Spaghetti and meatballs, a popular Italian-American dish

Italian-American cuisine (Italian: cucina italoamericana) is a style of Italian cuisine adapted throughout the United States. 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.



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.

Italian-Americans 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]


In the late 19th and early 20th century, the Italian poor suffered from severe food insecurity, from taxes, modernization (depriving them of feudal land access), and overpopulation. The non-landowning class survived on a mostly vegetarian diet consisting of hard bread and soups;[2]: 22  meat, if any, was reserved for celebration.[3] Partial knowledge of fine food trickled down from the rich from restaurants, despite the poor having little means to access them.[2]: 41 

Under this background, waves of Italians immigrated to the United States, mainly through Ellis Island. In the US, these immigrants found hard work, long hours, and cramped quarters; yet for the first time they were paid well enough to afford plenty of soft bread, flour, meat, cheese, eggs, and even olive oil, dry pasta, and cheese imported from Italy or the Italian diaspora in Argentina.[2]: 49  Reacting to this newfound abundance, Italian-American cuisine shows two important characteristics: it heavily emphasizes the use of "rich ingredients" (meat, cheese, and eggs) compared to its Italian peasant counterpart, yet it retains a simple-to-prepare style characteristic of cucina povera ('the cuisine of the poor').[4]: 9  The stereotypical Italian-American "red sauce" cuisine is, accordingly, a fusion of these characteristics with a southern Italian (chiefly Neapolitan and Sicilian cuisine) base.[3] Immigrants from different regions of Italy also exchanged their regional recipes as they become neighbors.[2]: 53 

Northern Italians also left important marks on Italian-American cuisine. Two cheesemakers from Parma, Paolo Sartori and Count Julio Bolognaisi, took advantage of the milk supply in Wisconsin and produced Parmesan cheese.[3]


There were very few Italian-American cookbooks published until the 1960s. Italian-Americans, like Italians in Italy, chiefly passed down recipes as an oral tradition.[4]: 8  Girls took home economics classes that boasted the superiority of a homogenous American cuisine, influencing the range of ingredients and techniques they use at home.[4]: 18 

Instead of learning about Italian food from the immigrant population, the general American population of this time explored Italian food using cookbooks written by Anglo-American chefs, containing those chefs' adaptations of Italian food.[4]: 18–19  These books were also used by Italian Americans who were convinced that these books formed "an integral part of their cultural heritage" and had no alternatives.[4]: 19  Only with the "new ethnicities" movement of the 1960s did significant efforts to document Italian-American cooking and associated foodways appear.[4]: 20 

Further contact

Over time, through an increased appreciation of Italian cuisine in the United States, as well as increased imports into the United States from Italy,[5] there has been a push towards producing more authentic dishes, which use techniques and ingredients that are more native to Italy.[citation needed]

American cuisine has readily received innovations from Italy, such as espresso (which evolved into specialty coffee drinks, now ubiquitous in American life), tiramisu, and Nutella.[citation needed]

On the other hand, e.g. carbonara, a dish unrecorded in Italy before World War II, may be due to an American influence in relationship to the allied liberation of Rome in 1944.[6] Many Italians then were happy to use powdered eggs and bacon supplied by the United States and their armed forces for pasta dishes.[7]


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".[8]

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

Rated high on the list of popular, or trending, items in the survey include Mediterranean flatbread, ciabatta bread, espresso and specialty coffee drinks.[9] Pizza and pasta are also common dishes in the United States; however, they are presented in very different forms than in Italy.


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

Many Italian wines were first introduced to the United States in the late 18th century. Italian vintners were first brought to the state of Florida in 1766 by Dr. Andrew Turnbull, a British Consul at Smyrna (now[when?] İzmir). Filippo 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.[10]

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 the 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.[11]

Today,[when?] 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,[12] Delicato,[13] Ferrari-Carano,[14] E & J Gallo Winery, Geyser Peak, Louis M. Martini, Mazzocco, Robert Mondavi, Monte Bello Ridge, Corrado Parducci, Pedroncelli Winery,[15] Robert Pepi,[16] Picchetti Brothers Winery, Rochioli,[17] Rafanelli,[18] Rubicon Estate Winery (also known as Francis Ford Coppola Presents), Sebastiani Vineyards, Signorello,[19] Sattui, Trinchero (most often under the Sutter Home brand), Valley of the Moon, Viansa,[20] and more.


