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Level B1

A Brief History of Italian-American Cuisine

Italian-American cuisine has a long history. It predates the arrival of Italian immigrants in the United States, and it has continued to evolve to this day.

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Few people know that Italian-American cuisine owes its origins to the English. Back in the 18th century, many young English aristocrats partook in the Grand Tour, a long journey through the artistic centres of Europe, particularly those of Italy. In Naples, they saw people drying pasta on balconies and rooftops, and street vendors selling cooked spaghetti. The English were intrigued by this food, which they learned to call macaroni, and they brought it home and then to their American colonies. In 1798 a pasta factory opened in Philadelphia, probably the first on the North American continent. (The owner was neither English nor Italian, but French.) American macaroni had its distinct characteristics: it was made from soft wheat rather than durum wheat, and it was baked with cheese and rich cream or custard sauces.

Italians arrive in America

Things evolved with the arrival of millions of Italian immigrants around the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th. They were used to poor people’s food, which mostly consisted of fruit, vegetables and legumes, but they also adapted to their new circumstances and opportunities. They started eating more meat because it was cheaper than in Italy. Pasta was also less expensive, so, what back home was mostly a holiday dish, became an everyday staple. Pasta factories sprang up in Italian neighborhoods, and Italians across the US opened ‘spaghetti houses’ that served pasta dishes to blue-collar workers. At the end of the 1920s, the most popular ethnic restaurants in the country were Italian. American companies took notice and began producing canned macaroni with tomato sauce and grated ‘Parmesan’ cheese to put on spaghetti.

The Italian-American blend

Italian-American cuisine evolved by combining Italian traditions, such as the use of pasta, with American ones, such as the heavy reliance on animal products. Probably the most iconic Italian-American dish is spaghetti with meatballs. Although similar dishes existed in Italy, none had meatballs as large as those used in the American version. In 1955, the dish was immortalized in a famous scene from the Disney movie Lady and the Tramp. In the film, the two protagonists accidentally kiss when eating a single strand of spaghetti from opposite ends. Another popular Italian-American dish is spaghetti bolognaise, a relative of Italian pasta al ragù. Once again, the American sauce tends to be richer, with more herbs and extra garlic, and more abundant than that of its Italian counterpart. The same goes for lasagna, which, in the States, might also contain ricotta cheese and sausages, bell peppers and onions.

Italian food enters the mainstream

Italian-American food is not limited to pasta with rich, meat sauces. Other popular dishes include pasta fazool, eggplant parmesan, shrimp scampi, and sweets such as cannoli and sfogliatelle. Then there’s the enormously popular pizza. According to statistics, Americans eat more pizza per capita than Italians do. Also, Italian immigrants had a significant role in establishing the Californian wine industry at the beginning of the 20th century. During the last few decades, new imports from Italy, such as coffee drinks like espresso and cappuccino, have taken root. In many ways, in the United States, Italian dishes are no longer considered ethnic foods but rather beloved classics of mainstream cuisine.

USEFUL LINKS

1) Explore the resources of the American Library of Congress on the history of Italian immigration:
https://www.loc.gov/classroom-materials/immigration/italian/

2) Read more about Italian-American cuisine on Wikipedia:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Italian-American_cuisine

3) Did you know that one of the founding fathers of the United States, Thomas Jefferson, was interested in pasta? Read about it here:
https://www.monticello.org/research-education/thomas-jefferson-encyclopedia/macaroni/

4) Are you interested in how macaroni and cheese was prepared in 19th century England? Watch this video from the English Heritage:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lojYRX8qC9o

5) Read how Italian-American cuisine became mainstream:
https://www.nationalgeographic.com/culture/article/how-italian-cuisine-became-as-american-as-apple-pie

6) Is carbonara Italian or… American? Read this interesting investigation by the BBC:
https://www.bbc.com/travel/article/20230331-carbonara-the-iconic-pasta-causing-a-dispute

COMPREHENSION

1) Read the article and complete the sentences with the correct alternative.

1. The Grand Tour was
a. a tour of Italian museums.
b. a journey through Europe’s art centres.
c. a voyage to the American colonies.

2. Macaroni was brought to the English American colonies by
a. the French.
b. the English.
c. the Italians.

3. American macaroni was
a. made with durum wheat and baked with cheese.
b. very similar to Neapolitan spaghetti.
c. different from Italian pasta.

4. Italian immigrants were not used to eating much meat because
a. they did not think it was healthy.
b. they were poor and could not afford it.
c. they preferred pasta.

5. Italians in America ate more pasta than back in Italy because
a. it was cheaper.
b. it tasted better than the pasta back home.
c. there were more holidays in the States than in Italy.

