Not all Italian food served in America is authentic.
We spoke to Ali LaRaia, the co-founder of an Italian restaurant in NYC to hear what Americans get wrong about Italian cuisine.
In Italy, food isn’t drenched in cheese and sauce.
Portions are more moderate in Italy.
In Italy, meatballs are not served on spaghetti, but more commonly served as a separate dish.
Cease your search for a bathtub overflowing with fettuccine alfredo or even a massive platter of spaghetti and meatballs in Italy — the foods so iconic to Italian American cuisine are nowhere to be seen in pasta’s homeland.
Decades of immigrants from various regions of Italy, the proliferation of chain restaurants, and an American taste for quantity over quality has shaped the way Italian food is served in the United States.
A new generation of stateside chefs are looking to return to the cuisine’s origins, looking to modern day Italy for inspiration. Chef Ali LaRaia, of New York’s The Sosta, a fast-casual Italian restaurant specializing in homemade pasta, sauces, and shareable antipasti boards, travels to Italy often to research the nation’s rich dining and pasta culture and take some of that flavor back to the East Coast.
Before you dig into a piece of chicken parm the size of your face, let LaRaia fill you in on a few major differences between Italian American food and legitimate Italian food.
Italian food is seasonal.
Alexis Lamster / Flickr
“In Italy, Italian food is heavily seasonal,” LaRaia says. “Any restaurant serving regional cuisine will be serving the protein that you see on the side of the road. If you drive past chickens, expect to see chicken on the menu.”
“Everything is incredibly fresh and local and very simple,” she says. “Even at the autogrills [Italian quick service restaurants, often attached to gas stations] you’re getting very fresh food, it’s very seasonal — you can get buffalo mozzarella and see the cows roaming in the back.”
Dishes aren’t smothered in cheese.
“Very few things are dredged in sauce or overloaded with cheese,” LaRaia says. “Italian food is about portion control, whether it’s the size or portion of the meal or garnish on a plate — everything has purpose and nothing is overly indulgent.”
That giant chicken parm you see on red-checkered-covered tables at red sauce joints across America? If that same dish surfaced in Italy, it’d be shared among multiple diners.
There are no sauce baths.
“When you have marinara covering eggplant or chicken you don’t actually taste it [the dish],” LaRaia says. “The dish just becomes a vessel to eat sauce and cheese.”
Not that that’s necessarily a bad thing, but Italians aren’t drenching their food in sauce. “No one is overloading anything — there’s an acceptance of moderation and it’s definitely a cultural thing,” LaRaia says.
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