Photo by Maksim Goncharenok

A brief history of Italy’s influence on popular Italian-American food.

Italian-American food started when Italian immigrants introduced their culinary traditions to the East Coast during the late 1800s and early 1900s. They began incorporating classic recipes from their homeland while adapting to the new ingredients available in the United States.

“Generations of Good Food” by Eleanor Gaccetta 

Gaccetta’s unique cookbook goes beyond traditional recipes, exploring family, traditions, and cherished dishes passed down through generations. With over 200 recipes and simple instructions, Gaccetta’s Recipes and heartfelt stories cater to novice and experienced chefs, covering diverse pasta dishes, baking, and other delectable Italian cuisines. American food culture is a blend of various culinary influences constantly evolving and adapting to new trends.

Brief History of Italian Cuisine in America 

One notable Italian-inspired dish, Chicken Tetrazzini, emerged in the early 1900s as a tribute to Luisa Tetrazzini, a renowned operatic soprano known as The Florentine Nightingale. Another beloved creation is the muffuletta sandwich from New Orleans, named after the muffuletta rolls from Sicily. Italian dish was developed in 1906 to cater to Sicilian workers. The ever-popular Philly cheese steak, invented by an Italian, and San Francisco’s specialty fish stew, cioppino, trace their origins back to the Italian fish stew known as ciuppin, made by Genoese fishermen who settled in the area.

Early Italian Restaurants

Following World War II, soldiers returning from Italy brought back a deep appreciation for the cuisine of their war-torn but grateful nation. Enterprising Italian immigrants opened restaurants that served the soldiers, satisfying their cravings for Italian dishes. Italy also introduced the soldiers’ families to various Italian favorites, including spaghetti and meatballs, sausage and peppers, ravioli, lasagna, manicotti, baked ziti, and pizza.

Italian-American Cuisine

Pastas and Pizza

Italian-American cuisine is known for its generous use of tomato-based sauces, pasta dishes, and various types of pizza. Popular dishes include spaghetti with meatballs, lasagna, fettuccine Alfredo, chicken Parmesan, and eggplant Parmesan. These dishes often feature-rich, hearty flavors and are typically accompanied by garlic bread or Italian breadsticks.

Seafood Dishes

In addition to pasta-based dishes, Italian-American cuisine includes various seafood dishes, such as shrimp scampi and linguine with clam sauce. Italian-American delis are famous for their sandwiches, such as the classic Italian sub or hoagie, which typically consists of Italian cold cuts, cheese, and various toppings served on a long roll.


Italian-American cuisine has also contributed iconic desserts to the culinary landscape, including cannoli (pastry tubes filled with sweet ricotta cream), tiramisu (layers of ladyfingers soaked in coffee and mascarpone cheese), and spumoni (a colorful ice cream made with layers of different flavors and textures).

Italian-American foods encompass a wide range of dishes that both Italian and American culinary traditions have influenced. Here are some popular Italian-American foods:


A staple of Italian-American cuisine, pizza has become an iconic dish in the United States. It typically features a thin or thick crust topped with tomato sauce, cheese (often mozzarella), and various toppings such as pepperoni, mushrooms, onions, and bell peppers. Basic Pizza Dough on page 9 of Gaccetta’s book is the base for a delicious pie.

Spaghetti and Meatballs

This classic Italian-American dish consists of spaghetti noodles with tomato sauce and meatballs made from ground beef or a mixture of meats, breadcrumbs, herbs, and spices.

Chicken Parmesan

Breaded and fried chicken cutlets topped with tomato sauce and melted cheese (usually mozzarella or Parmesan). Chicken parmesan is often served with pasta or as a sandwich.


Lasagna comprises layers of pasta sheets, meat sauce, cheese (such as ricotta, mozzarella, and Parmesan), and sometimes vegetables. It is baked until the layers meld together.

Eggplant Parmesan

ous Slices of breaded and fried eggplant layered with tomato sauce, cheese, and sometimes different vegetables. It is baked until the cheese is melted and bubbly. This recipe is on page 25 of Generations of Good Food.  It was a specialty of the author’s grandmother.


Calzone is a folded pizza dough filled with cheese, meat, and vegetables, similar to a turnover or a stuffed pizza pocket.

Italian-American Submarine Sandwich (Sub/Hoagie)

A large sandwich with Italian cold cuts (such as salami, ham, and mortadella), cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, and various condiments, served on a long roll or baguette.

Garlic Bread

Slices of artisan loaf bread spread with garlic-infused butter or olive oil often toasted or foil-wrapped and until hot.


Cannoli is made by wrapping sweet dough on a pastry tubes and frying them.  They are filled with sweetened ricotta cheese and often garnished with chocolate chips, pistachios, or candied fruit.


A layered dessert with ladyfingers soaked in coffee or espresso layered with a sweetened mixture of mascarpone cheese and sometimes flavored with cocoa or liquor.

Italian-American cuisine is a distinct fusion of Italian and American flavors, incorporating traditional Italian recipes and adaptations influenced by local ingredients and preferences.

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