¼ cup roughly chopped parsley
Heat 4 tablespoons butter and the olive oil in a 12″ skillet over medium-high heat; season shrimp with salt and pepper and add to the skillet. Cook, turning once, until beginning to turn pink, about 3 minutes. Transfer to a plate; set aside.
Add chili flakes, garlic and shallots to the skillet; cook until soft, about 3 minutes. Add wine, lemon juice and zest; cook until reduced by half, about 5 minutes.
Add pasta, reserved shrimp and remaining butter; toss until evenly combined. Transfer to a serving platter with the cooked spaghetti; sprinkle with parsley.
This great appetizer comes to you from Little Italy. However, if you’re looking for mozzarella sticks in Italy, according to Fodor’s, there is only one place you’ll find them—McDonald’s.
- 2 eggs, beaten
- 1 1/2 cups Italian seasoned bread crumbs
- 1 ½ cups vegetable oil for deep frying
- 1 (16 ounce) package mozzarella cheese sticks or a 16 oz block cut into 4 by 1/4-inch sticks
- Marinara Sauce
Cover a baking sheet with parchment paper.
In a shallow bowl, beat the eggs.
In another shallow bowl place the breadcrumbs.
One at a time, coat each mozzarella stick in the egg mixture, then in the breadcrumbs and place on the prepared baking sheet. Repeat the procedure with all the coated cheese sticks (double coat), dip the sticks in the egg again and then in the breadcrumbs.
Return to the baking sheet and place the baking sheet in the freezer until all the sticks are frozen. I usually leave them there overnight.
In a large heavy saucepan, heat the oil to 350 degrees F. Fry until golden brown, about 30 seconds. Remove from heat and drain on paper towels. Serve with warm marinara for dipping.
You can also bake the mozzarella sticks. Place the frozen sticks on an ungreased baking sheet; drizzle with a little olive oil. Bake, uncovered, at 400°F for about 8 minutes turning them over after 4 minutes. Allow to rest for 3-5 minutes before serving.
These famous cookies, also known as Tricolor Cookies, Neapolitans, Venetians or Seven Layer Cakes, can always be found in Little Italy. They were invented in New York by Italian immigrants who designed them to invoke the flag of their motherland.
- 1- 8 ounce can almond paste
- 1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 1 cup sugar
- 4 eggs, separated
- 1 teaspoon almond extract
- 2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 10 drops green food coloring
- 8 drops red food coloring
- 1- 12 ounce jar apricot preserves
- 6 ounces semisweet chocolate
Heat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease three 13 x 9 x 2-inch baking dishes; line with waxed paper; grease paper.
Break up paste in large mixer bowl with fork. Add butter, sugar, egg yolks and extract and beat with the mixer until fluffy, 5 minutes. Beat in the flour and salt.
Beat egg whites in a separate bowl until stiff peaks form. Fold into the almond mixture with a wooden spoon or silicone spatula.
Remove 1-1/2 cups batter; spread evenly into one of prepared pans. Remove another 1-1/2 cups batter to small bowl; tint green with coloring and spread in the second pan. Tint remaining 1-1/2 cups of batter red. Spread in remaining pan.
Bake 15 minutes or until the edges are lightly golden; cake layers will each be about 1/4 inch thick. Immediately remove cakes from the pans onto large wire racks. Carefully peel off waxed paper. Cool.
Place red layer on an upturned jelly roll pan. Heat preserves; strain; spread half of the strained preserves over the red layer. Top with the white layer. Spread with remaining preserves. Cover with the green layer, top side up.
Cover with plastic wrap. Weigh down with large wooden cutting board, heavy flat tray or large book. Refrigerate overnight.
Melt chocolate in the top of a double boiler over hot water. Trim cake edges even. Cut cake crosswise into 1-inch-wide strips. Frost the layer side of one strip with chocolate. Turn strip on its side and frost the other (green) side. Let chocolate dry. Cut into 1-inch pieces. Repeat with remaining strips. Makes 6 dozen. Cookies freeze well.
November 16, 2015 at 8:18 am
Mmm, the chicken parmigiana looks lovely!
November 16, 2015 at 8:46 am
Licking piggy lips. Now I’m hungry and my miniature pot belly is rumbling. *need* some of this food – especially the pizza please. XOXO – Bacon
November 16, 2015 at 9:04 am
Good place to start! Thanks Bacon.
November 16, 2015 at 11:29 am
I love eggplant parmigiana over meat versions, but have never had good luck making it at home. Either the eggplant ends up undercooked or a mushy mess. Had not heard of rainbow cookies. Do you know if spumoni ice cream is Italian american too?
November 16, 2015 at 11:54 am
That is why I bake the eggplant instead of frying it before assembling in the casserole. Here is a link to how I make it: http://jovinacooksitalian.com/2014/04/22/earth-day/
Spumoni was invented in Naples but made popular in the US by the Italian immigrants. You may have heard the cookies referred to one of its other names.
November 16, 2015 at 8:50 pm
Reblogged this on ravenhawks' magazine and commented:
Nice to know the history of some of my favorite foods.
November 17, 2015 at 7:44 am
Me too – thanks for liking history also.
November 16, 2015 at 10:30 pm
Reblogged this on My Meals are on Wheels.
November 18, 2015 at 7:25 am
Never seen Rainbow cooks before. Something new to try and prepare!!
January 22, 2016 at 3:04 pm
Thanks for sharing this great post about the American spin on Italian food! I didn’t realize that what we call Italian is actually so different from what they actually serve in Italy! I love eating at restaurants that serve this kind of cuisine, so I love our American variation!
January 22, 2016 at 3:12 pm
Thank you so much for your comment Lillian. Much appreciated. Yes, actually the world loves Italian American cuisine and I have heard from many of my European readers who love it as much as you do.