“When Italian is Italian?” Or, rather: “When Italian is REAL Italian?”  That’s the question.

Italian pasta dishes are loved and eaten all over the world. Pasta can be dressed with an infinite variations and combinations of vegetables, meats, fish, herbs, spices nuts and more. With time and even as I am writing a new pasta recipe is born, and  not only in Italy.


When Italian is Italian?

Obviously if it originated in Italy. Still it can be difficult or even impossible to tell whether a pasta dish is authentic Italian. Italian name of the dish is not a guarantee. Partial Italian is understandable, especially when naming the ingredients like in “spaghetti with shrimp“.

Even made in Italy can mean made on demand on a path traveled by tourists. A restaurant may swallow its pride and sprinkle cheese over a linguine with shrimp and serve spaghetti with meatballs.

Most Italian pasta dishes were introduced by Italian immigrants everywhere they went. Argentina and especially United States were destinations of mass Italian immigration between the last quarter of the 19th century and the first quarter of the 20th century. They say that New York surpassed Rome for Italian population at one time.

Most immigrants came from the rural impoverished south of Italy. Many were illiterate and took low jobs. Their main goal was to make and save money. So they didn’t indulge in the superfluous, food included. Pasta was cheap easily dressed with a simple condiment. It could fill up their belly in a super serving.

So, is it from those hard difficult times or in memory of them that immense portions of pasta are served today in restaurants in America?

Traditional classic Italian pasta recipes, because of their popularity are often changed and become even unrecognizable. A typical case is fettuccine Alfredo. But most of the times dishes stay close to the original. They may even stand on their own for creativity and taste.

Why straying away from a proven loved pasta recipe? It seems like trying to re-invent the wheel. The reason for this practice can be blamed on plain ignorance of the dish, or adaptation to individual taste.

Another factor in play can be simply matter of ego. Other people will declare the recipe simply and honestly “my way”.

I don’t intend to offend, ridicule or degrade any customs, traditions or taste. If I didn’t make myself clear somewhere else, remarks and observations here are only meant to show you  when Italian is Italian as in Italy.

Here is an interesting writing  on this very matter  (opens another window):


You can also see some samples of ideas and beliefs supposed to be Italian:

10 Italian clichés you won’t find in Italy


How do you know when Italian is Italian?

Here are some obvious clues:


From a good source

  • Directly in Italy, from an Italian (from Italy better), from other trusted source, author.


In the way it is presented.

  • No misspelled name of the dish.
  • No cheese with seafood.
  • No immense portion.
  • No pasta swimming in the sauce.
  • No gluey overcooked pasta.
  • No unusual cooking methods: frying, grilling, smoking.
  • No strange sauces and spices, especially from the far east.


In the way it is served

  • No spoon to roll spaghetti (or long pasta)
  • No as side dish. Pasta is a first course, never served as accompaniment.
  • No second course in same plate with pasta (example: spaghetti with meatballs).

You can’t always tell from just the ingredients whether a dish is authentic Italian. What you will easily guess is from what part of Italy most likely originated.

  • With tomato and spicy: central south Italy.
  • With bacon, guanciale, sausage, pecorino: central and south Italy.
  • With cream: north Italy.
  • With fish: coastal Italy, mostly central and south.
  • With flour and eggs fresh pasta: north Italy.
  • With stuffing: tortellini, ravioli, agnolotti…. : north Italy.

Italian pasta recipes are fruit of very simple ingredients: pasta made of just ground wheat and water, presented in appealing shapes with condiments made using simple everyday ingredients. Now you can better tell when Italian is Italian.

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