Italian-American cuisine

Italian-American pizza with pepperoni, mushrooms, olives and peppers

Italian-American cuisine is a style of Italian cuisine adapted throughout the United States of America. Italian-American food has been shaped throughout history by various waves of immigrants and their descendants, called Italian Americans. As immigrants from the different regions of Italy settled throughout the various regions of the United States, many brought with them a distinct regional Italian culinary tradition. Many of these foods and recipes developed into new favorites for the townspeople and later for Americans nationwide.

Prominent American chefs and cooks working in the Italian-American tradition include Giada De Laurentiis, Mario Batali, Michael Chiarello, Frank Pellegrino, Rocco DiSpirito, Tom Colicchio, and Lidia Bastianich.

Traditional influences


Italian-American food is based primarily on the culinary traditions of Southern Italian immigrants, although a significant number of Northern Italian immigrants also came to the United States and also influenced this style of cuisine to some extent, most of whom arrived in the United States during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. During this time, many Italians came from Naples and Sicily and moved to large American cities, such as New York City, Philadelphia, Chicago, St. Louis, Boston and San Francisco; the immigrant cuisine is thus largely derived from Neapolitan and Sicilian cuisine, and is particularly associated with these cities.

Italian-American often identify foods with their regional heritage. Southern Italian staples include dry pasta, tomato sauce, and olive oil, whereas Northern Italian staples include foods such as risotto, white sauce and polenta.[1]

Over time, through an increased appreciation of Italian cuisine in the United States, as well as increased imports into the United States from Italy, there has been a push towards producing more authentic dishes, which use techniques and ingredients that are more native to Italy. American cuisine has readily received innovations from Italy, such as espresso and specialty coffee drinks (now ubiquitous in American life), tiramisu, and Nutella.

Popularity of Italian-American cuisine

Italian-American food and Mediterranean cuisine has been highly influential in the American diet. It is one of the top three cuisines in the United States, according to the National Restaurant Association.

Prof. Donna Gabaccia in "Italian Americana" Winter and Summer 1998 volumes, no. 1 & 2 states that "Food and cooking are powerful expressions of our ties to the past and to our current identity."

"Italian, Mexican and Chinese (Cantonese) cuisines have joined the mainstream. These three cuisines have become so ingrained in the American culture that they are no longer foreign to the American palate. According to the National Restaurant Association study, more than nine out of 10 consumers are familiar with and have tried these foods, and about half report eating them frequently."[2]

Rated high on the list of popular, or trending, items in the survey include: Mediterranean flatbread, ciabatta bread, espresso and specialty coffee drinks.[3] Pizza and spaghetti are also common dishes in the United States, however, they are often presented in much different forms than in Italy.

Italian-American cuisine and wine

There is a strong association between Italian-American cuisine with the history of winemaking in the United States.

Many Italian wines were first introduced to the United States in the late 1700s. Italian vintners were first brought to the state of Florida in 1766 by Dr. Andrew Turnbull, a British Consul at Smyrna. Philip Mazzei, an Italian physician, and close friend of U.S. President Thomas Jefferson, also helped to cultivate vineyards, olives, and other Mediterranean fruit with the help of Italians.

In later years, American viticulture was more influenced by the Italian diaspora of the transatlantic migrations, which steadily brought more Italians to America from the 1870s through the 1920s. Most of these Italians entered the East Coast of the United States through Ellis Island, whereas many of those quickly passed through to the American West Coast, where California still had its famous “Gold Rush”. In California, Italian-Americans were inspired by expanse of rolling hills and fertile fields. Prior to Prohibition starting in 1919, many wineries had made their start: Seghesio, Simi, Sebastiani Vineyards and Foppiano began in the late 19th century and remain in operation today. Others included Giuseppe Magliavacca’s Napa winery, Secondo Guasti’s Italian Vineyard Company and Andrea Sbarbaro’s Italian-Swiss Colony.

From 1919 until the Repeal of Prohibition in 1933, many Italian-Americans struggled to keep their vineyards going. Many remained through providing sacramental wine to the Catholic Church or grape juice to the general market. These few holdouts can be credited with salvaging America’s viticulture heritage, in an industry that values the longevity and tradition of the vine and its produce.

Today, Italian-American wineries prove a powerful asset on the world market. Some of these companies include: Atlas Peak (also known as Antinori), Cosentino, Dalla Valle, Delicato, Ferrari-Carano, E & J Gallo Winery, Geyser Peak (also known as Trione family), Louis M. Martini, Mazzocco, Robert Mondavi, Monte Bello Ridge, Corrado Parducci, Pedroncelli Winery, Robert Pepi, Picchetti Brothers Winery, Rochioli, Rafanelli, Rubicon Estate Winery (also known as Francis Ford Coppola Presents), Sebastiani Vineyards, Signorello, Sattui, Trinchero (most often under the Sutter Home brand), Valley of the Moon, Viansa, etc.

Italian-Americans today appreciate a variety of wines, ranging from California wine and American wine, to imported Italian wine; with classics, such as Chianti (from Tuscany, Italy), generic red or white table wine (often called vino da tavola), to high-end "Super Tuscan" style wines such as Tignanello. Chianti, when first introduced to the United States, was widely generic; however, after a decline in the overall quality of Chianti during the mid-20th century, improvements in recipes and techniques led to a variety of Chianti, ranging from simple to very high-end Classicos.


Pastas and grains


Vegetable dishes

Meats and eggs


Seafood dishes

Soups and stews

Breads, sandwiches, and savory baked goods


See also


  1. Montany, Gail (19 June 2011). "Lidia Bastianich on the quintessential Italian meal". The Aspen Business Journal. Retrieved 1 January 2012.
  2. Hensley, Sue, National Restaurant Association. Article/ News Release, "International Cuisine Reaches America's Main Street," 10 August 2000.
  3. Stensson, Anita, National Restaurant Association. Article/ News Release, "Small is Big on Restaurant Menus..." 29 November 2007.
  4. Tyler Florence (17 December 2014). "Chicken Francese". Retrieved 1 January 2015.
  6. Pro, Johnna A. (December 4, 2003). "Immigrant's success was struck when pizzelle iron was hot". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Retrieved 6 January 2016.
  7. "Pizzelle Partyin' like it's 1392". Philadelphia City Paper. 2010-12-17. Retrieved 6 January 2016.

Further reading

There are many styles of cookbooks available in English, both on the subjects of traditional and authentic "Italian cuisine" and "Italian American" food.

Online reference:"Preserving the Italian American Kitchen."

On Italian American Winemaking

On Related topics of migration, immigration and diaspora

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