Italian-American Dishes
by Alex Evins (v.05/23)

This is a compendium of Italian-American and Italian emigrant foods and dishes unique to or popularized in the United States, that are generally not found in Italy or have been modified beyond recognition of their ancestral dish. For information on Italian cuisine, see our Italian Food Reference.


  • Antipasto Salad (Typically Lettuce with Olives, Artichokes, Tomatoes, Salami, and Cheese)
  • Antipasto Platter (Standardized Platter of Meats and Cheeses with Fruit, Nuts, and/or Bread)
  • Spiedini alla Romana (Derivative of Crostini alla Provatura e Alici)
  • Cioppino (Americanized Version of Ciuppin Similar to Cacciucco alla Livornese)
  • Italian Meatball Soup (Tomato-Based Soup with Pasta and Meatballs)
  • Italian Wedding Soup (Americanized Version of the Neapolitan Minestra Maritata)

Pasta Dishes

  • Baked Ziti (Americanized Take on Pasta al Forno)
  • Carbonara with Cream, Peas, Garlic, Bacon, Pancetta, etc.*
  • Fettucine Alfredo** (Including Any Variation Thereof)
  • Johnny Marzetti (Regional to the Midwestern United States)
  • Manicotti (Similar to the Italian Cannelloni)
  • Pasta Primavera
  • Penne alla Vodka (Invented in Italy But Extinct Since the 1980’s)
  • Spaghetti Bolognese (As Opposed to the Italian Tagliatelle alla Bolognese)
  • Spaghetti Bordelaise (Regional to the New Orleans Area)
  • Spaghetti Marinara (see Marinara Sauce)
  • Spaghetti and Meatballs (Not Comparable to Chitarra alla Teramana from Abruzzo)
  • Toasted Ravioli (Different from the Italian Sweet Ravioli Dolci)

Meat Dishes

  • Chicken Francese
  • Chicken, Veal, Meatball, or Sausage Parmesan/Parmigiana
  • Chicken Piccata (Piccata di Vitello is Common in Italy)
  • Chicken Riggies (Regional to the Utica-Rome area of New York State)
  • Chicken Vesuvio (Regional to the Chicago Area)
  • Italian Sausage (Of the Standardized Mass Market Hot/Sweet Variety)
  • Pork Chops with Cherry Peppers
  • Sausage with Peppers/Onions (Similar to Panino con la Salamella)
  • Tuscan Chicken (Chicken Breast with Spinach, Sun-Dried Tomatoes, and/or Heavy Cream)

Seafood Dishes



  • Mozzarella in Block, Slice, Shredded, or String Form
  • Mozzarella Sticks with Tomato Sauce (Similar to Mozzarella in Carrozza or Mozzarelline Fritte)
  • Parmesan (Imitation Parmigiano Reggiano)

Breads and Pizza

  • Chicago Stuffed Pizza (Loosely Derived from Pizza Rustica Lucana)
  • Garlic Bread (Distinct from the Piedmontese Dish Soma d’Aj)
  • Italian Tomato Pie (Distinct from Sfincione)
  • Pizza Rolls/Pockets/Pops
  • Pepperoni Roll (Regional to Appalachia)
  • Scali Bread (Regional to the Boston Area)
  • Sicilian/Grandma Pizza (Distinct from Sfincione)
  • Spuccadella (Regional to the Boston Area)
  • Stromboli (Similar But Unrelated to the Sicilian Scaccia Ragusana)


*Anything aside from guanciale, pecorino Romano, black pepper, and, in some cases, grana padano.

**Fettuccine Alfredo originated in name at a single restaurant in Rome as a richer version of a common Italian dish, pasta al burro e parmigiano—consisting of only pasta, butter, parmigiano reggiano, and pasta water. The mixing (“mantecare”) of the fat from the butter and cheese with the starch from the pasta water creates an emulsified sauce—similar in process to the traditional Roman pastas cacio e pepe, gricia, and carbonara—and like carbonara, there is and was no cream in this dish. When this simple dish was exported to the United States, it was even further simplified by replacing the emulsified sauce with heavy cream. The original emulsified pasta al burro e parmigiano is still commonly eaten in Italy, especially by sick children, but not under the Alfredo name and certainly not with cream. In Naples, pasta al burro e parmigiano is known as pasta dei cornuti, or “pasta of cuckolds.” This dish of spaghetti or rigatoni, butter, parmigiano, and black pepper earned its name from its simplicity to make, and, as the anachronistic story goes, from wives who had extramarital affairs and, in the short time available before their husbands returned home, needed to put a hot meal on the table without being discovered.

A type of hard low moisture mozzarella specific to North America—a young cow’s milk cheese more reminiscent of Caciocavallo or Scamorza—distinct in production, flavor, and consistency from the Italian Mozzarella per Pizza—a type of packaged soft fior de latte (cow's milk mozzarella) in ball, log, cubed, or juliened form that has been squeezed to remove excess moisture.

