Italian American Food History

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Frank Sinatra in Mosaic

ITALIAN-AMERICAN FOOD  … A Brief History

Italian food is one of the most popular ethnic foods in America. In fact, it’s so popular that Italian food authorities have become concerned with what they call “Italian sounding” or “fake Italian food products.” According to one study, authentic Italian food — that’s food imported from Italy — accounts for only about one-third of Italian food purchased in the United States. The remainder is foods that have Italian names, but are not authentic Italian products.

Authentic Italian food products are available at specialty food stores in the United States –most notably in Italian food markets in cities with large populations of Italian Americans. Italian food producers say that Italy’s high standards, the importance of freshness and the cost and time of exporting have limited authentic Italian food products in the American market. However, the Internet has narrowed the gap, as more Italian products become available online.

Many say the trend toward Italian food started in the late nineteenth century as Italian immigrants began to make their homes in America. The waves of immigrants from Italy continued passing through Ellis Island, traveling further west, yet holding on to their cultural identity through their cooking.

One of the earliest dishes attributed to an Italian, and still extremely popular today, is Chicken Tetrazzini. It was created in the early 1900s in honor of Luisa Tetrazzini, the operatic soprano known as The Florentine Nightingale. The famous muffuletta sandwich of New Orleans, named after the muffuliette rolls baked in Sicily, was created in 1906 for Sicilian workers. The ever popular Philly cheese steak was invented by an Italian, and the specialty fish stew of San Francisco, cioppino, originated from the Italian fish stew ciuppin, made by the Genoese fishermen who settled there.

Soldiers returning from Italy after World War II brought with them their desire for the foods of a grateful but war-torn nation. Enterprising immigrants opened restaurants providing the soldiers with the foods they had developed a craving for and introduced the soldiers’ families to spaghetti and meatballs, sausage and peppers, ravioli, lasagna, manicotti, baked ziti and pizza.

Throughout the 50s and 60s, Italian food was becoming a part of the American diet and delicatessens offered salami, capocollo, mortadella, pepperoni, mozzarella and provolone, while spumone was a popular dessert, and variations of minestrone abounded. During the 70s and 80s, many Italian-inspired regional dishes became popular in America — Eggplant Parmigiana, Fettuccini Alfredo, Penne alla Vodka, Shrimp Scampi, Chicken Piccata, Chicken Cacciatore, Steak Pizzaiola, Osso Buco, Veal Marsala, Pasta Primavera, Fried Calamari, Saltimbocca, Caponata, Calzone and Stromboli. Grissini, semolina bread, risotto, broccoli rabe, arugula, radicchio, Gorgonzola, Parmigiano Reggiano, ricotta, olive oil, pesto, prosciutto, sun-dried tomatoes, pizzelle, cannoli, zeppole, torrone, gianduja, panettone and espresso were common additions to meals.

The 90s heralded a mass influx of Italian ingredients and foods, with bocconcini, mozzarella di bufala, ricotta salata, fontina, Asiago, Taleggio, Grana Padano, Pecorino Romano, caciocavallo, mascarpone, ciabatta, crostini, bruschetta, focaccia, panzanella, polenta, gnocchi, pancetta, specialty pestos, black and white truffles, balsamic vinegar, extra virgin olive oil, dipping oils, pasta — of all shapes, sizes, and colors, numerous pasta sauces, various types of pizza, cappuccino, flavored syrups, biscotti, tiramisù, granita and gelato.

So far, the twenty-first century has brought more attention to frittata, timballo, panini, Insalata Caprese, Burrata, Arancini, homemade specialty pastas, flavored balsamic vinegars and oils, artisan breads and cheeses and, although not a food, but food related — the barista. 

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SUNDAY SAUCE

aka GRAVY

GREAT MOMENTS in ITALIAN FOOD HISTORY

1492 … Christopher Columbus discovers the Americas .. Soon thereafter, foods like Potatoes  (Gnocchi), Tomatoes  (Sugo di Pomodoro), and Corn (Polenta) are exported from the New World to Italy.

1880s  … The first 5 Million Italian Immigrants arrive in America and eventuall invent one of the the World’s Best Loved Cusines “Italian-American”

1889  …  Raffael Esposito invents Pizza Margherita in Naples, Italy honor of Queen Margherita ..

1891  …  Florentine baker Artusi Pelligrino writes the first modern Italian Cookbook .

1905   … America’s 1st ever Pizzeria, Lombardi’s is opened by Genaro Lombardi on Spring Street in New York .. Lombardi’s Pizzeria is till there, and is the 1st and oldest Pizzeria in the United States ..