6. Spaghetti houses sold pasta
a. to manual labourers.
b. to rich people.
c. exclusively to Italian clients.

7. Spaghetti with meatballs
a. is similar to some Italian dishes, but with bigger meatballs.
b. was invented in a Disney film.
c. is a relative of pasta al ragù.

8. Italian-American dishes
a. are identical to their Italian equivalents.
b. always contain pasta.
c. have rich, abundant sauces.

9. According to the article, Italians eat
a. less pizza per capita than Americans.
b. more pizza per capita than Americans.
c. less pasta per capita than Americans.

10. In the United States, espresso and cappuccino became popular
a. at the beginning of the 20th century.
b. with the arrival of Italian immigrants.
c. at the end of the 20th century.


VOCABULARY

2) Complete the sentences with the following words. Put the verbs and nouns in the right form, if necessary.

                        to partake  *  vendor  *  intrigued  *  wheat  *  custard  *  to spring up  *                                                                              blue-collar  *  reliance  *  strand  *  eggplant

1. I’m really ……………………………………….. by the history of Italian-American cuisine. I want to know more!
2. This month, the herbs I planted started to ………………………………………..  in my vegetable garden.
3. The grain we use to make flour comes from a plant called ……………………………………….. .
4. A shopkeeper works in a shop, while a ………………………………………..  is a person who sells things from a small stall.
5. Her hair is black but she dyed one ………………………………………..  red.
6. I find that his ………………………………………..  on traditional cookbooks makes his cooking boring.
7. ………………………………………..  is a sauce usually made from sugar, eggs and milk.
8. ………………………………………..  is a term that refers to workers who perform manual labour, while white-collar refers to people who work in offices.
9. If you ………………………………………..  in regular exercise, you’ll become a very fit person!
10. In American English, aubergines are called ……………………………………….. .


GRAMMAR – Food and drink terms and expressions

3) Complete the following sentences using the correct terms and expressions.

1. Let’s ………………………………………..  (eat it / eat out) tonight. How about going to Gino’s restaurant?
2. Good evening. We haven’t ………………………………………..  (booked / taken) a table. We’re a party of seven. Can you ………………………………………..  (serve us / fit us in)?
3. ………………………………………..  (Could we see / Give us) the menu, please?
4. What’s today’s ………………………………………..  (menu / special)?
5. We would like to ………………………………………..  (order now / give you our order).
6. I’m having a ………………………………………..  (full / three-course) meal: starter, main course and dessert.
7. I’ll order ………………………………………..  (a round / a set) of drinks for everyone.
8. ………………………………………..  (Let’s give / Let’s raise) a glass to John. Happy birthday, my friend!
9. ………………………………………..  (Could we have / Could you calculate) the bill, please?
10. ………………………………………..  (Take / Keep) the change.


SHORT ESSAY

4) What’s your favourite dish? Write the list of ingredients and the recipe, and then explain why you like it so much. Alternatively, write about your least favourite dish and why you dislike it. (60-80 words)

5) Are you familiar with the cuisine of other countries? Have you ever been to an ethnic restaurant? Write about the foreign foods you know or have eaten. (60-80 words)


DEBATE

6) Pair up with one of your classmates and look at the proposition below; one of you will argue in favour of it and one of you against it.

Proposition: Pizza is the best food in the world!

(Carlo Dellonte)
(Image: agphotography, 123rf.com)

4 Commenti
M

Maria Rizzo

15 febbraio 2024 alle 16:49

Ottime lezioni

R

Redazione

16 febbraio 2024 alle 16:10 - in risposta a Maria Rizzo

Grazie mille per il suo commento. Siamo lieti che questo articolo le sia stato utile. Continui a seguirci! La redazione

M

Maria Grazia Velardo

15 febbraio 2024 alle 19:03

Definely marvellous

R

Redazione

16 febbraio 2024 alle 16:11 - in risposta a Maria Grazia Velardo

We're very happy you enjoyed the article! Keep on following us!

c

chiara praolini

18 febbraio 2024 alle 02:21

Interesting article!

R

Redazione

19 febbraio 2024 alle 11:21 - in risposta a chiara praolini

We're very happy you enjoyed the article! Keep on following us!

G

GUALTIERI CHIARA

21 febbraio 2024 alle 15:39

Utile l'articolo e gli esercizi

R

Redazione

23 febbraio 2024 alle 15:07 - in risposta a GUALTIERI CHIARA

Grazie mille per il suo commento. Siamo lieti che questo articolo le sia stato utile. Continui a seguirci! La redazione

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