Our culinary journey to find out exactly what Italian-American food is continues in part two of the series. In part one we discovered that the food in America being created by Italian cooks differed at first because they could not find the same ingredients that they used back home.
Then there was a migration of Italian-American restaurant chefs to change the dishes as they were allowed more freedom in the kitchen to express themselves. There comes a point where some American produce is superior to what was used back in Italy and so the original recipe was altered to reflect this. For instance, why cook tiny meatballs from veal when great American beef could be used?
Seasonal American Produce
Firstly, the point must be made that good American seasonal produce can match any ingredients, and indeed there is some produce grown and reared in the United States that does not actually exist in Italy. Today America seems to be going crazy on farmers markets, and organic produce.
And the supermarket shelf-stable foods that forced the original Italian-Americans to use lower quality tinned ingredients are now not the only option. And perhaps this new food should be called American-Italian food and not the other way around.
Spaghetti and Meatballs
Unless you live in the Abruzzo region of Italy, spaghetti and meatballs should never be found on the same plate.
That is of course if you live in Italy, but in America – who cares? If succulent American beef is ground then combined with mouthwatering ingredients and cooked in a deep and rich tomato sauce, then why should it not adorn a plate of spaghetti?
Famous Italian-American restaurants all over America are now creating dishes that are very much American with an Italian twist. Maialino in New York is a classic example of this, the chefs create superb food utilizing the best seasonal American produce that is prepared simply. One dish in particular highlighted this, it consisted of cavatelli with sausages, pesto and preserved tomatoes. This dish would never be found in Italy, and you would not really call it Italian-American food, it is just creative cooking that happens to be in America using some Italian techniques.
The Italian-American Legacy
Today Italian-American food is hardly recognizable from the food the early Italian immigrants made when they first came to America. They were forced to adapt classic home-cooked dishes as they simply could not source the right ingredients.
Then there followed the introduction of store bought goods that were designed to keep for a long time on supermarket shelves. This was the only way the cooks could buy Italian tomatoes and the like, in tins and imported.
Finally, today, with the freedom granted to chefs in the kitchen, Italian-American cuisine is a thing of beauty. It does not pretend to be authentic and traditional Italian food. But what it does represent is fine cooking using America’s top produce. Surely there is nothing wrong with this, and if the cook decides to place an Italian slant to his creativity then so be it.