By- Claudia Quesito
The Italian cuisine is known, loved, and reproduced worldwide—and sometimes it becomes … muddled. In the US, in particular, there are a few dishes known as Italian which are definitely not Italian.
We’re not just talking about a natural adaptation to local taste processes, like with very creative pizza toppings. We’re talking about things that are considered to be “Italian dishes” that no Italian has ever heard of. In some cases, these dishes come from early Italian immigrants; they tried to replicate dishes they used to prepare back home, but ingredients in the US were not the same and often needed to be inexpensive for people to afford them. This might explain spaghetti with meatballs.
In Italy, the sauce in which the meatballs are cooked might be used on the pasta, and in some restricted areas of Southern Italy, people do indeed have spaghetti with little meatballs—but the typical spaghetti with big meatballs (think Lady and the Tramp) is definitely not Italian.
Another non-Italian “Italian” dish is fettuccine Alfredo. Although there was one Alfredo from Roma who, back in the day made some fettuccine with butter and Parmigiano (that is, salsa Alfredo), the recipe only became popular abroad and no one ever adopted it in Italy.
Italians also do not add chicken to pasta or pizza, or to parmigiana, which is strictly made with eggplants. Pollo is normally eaten by itself, as a second course. Marinara sauce is also totally unknown in Italy.
There is pizza marinara (a cheese-less pizza with tomato sauce, a little garlic, and oregano), but there is nothing named marinara that goes on pasta and contains that amount of garlic. Speaking of garlic, its ubiquity in Italian dishes made in the US is worth a mention. Garlic is part of several Italian recipes, most of which come from the South of Italy.
Italians, however, do not necessarily have garlic on a daily basis, or in great quantity. Garlic bread is not a thing in Italy, and even when a recipe dictates garlic, moderation is the key, like in pesto—which, by the way, no one has with sandwiches or chicken, only with pasta. So, as much as mixing and experimenting can be good and creative, don’t be surprised if Italians look puzzled when you mention a chicken parmigiana served with garlic bread!