Pastas and grains

Vegetable dishes

Meats and eggs


Seafood dishes

Soups and stews

Breads, sandwiches, and savory baked goods

See also: Pizza in the United States

New York–style pizza, at Di Fara Pizza


See also


  1. ^ Montany, Gail (19 June 2011). "Lidia Bastianich on the quintessential Italian meal". The Aspen Business Journal. Archived from the original on 30 January 2012. Retrieved 1 January 2012.
  2. ^ a b c d Diner, Hasia R. (2003). Hungering for America: Italian, Irish, and Jewish foodways in the age of migration. Cambridge: Harvard University Center for Jewish Studies. ISBN 9780674011113.
  3. ^ a b c Paskin, Willa "A"; Juusty, Mariana "B"; Grandi, Alberto "C"; Stefanini, Giacomo "D"; Chinoto, Simone "E"; Matteski, Mike "F"; Foster, Aaron "G" (12 July 2023). "Is the Best Italian Parmesan Made in… Wisconsin?". Slate Magazine. transcript
  4. ^ a b c d e f Gabaccia, Donna R.; Garbaccia, Donna R.; Helstosky, Carol (1998). "Food, Recipes, Cookbooks, and Italian-American Life". Italian Americana. 16 (1): 5–23. ISSN 0096-8846. JSTOR 29776455.
  5. ^ "Italian Recipes". 5 June 2023.
  6. ^ "La Stampa - Consultazione Archivio".
  7. ^ Davidson, Alan (1999). Oxford Companion to Food. Oxford: Oxford UP. p. 740. ISBN 0-19-211579-0.
  8. ^ Hensley, Sue, National Restaurant Association news release, "International Cuisine Reaches America's Main Street", August 10, 2000. Via Thefreelibrary.
  9. ^ Stensson, Anita, National Restaurant Association news release, "Small is Big on Restaurant Menus ..." November 29, 2007.
  10. ^ "A History of Wine in America". Retrieved 21 March 2019.
  11. ^ "How Prohibition Shaped American Wine Country". Wine Enthusiast Magazine. 5 December 2018. Retrieved 21 March 2019.
  12. ^ "Home | Dalla Valle". Retrieved 22 March 2021.
  13. ^ "Delicato Family Wines". Delicato. Retrieved 22 March 2021.
  14. ^ "Our Wines | Sonoma County Winery | Ferrari Carano Vineyards & Winery". Ferrari-Carano. Retrieved 22 March 2021.
  15. ^ "Home". Pedroncelli Winery. Retrieved 22 March 2021.
  16. ^ "Pepi Winery". Retrieved 22 March 2021.
  17. ^ "Rochioli Vineyards and Winery - Homepage". Retrieved 22 March 2021.
  18. ^ "A Rafanelli Winery - Homepage". Retrieved 22 March 2021.
  19. ^ "Napa Valley Winery | Signorello Estate". Retrieved 22 March 2021.
  20. ^ "Home". Viansa. Retrieved 22 March 2021.
  21. ^ Corby Kummer, "Pasta", The Atlantic, July 1986 full text
  22. ^ Tyler Florence (17 December 2014). "Chicken Francese". Retrieved 1 January 2015.
  23. ^ "ALFREDO DI LELIO". Franky in New York. Retrieved 22 March 2021.
  24. ^ "Gli spaghetti con le polpette e gli altri falsi miti della cucina italiana all'estero - Wired". 29 July 2014. Retrieved 14 October 2017.
  25. ^ "Torta Pasqualina". Eataly. 14 March 2021. Retrieved 22 March 2021.
  26. ^ "How to Make Pizza Gain Aka Pizzagaina, Pizza Rustica, or Italian Easter Ham Pie". - Italian Food Recipes and Lifestyle. 4 April 2012. Retrieved 22 March 2021.
  27. ^ Pro, Johnna A. (4 December 2003). "Immigrant's success was struck when pizzelle iron was hot". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Retrieved 6 January 2016.
  28. ^ "Pizzelle Partyin' like it's 1392". Philadelphia City Paper. 17 December 2010. Archived from the original on 31 October 2015. 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.

On Italian American Winemaking

On Related topics of migration, immigration and diaspora