Ever since the immigrants started arriving from Italy to America in the 1800s, they have been bringing their food with them. Not just recipes but ingredients and techniques, and over time classic Italian dishes have been changed to suit the American palette.
This does not necessarily mean that Italian-American food is inferior in any way, it just often means it is different than traditional and classical Italian food cooked back at home. The point of this blog is not to criticize Italian-American food but to celebrate its diversity and how it is different. One of the biggest differences between classic Italian food and Italian-American is the size of the portions and the sheer amount of ingredients on the plate.
What Exactly is Italian-American Food?
At its core, Italian-American food is just like any cuisine, it is a group of seasonal ingredients that are prepared according to a recipe. Often these ingredients are not measured precisely, yet the cooks manage to produce dish after dish exactly the same.
Quanto Basta is a term used heavily in Italian-American food, it means being able to judge the correct amount of ingredients. There is no such thing as weighing flour for a pizza or some other dough, cooks just use Quanto Basta and the method allows the cook to express their own style. And it is this leeway and freedom for Italian-American chefs that gives the food such life and variety.
When we talk about Italian food many different types come to mind: pasta, pizza, grilled and roasted meals, the list goes on and on. This is because Italy was formerly a collection of individual city-states, that had their own languages and cultures, including food. In all, there were over twenty different regions producing unique food with different ingredients and methods of cooking. For those critics that cite spaghetti and meatballs as an American dish and not Italian, they are completely wrong, as it very commonly eaten in the Abruzzo region of Italy.
The Evolution of Italian Food
The evolution of traditional Italian food came with the first immigrants. These people were missing the food from their homelands and were trying to recreate classic dishes from back home. The problem was that often during these times they could not find authentic ingredients and so had to adapt core products that made up a dish.
Another big part of the evolution was that in America, restaurant chefs found that they had more freedom to create different food. They were not tied down to strict Italian recipes and any restrictions in Italian food did not apply in their new country. In fact, a dish created at the turn of the 20th Century, Pasta Tetrazzini (for a celebrated opera singer), did not exist back in Italy and was an American creation.
The whole point of Italian-American food is that it was never meant to be authentic Italian food, it was trying to be something unique. Something that was different and unique in its own way, with creative ingredients that could be found easily in America. We continue our history into Italian-American food in part two of this blog.