Italian American Food History


Frank Sinatra in Mosaic


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. 







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.


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East Harlem , NEW YORK

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Original DECOR SINCE 1908



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 NewYork Italian




Marcella Hazan Recipe Ragu Bolognese



by MARCELLA HAZAN is Considered by Many To Be The BIBLE of ITALIAN COOKING


Bolognese Meat Sauce

for about 6 servings

1 tablespoon vegetable oil
3 tablespoons butter plus 1 tablespoon for tossing with the pasta
1/2 cup chopped onion
2/3 cup chopped celery
2/3 cup chopped carrot
3/4 pound ground beef chuck, not too lean
salt & freshly ground black pepper
1 cup whole milk [or 2 %]
Whole nutmeg for grating
1 cup dry white or red wine 
1 1/2 cups canned imported Italian plum tomatoes, cut up, with their juice
1 1/4 to 1 1/2 pounds pasta
Freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano at the table

Put the oil, butter, and chopped onion in a heavy-bottomed pot and turn the heat to medium. Cook and stir until the onion is translucent. Add the celery and carrot and cook for about 2 minutes, stirring to coat the vegetables with fat.

Add the meat, a large pinch of salt, and some freshly ground pepper. Break the meat up with a fork, stir well, and cook until the meat has lost its raw color.

Add milk and let simmer gently, stirring frequently, until it has bubbled away completely. Add a tiny grating, about 1/8 teaspoon, fresh nutmeg and stir.

Add the wine and let it simmer away. When the wine has evaporated, stir in the tomatoes. When they begin to bubble, turn the heat down so that the sauce cooks at the laziest of simmers, with just an intermittent bubble breaking through to the surface. Cook, uncovered, for 3 hours, stirring from time to time. If the sauce begins to dry out, add 1/2 cup of water whenever necessary to keep it from sticking. At the end, there should be no water left, and the fat must separate from the sauce. Taste for salt.

Toss with cooked, drained pasta and the remaining tablespoon of butter. Serve freshly grated cheese at the table.

 THIS RECIPE For BOLOGNESE MEAT SAUCE Is From MARCELLA HAZAN’S ESSENTIALS of CLASSIC ITALIAN COOKING Which is Considered by Many to be The BIBLE of ITALIAN COOKING, and Marcell Hazan The Julia Child of Italian Cooking .. Vey True! And this recipe for Ragu Bolognese is probably of all the great recipes published by Hazan, Ragu Bolognese the # 1 Most Popular and Loved of all … 

We losted Marcella this year, the great doen of Italian Cooking passed away at age 89. Her Memeory live on in her books and her recipes like this Ragu Bolognese and every time some cooks and serves it. Bravo Marcella and R.I.P.   ….



The Journal of Italian Food Wine & Travel Says That Daniel Bellino-Zwicke’s BOLOGNESE SAUCE RECIPE Is THE BEST in AMERICA “We Agree”




Sunday Sauce is excerpted from Daniel Bellino-Zwicke’s upcoming book “Sunday Sauce”   Due for Release Novoember 2013 …

When a meal centered around a Sunday Sauce is announced, one can have visions of Blissful Ecstasy at thoughts of eating Pasta laden with Italian Sausages, Savory Meatballs, Beef Braciola, and succulent Pork Ribs. All this has been slowly simmered to culinary perfection. Yes just the thoughts can enrapture one into a Delightful Frenzy of the Most Blissful Feelings of smelling, seeing, and consuming all the ingredients, the Sausages, Meatballs and Gravy. Yes a Sunday Sauce can and does have such effects on one’s mind, body,  and soul. And, I do not want to sound prejudice, but this is pure fact, it is the Male of the Italian-American species who Love The Sunday Sauce in all its form, far more than the  female sex.  True! Meatballs too! And Italian-American men and boys Love and hold  oh-so-dare, their Meatballs, Sunday Sauce, Sausage & Peppers,  and Meatball Parm Sandwiches.

  The  Sunday  Sauce that  my mother  would make was with Meatballs and Beef Braciole. My memories are vivid watching my mother stuffing the Braciole with  garlic, parsley, Pecorino Romano, and Pignoli Nuts,  then  tying the bundles with  butchers cord to hold  the Braciole together as they slowly simmered in the Gravy.  Another fond memory was helping my mother roll and shape the Meatballs.






“Ronzoni Sono Buoni,” if you are Italian and grew up in the New York area in the great decades of the 1960’s and or 70s you know the slogan. We Italians do love our past, we’re weened on it, it’s the main staple of our diet. Many are fanatical about and love it so, the must have it several times a week. I’m one. Pasta, covered in a wide variety of sauces and part of some soups, Pasta Fagole (Pasta Fazool), in some Minestrone’s, Pasta & Peas, and Pasta con Ceci. Yes, we are weened on it. Mommy gave me, my bothers and sister Pastina coated in a bit of butter and Parmigiano when we were just toddlers  and every so often I have to pick up a box of Ronzoni Pastina, as I love and crave it still, and of late as with many my age, you start crazy things you loved as a child, thus my stints with Pastina. “Ronzoni Sono Buoni,” it means, Ronzoni is So Good, and that it is. This brand of Pasta, born in New York City at the turn of the 20th Century has been a mainstay of not only Italian-Americans of the East Coast but, for all. For years before the surge of many a imported pasta product in the U.S. Ronzoni, was not the only game in town for Macaroni, there was the Prince and Creamette, as well, but ronzoni dominated the market and though I don’t have stats, I would wage to say that 85 to 90 % of all commercial pasta sold in the New York, New Jersey, and Philadelphia areas was Ronzoni, the pasta in the bright blue boxes, Ronzoni Sono Buoni. God I wonder how many plates and bowls of Spaghetti, Ziti and other Ronzoni pastas I ate over the years, starting with Pastina as a toddler  and moving to Spaghetti with Tomato Sauce or Meatballs, Baked Ziti, Stuffed Shells and more. Oh stuffed shells, they bring back memories of my mother who loved them. We had them often, along with Lasagna made with Ronzoni Lasagana. You don’t see Stuffed Shells around that much any more, they used to be on many a restaurant and even more home menus. There popularity has waned, but every once and a while I’ll pick up a box of Ronzoni large shells, just for the purpose of bringing back those memories of mom making them and me loving them as  a child. I’ll make a batch of tomato sauce, cook the Ronzoni Shells, and stuffe them with ricotta and Parmigiano, bake them in tomato sauce, and “Voila” Stuffed Shells of days gone by. I do the same with a Pastina as I still love the dish so, dressed with butter and fresh grated Parmigiano Reggiano. Yum, delicious little pleasure you can whip up in minutes and bring back versions of your youth. All with some butter, Parmigiano and a box of ronzoni Pastia. That’s Ronzoni, every bit a part of my life and youth as  a Slinky, Etch-A-Sketch, The Three Stooges, Saturday Morning Cartoons, and all the favorites of my youth, “Ronzon Sono Buoni” it’s so good.