Note on Rollatini: Italian-American “Rollatini” or “Rollatini di Melanzane” is equivalent to the Italian Involtini di Melanzane. Rollatini is a faux Italian word, much like Cioppino.

Note on Singular/Plural and Truncated Forms in English: In American English, some Italian food loanwords are improperly used in their plural form. For example, panini is the plural form of the Italian word panino, meaning a single sandwich, whereas in American English panini is often used to refer to a single sandwich. The same is true for cannoli in English, where cannoli is usually used as a singular, but it is grammatically plural; the corresponding singular is cannolo. Other common examples include lasagna (singular) and lasagne (plural), salame and salami, gelato and gelati, raviolo and ravioli, etc. Additionally, in English caffè latte is often shortened to latte, which is the Italian word for milk. If you order a latte in Italy you will be served a glass of milk. To order a mixture of coffee and milk in Italy, one must ask for a latte macchiato or caffè latte—of which the latter is not consumed after 11:00 am.§

Note on Italian-American Pronunciation: Many Italian-Americans, particularly those from the New Jersey area, have adopted a distinct pronunciation scheme, somewhat reminiscent of Neapolitan and Sicilian dialects, that involves dropping the last vowel of some words—a linguistic phenomenon not present in standard Italian. For example, mozzarella is pronounced “muzzarell,” prosciutto as “pro-shoot,” calzone as “cal-zone,” pasta e fagioli as “pasta ah fa-zhool,” and capocollo as “gabagool.” In standard Italian, every letter including double consonants are pronounced, apart from the letter “h,” which is silent.

For information on Japanese-Italian Cuisine, or “Itameshi,” see this guide, as well as these recipes for Pepe-Tama and Mentaiko Spaghetti.

Ingredients/Techniques/Styles Not Used in Italy

  • Garlic – Cooking with/Leaving in Large or Excessive Amounts of Garlic
  • Dried Herbs/Spices – Heavy Use of Garlic Powder, Dried Basil, Dried Oregano, etc.
  • Cream Sauces – Use/Overuse of Milk or Heavy Cream in Pastas§
  • Chicken – Dishes, Especially Pizza, Pasta, or Pesto, with Chicken Placed On Top
  • Pasta as a Side Dish – Served Next to or Underneath Proteins
  • Cheese with Fish – Using Cheese on Fish (e.g. Shrimp Alfredo/Parmesan)
  • Overcooked Pasta – As Opposed to Firm or Al Dente/Al Chiodo
  • Over Sauced Pasta – Pasta Drowning in Sauce, Especially in Watery “Marinara”
  • Sauce Added Atop Pasta – Rather Then Adding Pasta to the Sauce and Mixing
  • Oil in Pasta Water – Putting Oil into Pasta Cooking Water
  • Sweetening – Adding Sugar to Savory Dishes, Namely Tomato-Based Sauces
  • Breaking Spaghetti – Breaking Spaghetti in Half to Fit into Cooking Pot
  • Fresh Pasta Inappropriately Using Fresh Pasta or Somehow Viewing Fresh Pasta as Superior to Dried Pasta


Holiday Meals




“Italian” Named Items (Grouped)

In Italy, alla marinara refers either to sauces made with Mediterranean fresh herbs (such as fresh basil and oregano and often olives, capers, and/or anchovies) or seafood, and does not imply the inclusion or exclusion of tomato. However, alla marinara is also synonymous with pizza alla marinara—a Neapolitan pizza topped with only tomato, garlic, oregano, and olive oil. The Italian-American thin tomato based “marinara sauce,” commonly used as a pasta sauce, does not exist in Italy and when used on pasta is most similar to the Italian pasta al pomodoro, which is much thicker and more viscous, and not comparable in consistency.

§In Italy, the use of milk or heavy cream in pastas, aside from very small amounts, is considered passé. Cream sauces or cream-based sauces are rare and differ significantly in consistency from their Italian-American counterparts. Italians tend to view milk and cream as heavy foods that hinder digestion—hence why cappuccinos are not consumed after 11:00 am. This may be the result of the exceedingly high 72% lactose malabsorption rate in Italy, especially as milk and cream contain significantly higher lactose contents than cheese or gelato.

The addition of sugar to tomato sauces can likely be traced back to Southern Italian immigrants who were compensating for the less flavorful tomato varieties found in North America—varieties bred for uniform size, shape, and color, rather than flavor—which lack the intense sweetness and acidity of the tomatoes grown in Southern Italy, such as the Piennolo del Vesuvio, Pomodoro di Pachino, San Marzano dell'Agro Sarnese-Nocerino, and others.

For Italian-American “Red-Sauce Joints” in New York City, we recommend Bamonte's, Emilio's Ballato, Monte's Trattoria, Don Peppe, Dominick's, and Sam's. For Italian-American sandwiches, we recommend Faicco’s Italian Specialties and Fiore's House of Quality. For more, see our New York City Guide. For Italian-American restaurants around the United States, see the Regional and Ethnic Cuisine section of our American Classics list.