1906  … Barbetta Restorante opens in the Theater District in New York .. It’s still open and run by the founders daughter Laura Maioglio ..

1908  … John’s of 12th Street opens on East 12th Street in the East Village .. Charles Lucky Luciano would whack (Murder) someone outside the restaurant one day.

1917  …  Alfredo di Lelio invents Fettuccine Alfredo at his restorante in Rome  .. Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks eat it on their honeymoon in 1926 and love it, and spread the word back in Hollywood, and the word spreads. Within a year, a recipe for Fettuccine Alfredo is in cookbooks in the States . Fettuccine Alfredo becomes one of America’s favorite dishes and is a bug part of Italian-American cuisine and is served in Italian restaurants all over America, where millions of dishes of it have been enjoyed by enthusiastic customers over the years. The recipe created by di Lelio is made with fresh fettucine egg noodles and the sauce is made by tossing butter and grated Parmigiano Reggiano together with the just cooked pasta. Italian restaurant owners in America make it a bit differently and their devoted customers just love it. In Italian restaurants in America the same fresh fettuccine egg pasta is used, but the sauce is different, it’s made of heavy-cream and the grated Parmigiano Reggiano instead of butter and Parmigiano, either way is equally tasty.

AMERICA’S GREATS OLD SCHOOL ITALIAN RESTAURANTS

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RAO’S

East Harlem , NEW YORK

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JOHN’S

EAST 12th STREET , NEW YORK NY

Original DECOR SINCE 1908

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GINO’S

Lexington Avenue , New York , NY

“Sadly, has closed, but it was one of America’s greatest Italian restaurants ever, so we just want to keeps its memory alive. Basta!”

 

FOR MORE GREAT ARTICLES of ITALIAN AMERICAN FOOD and CULTURE 

CLICK HERE !

FOR NewYork Italian

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2 thoughts on “Italian American Food History

  1. HISTORY OF ALFREDO DI LELIO CREATOR IN 1908 OF “FETTUCCINE ALL’ALFREDO” (“FETTUCCINE ALFREDO”), NOW SERVED BY HIS NEPHEW INES DI LELIO, AT THE RESTAURANT “IL VERO ALFREDO” – “ALFREDO DI ROMA” IN ROME, PIAZZA AUGUSTO IMPERATORE 30

    With reference to your article I have the pleasure to tell you the history of my grandfather Alfredo Di Lelio, who is the creator of “Fettuccine all’Alfredo” (“Fettuccine Alfredo”) in 1908 in the “trattoria” run by his mother Angelina in Rome, Piazza Rosa (Piazza disappeared in 1910 following the construction of the Galleria Colonna / Sordi). This “trattoria” of Piazza Rosa has become the “birthplace of fettuccine all’Alfredo”.
    More specifically, as is well known to many people who love the “fettuccine all’Alfredo”, this famous dish in the world was invented by Alfredo Di Lelio concerned about the lack of appetite of his wife Ines, who was pregnant with my father Armando (born February 26, 1908).
    Alfredo di Lelio opened his restaurant “Alfredo” in 1914 in Rome and in 1943, during the war, he sold the restaurant to others outside his family.
    In 1950 Alfredo Di Lelio decided to reopen with his son Armando his restaurant in Piazza Augusto Imperatore n.30 “Il Vero Alfredo” (“Alfredo di Roma”), whose fame in the world has been strengthened by his nephew Alfredo and that now managed by me, with the famous “gold cutlery” (fork and spoon gold) donated in 1927 by two well-known American actors Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks (in gratitude for the hospitality).
    See also the website of “Il Vero Alfredo” .
    I must clarify that other restaurants “Alfredo” in Rome do not belong and are out of my brand “Il Vero Alfredo – Alfredo di Roma”.
    I inform you that the restaurant “Il Vero Alfredo –Alfredo di Roma” is in the registry of “Historic Shops of Excellence” of the City of Rome Capitale.
    Best regards Ines Di Lelio

    IN ITALIANO

    STORIA DI ALFREDO DI LELIO, CREATORE DELLE “FETTUCCINE ALL’ALFREDO” (“FETTUCCINE ALFREDO”), E DELLA SUA TRADIZIONE FAMILIARE PRESSO IL RISTORANTE “IL VERO ALFREDO” (“ALFREDO DI ROMA”) IN PIAZZA AUGUSTO IMPERATORE A ROMA

