Italian American food is the culinary outcome of the cuisine of the Americans with Italian origin. Wine pairing, a culinary custom, wherein food is generally consumed along with a compatible wine for a meal, is one of the most distinctive features of the Italian American cuisine, apart from the very popular spaghetti dinner. The Italian American recipes are inclusive of variants of the original Italian dishes and also new dishes that were invented by the immigrant Italians to suit the American palate. An appreciable feature of the Italian American cuisine is that it dynamically incorporates any new inventions from the indigenous Italian cuisine and also invents variations to match American tastes. Nutella, Espresso and tiramisu belong to the genre of such Italian American Foods. Chianti is an everyday wine of the cuisine.
Popular Italian American foods include American Chop Suey, Spaghetti with meatballs, Eggplant Parmesan, and Polenta. Italian American food has gained immense popularity mainly in the Twin Cities region of Minnesota, though it is well-liked by the people of New Orleans (for muffuletta sandwich), St Louis (for toasted ravioli) and other areas of North America. It is conveniently prepared at home, though it is easily available commercially too.
History of Italian American Cuisine
The Italian American food has its roots, to a large extent, in the Southern Italian cuisines of Sicily and Naples, from the late 19th and early 20th century. Traditionally the Italian American recipes of this region include dry pasta, olive oil and tomato sauce recipes. To a lesser extent, the Italian American cuisine also shares its origin with the Northern Italian cuisine which introduced rice and butter to the cuisine. Boston and New York were one of the earliest cities of America where the hybrid cuisine developed. According to 20th Century culinary theorists, the consumption of meat, particularly beef, was one of the main features of the Italian Americans due to, presumably, the easy availability of superior quality meat for the Italian immigrants in America. The cuisine has blended seamlessly with the mainstream American cuisine, and with the passage of time Italian American Food is no longer considered a foreign food by many Americans.
Commonly Used Ingredients in Italian American Recipes
Italian American food commonly included dry and fresh pasta, butter, tomato sauce and olives. Meat, particularly beef, was used to make a number of Italian American recipes. Usage of coffee, savoiardi and hazel nut was seen in the cuisine of the contemporary age. Red Sauce is characteristically used for the preparation of many commercial foods of the cuisine. Breads of many kinds, the most popular preparation of which is the pizza, are also a favorite of not only the Italian Americans, but also people from other ethnicities. Wine is an important element of the Italian American cuisine. Table wine (ordinary budget wine), fine wine (superior wine) are all consumed as beverages popularly served with food. Usage of a variety of cheeses, vegetables, pork, chicken, eggs, sausages, and fish and seafood is commonly seen in Italian American food.
Methods of Cooking Adopted By the Italian American Cuisine
Italian American food generally consists of dishes that are prepared with the freshest of available ingredients. Most dishes usually take a long time to cook. Fresh pasta and vegetables are preferred. The Italian American recipes are found to prescribe a mix of vegetables, comparable to the Cajun trinity of bell peppers, celery and onions for many dishes of the cuisine. Battuto, and Crudo are combinations of fresh ingredients and they are used in a number of Italian recipes. Browning fresh vegetables and consuming them with light seasoning is a favorite practice of the Italian Americans. Italian American food containing meat, mostly involves usage of cured meat. As Italian American cooking is mainly focused on freshness of ingredients, it is very beneficial for the human health.
Traditional/Festive/ Convenience Italian American Recipes
Traditional – The Italian American food is traditionally the food of the South Italian cuisine consisting of staple items like pasta dishes, and dishes using tomato sauce and olive oil. The part of the cuisine that has its roots in the Northern Italian cuisine includes rice recipes, recipes using fresh pasta, and butter. Beef recipes can also be included in the list of traditional recipes as the animal ingredient has been in use since a long time by this fusion cuisine.
Convenience -This enjoys significant popularity, not only amongst Italian Americans but also amongst people from other ethnicities. Canned food, ready-to-eat meals, and foods designed for convenient cooking like to ready-to-heat-and-eat spaghetti are easily available commercially. Pizzas from pizza parlors are worth a mention here
Specials/Festive – Baked ziti(dish made with tube-shaped pasta), Lasagna( pasta dish), Peas and Eggs, frittata( An omelet enriched with vegetables or other ingredients), Porketta(also known as Porchetta is a celebratory food), Alfredo Sauce( a Parmigiano Reggiano cheese sauce), Sunday gravy( arguably a tomato sauce with infusion of meat served on Sundays and special occasions) ,Baccala( a celebratory cod fish dish made for Christmas or Lent), Cioppino ( a fish stew), Wedding soup( a sausage or meatballs, and pasta saoup with a chicken broth base), Pizzagiena( ( Easter Pie), Struffoli ( also known as Struf, it’s a sort of a Christmas cake) are some of the foods from the Italian American cuisine that belong to the category. Tignanello, a Super Tuscan wine, is a superior quality wine.
Gourmet- Fried mozzarella cheese balls, Gourmet, Pizza, Gourmet Eggplant Parmigiano, Veal Cacciatore, Roasted Chicken with olives and pancetta are some of the gourmet recipes of the Italian American cuisine.
A meal as per Italian American Cuisine
- Lunch – Italian American food for lunch includes Prima Del Pranzo ( appetizers like garlic bread loaf, fried mozzarella, clams, meatballs or calamari, shrimp cocktail, antipasto ), zuppa( soup made of fresh ingredients of the day), Insalata( salads), mini grinders, sandwiches, pizza, Farinacei( pasta dishes), and meat dishes
- Dinner – Italian American Recipes for dinner include recipes for meat antipasto(Salami, Proscuitto, ham), vegetables marinade, cheese( mozzarella or provolone), soups, pasta dish with meat and vegetable accompaniments, and dessert( fresh fruit and/or pastries).
Culinary Etiquette and Eating Habits as Per Italian American Cuisine
Italian American Food may be eaten with fork and knife, wherein the fork is held in the right hand and the knife in the left hand. Food is passed left. In restaurants for requiring attention from waiters, it is recommended to contact them and not call out to them loudly. The Italian American recipes included a more lavish usage of meat, pasta, rice, butter, corn, coffee and sugar than their indigenous Italian counterparts. Christmas is celebrated with specials like ravioli, snails, and celery soups. Olive oil, garlic, mushrooms and nuts are used significantly by the cuisine.
Popular Chefs of Italian American Cuisine
- Michael Chiarello- celebrity chef specialized in Californian Italian cuisine, and host of shows Easy Entertaining with Michael Chiarello ( food Network) and NapaStyle(FineLiving Network)
- Frank Pellagrino – Restaurateur and famous actor
- Rocco DiSpirito- New York based chef