    Con riferimento al Vostro articolo ho il piacere di raccontarVi la storia di mio nonno Alfredo Di Lelio, inventore delle note “fettuccine all’Alfredo” (“Fettuccine Alfredo”).
    Alfredo Di Lelio, nato nel settembre del 1883 a Roma in Vicolo di Santa Maria in Trastevere, cominciò a lavorare fin da ragazzo nella piccola trattoria aperta da sua madre Angelina in Piazza Rosa, un piccolo slargo (scomparso intorno al 1910) che esisteva prima della costruzione della Galleria Colonna (ora Galleria Sordi).
    Il 1908 fu un anno indimenticabile per Alfredo Di Lelio: nacque, infatti, suo figlio Armando e videro contemporaneamente la luce in tale trattoria di Piazza Rosa le sue “fettuccine”, divenute poi famose in tutto il mondo. Questa trattoria è “the birthplace of fettuccine all’Alfredo”.
    Alfredo Di Lelio inventò le sue “fettuccine” per dare un ricostituente naturale, a base di burro e parmigiano, a sua moglie (e mia nonna) Ines, prostrata in seguito al parto del suo primogenito (mio padre Armando). Il piatto delle “fettuccine” fu un successo familiare prima ancora di diventare il piatto che rese noto e popolare Alfredo Di Lelio, personaggio con “i baffi all’Umberto” ed i calli alle mani a forza di mischiare le sue “fettuccine” davanti ai clienti sempre più numerosi.
    Nel 1914, a seguito della chiusura di detta trattoria per la scomparsa di Piazza Rosa dovuta alla costruzione della Galleria Colonna, Alfredo Di Lelio decise di trasferirsi in un locale in una via del centro di Roma, ove aprì il suo primo ristorante che gestì fino al 1943, per poi cedere l’attività a terzi estranei alla sua famiglia.
    Ma l’assenza dalla scena gastronomica di Alfredo Di Lelio fu del tutto transitoria. Infatti nel 1950 riprese il controllo della sua tradizione familiare ed aprì, insieme al figlio Armando, il ristorante “Il Vero Alfredo” (noto all’estero anche come “Alfredo di Roma”) in Piazza Augusto Imperatore n.30 (cfr. il sito web di Il Vero Alfredo).
    Con l’avvio del nuovo ristorante Alfredo Di Lelio ottenne un forte successo di pubblico e di clienti negli anni della “dolce vita”. Successo, che, tuttora, richiama nel ristorante un flusso continuo di turisti da ogni parte del mondo per assaggiare le famose “fettuccine all’Alfredo” al doppio burro da me servite, con l’impegno di continuare nel tempo la tradizione familiare dei miei cari maestri, nonno Alfredo, mio padre Armando e mio fratello Alfredo. In particolare le fettuccine sono servite ai clienti con 2 “posate d’oro”: una forchetta ed un cucchiaio d’oro regalati nel 1927 ad Alfredo dai due noti attori americani M. Pickford e D. Fairbanks (in segno di gratitudine per l’ospitalità).
    Un aneddoto della vita di mio nonno. Alfredo fu un grande amico di Ettore Petrolini, che conobbe nei primi anni del 1900 in un incontro tra ragazzi del quartiere Trastevere (tra cui mio nonno) e ragazzi del Quartiere Monti (tra cui Petrolini). Fu proprio Petrolini che un giorno, già attore famoso, andando a trovare l’amico Alfredo, gli disse che lui era un “attore” della cucina romana nel mondo e gli consigliò di attaccare alle pareti del ristorante le sue foto con i noti personaggi soprattutto dello spettacolo, del cinema e della cultura in genere che erano ospiti di “Alfredo”. Anche ciò fa parte del cuore della bella tradizione di famiglia che continuo a rendere sempre viva con affetto ed entusiasmo.
    Desidero precisare che altri ristoranti “Alfredo” a Roma non appartengono e sono fuori dal mio brand di famiglia.
    Vi informo che il Ristorante “Il Vero Alfredo” è presente nell’Albo dei “Negozi Storici di Eccellenza – sezione Attività Storiche di Eccellenza” del Comune di Roma Capitale.
    Grata per la Vostra attenzione ed ospitalità nel Vostro interessante blog, cordiali saluti
    Ines Di Lelio

    • Thank you so much for your comment and info on your Grandfather Alfredo Di Lelio. I appreciate your comment, insight, and facts of the Dish Fettuccine Alfredo and how it relates to your Nonno.

      Mille Grazia,

      Daniele

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